10 Lessons I Learned From 4 Months Of Unemployment

The warning signs grew more obvious over the course of last summer. But I still thought I’d survive the impending funding cuts that my IT project was facing.

By the time fall arrived, I had already dodged a few rounds of layoffs. But it wasn’t much longer before my number was up and I was out of a job.

Instead of being bitter about the situation, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to enjoy some time off with my family and focus on my side business.

I did not receive a severance.

The business became our primary income source, but it wasn’t enough. We kept financially afloat by cutting our expenses and drawing down our emergency savings fund.

Additional help came from the passive income we earn from years of investing in income producing assets such as dividend stocks and real estate crowdfunding.

Overall, the time off was mostly stress-free. Having prepared for a career speed bump like this one, I was able to take my time finding the right job for my future. I came away re-energized and ready to restart my professional career.

Here’s a list of 10 lessons I learned about work, entrepreneurship, and relationships.

1. Unemployment is an Opportunity When the Economy is Strong

The national unemployment rate before COVID-19 was in the below 4%. In the state of Virginia where I live, it’s even lower. As a college-educated IT professional in this region, the unemployment rate might as well be zero.

My demographic profile alone positioned me very well to find new employment.

It’s one of the reasons I was so optimistic when I lost my job in 2017. Thankfully, the strong economy continued throughout my jobless period. Combined with my skill set and experience, I was able to secure my ideal job with the ideal employer.

Had I lost my job a recession, the outcome would not have been so rosy.

The takeaway is if your job security is uncertain or you need a change, don’t wait. Find something when the economy is strong. During a recession, be ready for green shoots to start to appear. 

New opportunities always arise at the tail end of recessions. 

2. More Free Time Requires Greater Self-Discipline

Having so much free time made it difficult to manage my days effectively. I struggled to wake up early, thwarting my ambitions of implementing The Miracle Morning.

When I slept until the kids woke me up, my first task in the morning was making breakfast for them instead of tackling items on my own to-do list.

Social media breaks, email, reading the news, and various home distractions delayed task completion. Exercise took a backseat to blogging. When I did exercise, it broke up my mornings making it hard to refocus on work.

Time inefficiency has always been a challenge for me. As a full-time employee, I was required to be better at maximizing my time to complete side work. But as a stay-at-home Dad and blogger with more time on my hands, a consistent routine was elusive. Regrettably, laziness and lack of focus limited my results. Though I am still pleased with what I accomplished.

3. Unemployment is a Taboo Subject

Anytime I mentioned I was in-between jobs to friends and neighbors, nobody asked me what happened, how I was coping with it, or what my next move was. My unemployment was an avoided topic.

I don’t know if they weren’t interested, felt bad for me, or were afraid to hear a long-winded tale of woe.

This surprised me. I was expecting to have to explain what happened and how I was focusing on my online writing business to pay the bills until I found something new. My talking points were ready to explain it all. But in four months, nobody asked a followup question about my situation except a few very close friends who I only see once a year.

Unemployment seems to be a taboo subject in a suburban social setting.

4. Kindergarten Teachers Work Harder than I Ever Have

The time off gave me the chance to chaperone a field trip and volunteer for my son’s kindergarten class.

His teachers ask for help from parents during “literacy hour” each day and appreciate the extra adult presence when available. My assignment was to help the kids practice writing letters and words on a dry erase board. It was a challenge assisting each group of kids and adjusting to their different skill and attention levels.

Those one-hour time slots were the most mentally draining of my time off. Doing that all day five days a week must be exhausting.

Raising three young kids at home hard enough. The job of teaching 20-plus five and six-year-old children for seven hours every day is incredibly difficult. Kindergarten teachers lay the foundation for reading, math, and the enjoyment of education.

It’s a far more meaningful craft than my profession.

5. “To make self-employment really work – you need to leave the house.”

Those were the blunt words of one reader in the comments section of a recent post. When I saw that comment, it hit me. I had to get out of the house more.

Kids are a distraction. But the entire house is a distraction zone too. Laundry, the snack pantry, the cluttered basement, and yard work were always staring back at me when I was working at home.

