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Unemployment and its discontents

My “career” has been frustratingly unstable—the longest time I’ve held a job was five years. Since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2002, I’ve never hit a three-year anniversary anywhere. (Nearly all of this short-timing comes from layoffs or working on contract.) My savings account (and more recently a “safety net” investment account at Betterment) exists as a cushion for lean times; I want four to six months of coasting time before panic sets in.

But when I was laid off in September 2017 after only nine months at a new job, I realized that between my checking account and a generous-for-such-a-short-gig severance package, I wouldn’t need to start looking until the start of the new year. And, man, I felt like I could use a break.

So I took one.

I drove up the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (too quickly, and I should have ended up in Portland to visit Hale Pele), doubled down on exploring microbreweries around Northern California, and spent three weeks in Florida while still somehow managing not to see everyone there I wanted to. (It’s not a huge number; I just didn’t plan well.)

Starting in early January, I did start looking for work, and it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve gotten nibbles from companies I should have followed up on but—for reasons that made sense at the time—didn’t, followed up on other contacts that didn’t go anywhere, and had one rather stinging rejection. I have one prospect I’m talking with that may turn into my first face-to-face interview in this hunt. Things have felt tougher this time around, although that perception may be colored by how long it’s been since I last went into an office. I’ve been actively looking less than two months, but I’ve been out of work for five.

And this has led to a disquieting realization. I’m kind of, you know, enjoying this. Not going into an office? Cool. Working on whatever I want to, wherever I want to work on it? Also cool. I joke about living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle—the one in his old songs, not the one he actually lives being a multimillionaire running the 5,000-employee Margaritaville® corporation—but, y’know, I’d kinda like that.

Between unemployment and that cushion I mentioned, I can probably coast for another six months. Part of me really wants to see if I can build up a writing/editing income during that time. Hitting the equivalent of a full-time income—hell, even netting what I’d need to stay afloat without replenishing savings—would be tough, though. Yes, I know this is made far worse by living in one of the most expensive regions in the country. But moving is never simple or cheap, and I wouldn’t be saving as much on rent as one might hope unless I got another roommate. (I have one here, but we’ve been friends for over two decades, and I think we’re mostly fine with one another’s quirks at this point. I’m not keen on living with strangers.)

Even so, moving back to Florida has been in the back of my mind for years. A decade ago I’d have considered that some kind of failure, but I’ve been out here for over fifteen years. My mother is in her mid-70s now, living alone, and has no other immediate family; it makes sense for me to be closer to her sometime soon. A few years ago, I’d expected to be passing my four-year anniversary at RethinkDB this March, be in excellent financial shape, and working up the nerve to propose I move cross-country and work remotely. Ironically, now that I’m ostensibly more free to do that, I’m less certain it can happen. Actually finding a job out here is likely to keep me cemented in place another…well, ideally two or three years, although that’s nothing I’m gonna count on at this point. (To be fair, it could be more.)

I suspect, though, that no matter what happens, I’m going to see if I can find ways to build “alternate income streams.” I’m sure I can go back to an office again, there are some cool employers out there, and I’d like to squirrel away more money. (I started saving for retirement fairly late in life, although I’m not sure I could have started much earlier, realistically speaking.) But I think I’d like for my next office job to be my last one.

  1. @chipotle also I write fiction too! Only just breaking in to getting published (one acceptance) but really enjoying the process.

  2. @chipotle nice. My situation is similar, though I’ve been off (full time, traditional) work for the last 5+ years while raising my daughter. I’ve enjoyed (very) part time contract work and I can now pick up some more now my daughter’s started school… but I can’t bear to return to the office. Basically looking for 10 hours /week, working from home. But everyone (in Wellington) assumes the ideal work scenario is full-time. I’d love to expand what I do, so am following your blog with great interest. Good luck!

  3. @herself thank you! And good luck finding both work you enjoy and getting more things published. (I usually tell people that I’m so successful I’m making tens and tens of dollars with writing now…)

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