unemployment, month 3.

i’m now in my third month of unemployed living. even though three months isn’t a long time in the great scheme of things, i’ve noticed that this period has taken on some distinct phases:

1. the reverie. in the beginning, it was perfect. i loved being unemployed so much that i didn’t know if i’d ever be able to hold down a job again. getting enough sleep, having time for things that i’d wanted (and needed) to do for so long, being outside when the sun was out… it was glorious. i could hardly believe my good fortune.

2. the drag. after about six weeks of euphoria, unemployment started to get old. even though my working self from a year ago would punch me in the face for saying this now, it became, dare i say, a bit… stressful. and not in the “i’m running out of money” kind of way, though that would have infinitely compounded it. no, it was more a sense of “since you’re unemployed, you need to be doing something,” and then putting exorbitant amounts of pressure on myself to accomplish an unreasonable number of tasks.

i recognize that i have a hard time receiving gifts. i constantly feel like i need to be earning or justifying the things i have, regardless of what they are. for example, i am free to look for new jeans now only because i have 3 pairs, one of which i bought in high school (13 years ago), one i bought in college (10 years ago), and one that has a hole in the butt and needs to be replaced. (those i only had for 2 years. gap’s quality isn’t what it used to be.) the new phone to replace the one i had for 2 years and barely worked anymore? it can be a present from mom and dad for christmas. a case for said phone? err… maybe this can be robert’s christmas gift to me. i have a hard time coming up with things i want for birthdays and christmases because i don’t feel like i withhold from myself throughout the year, so why do i deserve something… extra? can’t you just retroactively gift me something i already got? otherwise, i feel like i’m being indulgent.

and i guess, in the same way, this whole period of time felt indulgent. the vast majority of my peers didn’t get a break between graduation and post-doc, and if they did, it was most likely spent moving. but i had the luxury of time off — months off, even. so i had to earn it, in a convoluted way, by being productive — by finally unpacking those boxes that have been collecting dust in the closet, by finally writing back to the 85 people i’ve owed emails for months, by finally reading the tens of books on my ever-growing to-read list. i had an ongoing list of things to do and a general sense of how much i wanted to accomplish that day. i always expected that i’d get a certain amount done. i never even came close. and as a result, i felt constant stress and guilt. at least when i was working, as long as i went to work, i had some sense of productivity and accomplishment. it didn’t matter if i didn’t strike anything from the to-do list. but now, it was a different story. the fact that i wasn’t working produced even more pressure to get things done. you’re not even working, my superego would say, and you couldn’t respond to these 40 emails?

so that’s when i got over being unemployed. i realized that i was the harshest, most critical boss i could ever have, and maybe i would be better off (and get paid more) if i worked for someone else.

3. the renaissance. but then, something remarkable happened: i got a job. suddenly, my unemployment had an end date… and i loved it again. i felt this renewed appreciation for this time, a sense that i need to enjoy it because it’ll soon be over. i went back to my old schedule of reading and walking in the morning and setting the to-do list aside until the afternoon. now that there’s an expiration date, i can go back to feeling like this is a vacation — a break — instead of an extended period of time when dangit, i should get things done.

so that’s where we are. the pendulum has swung back; i love being unemployed and am already lamenting that in the not-so-distant future, i won’t have this abundance of free time. so enough beating myself up for the unfinished to-do list. tomorrow i’m going to read, have lunch with a friend, and write. (and… maybe clean the apartment. we can’t let things get too out of hand now.)

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