Early on when the weather was warm, I worked outside on the porch and found it to be the perfect writing venue. Then I started riding my bike to the library. The act of deliberately going somewhere to focus on a specific task proved to be a winning productivity hack for me.

To successfully work from home full-time, I needed to leave the house more often than I expected.

6. The Relationships and Reputation Built over a Career are Invaluable

I never considered any of my coworkers to be close friends. But the relationships I built during the last 14 years of my career were invaluable when searching for and applying to new positions.

Old teammates texted me news about previous projects and happenings within my field. Former managers were available as references. Other former colleagues sent me job leads.

Even when my job satisfaction was low, I always put my best work forward, never complained (except to my wife), and earned the reputation of a reliable professional. When the time came for my potential new employer to ask around about me, I was confident my reputation would uphold.

7. Kids Demand and Deserve More Time Regardless of How Much You’re Already Giving Them

My kids didn’t realize I was home more than usual but still demanded more of my time every day. When they were home from school and I was working in the home office, they constantly interrupted me to ask for help or to play. (As I wrote that last sentence, my son yelled “Daddy, I went poop!” from the bathroom outside my office).

Part of what excited me about time off was spending more time with my kids. I did. Plenty. Often to the detriment of my writing and productivity. But every moment was worthwhile.

Toward the tail end of my unemployed stretch, I deliberately took more play breaks to spend dedicated time with the kids. This meant shutting off the computer and putting the smartphone away. I found that intently focusing on work tasks for short periods of time with more breaks was more productive than longer work periods with frequent interruptions.

No matter how disruptive and annoying they can be, kids deserve every minute we can give them and more. They don’t stay young for long, and nothing better prepares them for life more than our undivided attention.

8. Unemployment Benefits aren’t Necessary if you Prepare

For 14 years, I worked hard and paid my share into the state unemployment pool. When someone like me loses a job, they often head to the unemployment office and apply to start receiving benefits. I did not.

I saw many coworkers lose their jobs due to unreliable contract funding over my career and knew my day would come. As such, we’ve always had three-to-six months of living expenses in a high-yield savings account. Along with my income streams and side business earnings, we were able to mostly maintain our lifestyle without going into debt.

Government unemployment benefits would have covered our mortgage and some of our expenses. However, I chose to not apply for them to avoid the strings attached.

Had I received benefits, I would have been on the hook to immediately seek new work. That pressure would have caused a more hurried job search with lower standards and would have interfered with my writing time.

Plus, my side business income may have made me ineligible for benefits. I don’t know. But I didn’t want to expend my time finding out. So I declined the benefit. Doing so enabled me to focus my time on my side business and find the right job instead of the first job.

9. A Side Hustle Can Stay A Side Hustle

I thought I’d love being a full-time blogger working from home every day. The experiment was enjoyable, but I struggled to find my stride. Maybe I needed more time to develop a better routine. Perhaps there was a lack of urgency.

Now that I’ve tried full-time blogging, I can say that I’m comfortable going back to making it a part-time gig. It’s often assumed that side hustlers want to grow their business into a full-time pursuit. That was never my intent with this blog and doesn’t have to be.

I heard side hustle guru Chris Guillebeau stress the same point in a speech at a conference in October which helped to validate my thinking.

But why work so hard on something if you don’t want it to take it full-time? Well, my side business still can get bigger as a part-time venture. Steady growth from consistent content creation is what I’ve aimed for all along.

Though my online business is flourishing today, the money blogging environment is not a risk-free playground. Investor sentiment is near all-time highs and the economy is robust. Much of my business is based on those positive macro-trends.

The next stock market calamity or even a mild recession will decrease interest in my niche which could hinder my ability to earn money via blogging. When that day comes, I’ll be grateful that I didn’t abandon my IT career.

10. The Health, Support, and Love of Family is the Greatest Asset

My wife was infinitely supportive of my choice to accept my job loss as an opportunity to grow my online business and carefully find the right full-time position.

