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How to Plan and Take a Vacation Even If You Are Unemployed

by Bonnie Bell, MA, MDiv., Principal, Director of Career/Life Coaching

July 2018

Who doesn’t love a vacation? The mere word, which means “planned time spent not working,” along with other descriptors such as “break, breathing space, intermission, recess, recreation, respite, and rest,” immediately releases some sort of dreamy enzymes into the veins. But as I have heard from more than one of my unemployed clients, “vacation” is almost a dirty word. People who are unemployed, and possibly their partners and spouses, don’t feel as if they deserve any vacation at all. But at the same time, being unemployed and looking for work full time is extremely stressful and exhausting! Here are some suggestions for making good use of your unemployment period, including built-in “vacation days.

  1. Don’t use your period of unemployment as if it were a “staycation,” meaning you stay home and do nothing until your unemployment benefits run their course. Then, in a state of panic, you begin to look for a job, any job. I clearly remember a telephone conversation I had with a woman who called me about my coaching services after taking almost a year off “to rest” while she was receiving unemployment benefits. Now that her benefits were running out, she hoped that I would be able to do a résumé for her and help her with a job search, even though she was unclear about what type of work she wanted. When I told her that our work together was designed to help her gain clarity about her future, and that it would no doubt take approximately ten sessions, she said there was no way that she could “wait that long” to figure out what was next for her. It didn’t appear that she had done any serious thinking about herself or her offer in the marketplace during the year she was unemployed (with benefits), and it became clear to me that she and I were probably not a good match under the circumstances. She hung up on me. . . and I was relieved.
  2. Do take your period of unemployment seriously, and plan how you will use your time constructively, every day, with the intention of finding a better job than you left and creating a better future. Unfortunately, most people are better at planning vacations than at planning their careers and lives. I’m not being smug or judgmental, as if it were easy for me; in fact, the reason I do what I do is because it was all so much more painful than I expected it to be, that when I began to find my way, I also found my passion, which was and is to be the extended hand on the rocky path of life in the same way that certain people who extended helping hands to me on my own very rocky path. Use these four questions to review and reflect on the job you just left: What worked? What didn’t work? What was missing? What’s next? Keep what worked and build in more of it; get rid of what didn’t work: you don’t need to do more of it; think about what is missing from your career and life and add it in; ask yourself, what’s next? The next job you get should be better than the last, because you are evolving as you go. Say no to the things you already have learned or things that don’t work for you. Don’t just look for a new job doing the same thing as you did before. Learn from your mistakes. Your new résumé should reflect your growth. If you need help, get help early in the process, not when your unemployment checks run out.
  3. Plan each week on Sunday night or Monday morning. Don’t let the days blend into one another or slip by unnoticed. Think of all the times you said you didn’t have time to do something because you were working so much. Now that you’re not working, take advantage of it. Do you have more time to exercise? Practice an instrument? Do yoga? Read? Get together with good friends or family? Take some concentrated time to develop important criteria for the job you are looking for next, and search for it regularly — but not constantly. Searching constantly is exhausting; searching consistently is wise. You will get used to the lay of the land on the internet, notice new job announcements when they are posted, and get a sense of what’s happening in the marketplace. Keep your eyes and ears open for possibilities you may not have already thought about. Pay attention to the news and business sections of newspapers to inform your awareness of trends and companies you can research. Make an exhaustive list of the contacts you have in your personal gold mine of contacts. These are people who already know you and think well of you. Be sure to let them know what you are up to in a short email or phone call or lunch date. Give them a clear sense of what you are looking for, not just the news that you are looking for work, in order to avoid referrals that are completely inappropriate and/or time-consuming. Check these websites regularly: indeed.com; monster.com; bayareajobs.com; careerbuilder.com.
  4. Build in some vacation time; you need a break from the stress of unemployment! One of my clients who is handling her unemployment very wisely searches the internet twice a week for two to four hours, has several résumés out to target agencies and companies, and keeps in touch with her “gold mine” of contacts regularly. She has had a number of interviews as well, which to my way of thinking, means she is very close to finding her target job. She took a one week camping trip (“planned time spent not working,” remember) with her son and partner to a place she’d never been before, and thoroughly enjoyed her time off from the continuing job search. Now she has landed a good temporary contract in her chosen field and is taking time off again from any further searching just to “enjoy being a non-working mom for a couple of weeks” before her son returns to school and the contract begins. I predict a good ending to this story.
  5. Make a list of all the activities you LOVE to do and do them as often as you can. Whatever helps you lose track of time and build a good mood helps you take good care of yourself, which is more important than ever as you face into the unknown.

May you stumble directly into your dream job!

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