She never complained when she was dealing with the chaos of three young kids while I was at the library or locked in the home office. She led our efforts to cut expenses and delayed many purchases we normally wouldn’t think twice about.

In return, she had a lot of extra help each morning with breakfast and shuffling kids to school and back. I was less grumpy without daily commutes. We spent many more hours per week together and shared countless laughs about funny stuff the kids said. The time off made our marriage stronger.

I’ve always had the luxury of premium parental support too. My parents and in-laws surely had their doubts about my entrepreneurial pursuits and lack of urgency when I lost my job. But both were verbally supportive of the decisions we made.

Regardless of how much income or wealth is present, nothing is more important than a healthy family and the support of loved ones. This wasn’t a new revelation for me. But there’s comfort in reaffirming it’s true.

Warning signs were abundant. But I still thought I'd survive the dramatic funding cuts that my IT project was facing. I did not. During my four months of unemployment, I learned quite a bit about work, entrepreneurship, relationships and myself. Here's a list of ten things that stuck with me.

Photo credit Element5 Digital via Unsplash
Photo credit Michał Grosicki via Unsplash

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  1. What a blessing that time with the kids and wife will be down the road–and how awesome that you recognized it in the moment!
    I really appreciate the humility and honesty in this post, and I love that you’ve pointed out what looks like a no-brainer now, such as building a blog and relying on it for all future income during an up market works; but in a down market, all such bets are off. A great reminder that whether it’s good or bad, “this too, shall pass.”

    1. Hey Dani,
      Thank you for the comment. I do try to be honest here. It’s a real life behind the words! People do get caught up in bull markets and forget that things can get ugly really fast. Especially the job market. I’m very happy to be earning a paycheck again. But did miss being home this week to help. Mrs. RBD is sick and making her job extra difficult.

  2. Well said, RBD. I appreciate that that you are able to see the weaknesses in your systems and plans and are so transparent in how you dealt with them. Kudos to you. So many others would candy coat the difficulties. That treatment is no help to those of us who are imperfectly human :-).

    I’m glad you are back to a comfortable place and moving forward. I look forward to hearing more about your journey!

  3. LOL, loved this comment:

    “As I wrote that last sentence, my son yelled “Daddy, I went poop!” from the bathroom outside my office.”

    We have young kids and that kind of thing is a big deal around our house too :).

    1. Can’t make this stuff up! Then I had to get up and help him a little bit. Just enough to distract me from what I was doing. This happens all day long every day!

  4. I think it’s great that you learn all these things early. These issues would be much more difficult to deal with if you decide to retire early. It’s a big change from working full time.
    I went to the library when I first started out. Now I can be productive at home. It is possible if the kids are not around. Good luck with the new job!

  5. So many gems here. Great food for thought. I never thought of measuring #4 to IT work but I can see where you’re coming from. We spent 2 hours with my niece playing and we needed a nap a lot more than her!!

  6. Your observation that unemployed is a taboo struck me. My husband and I hit FI and retired three months ago. We have been shocked that no one has really asked how we did it, what we’re doing now, nada. Fascinating how a country so obsessed with money and work as identity doesn’t have a mechanism for dealing with non-working people. PS love the top ten list! Great article.

    1. Rachel,
      That’s very similar. We were fine without an income for a while. But nobody asked. Doesn’t surprise me you are having a similar experience. Maybe they think it’s none of their business. Congratulations on your retirement!

  7. RBD –

    I love this topic, so please keep writing if you can. Takeaways I received from your article – schedule out your calendar on tasks/objectives – to maintain focus (just as you had done in a work-atmosphere), change your scenery to enhance the effectiveness of your tasks, stay healthy. Loving it.


  8. What valuable lessons! Congrats on obtaining a new position and getting 4 months of quality time with the family. 🙂

  9. I’m happy you were able to enjoy your time off! For most its a stressful time, and I totally get it, but spending extra time with kids and trying new things is so refreshing.

    I went through a job loss myself and had 8ish months off. I can be productive at home but I set myself a routine of going out to the coffee shop or library for half the day. Something about having nothing else to do but focus on what you’re working on.