I was unemployed for 14 months.
For the most part, it felt like an unbreakable curse that will finally end in two days when I start an internship in Stockholm. Hooray!
This is a very big deal for me besides the obvious because 1) it’s my first full-time employment experience in Sweden, 2) it’s the first time I have a group of colleagues since my previous work experience was as a freelancer or teamed up with my best friend.
In this blog’s spirit of self-reflection and accountability, I want to share four valuable lessons I learned during this time.
You need less than you think you need
I’m not the first one to say this, but it bears repeating. I was lucky enough to have a cushion to keep food on the table, but other than that I cut so much of what I considered needs and was never the worse for it.
One example is that I stopped buying monthly tram and bus cards and started paying by trip on the days with really bad weather or when I needed to cover a very long distance. That had a small chain reaction of making me walk more, getting rid of all the shoes in which I could not actually walk, and feeling more independent about going places.
Another example was downgraging my phone plan to the bare minimum. To save data I deleted most of my social media apps and limited the access of the remaning ones, which also improved my concentration and ability to enjoy the moment, since it mitigated the urge of immediate sharing.
You get creative when you have limited resources
Is this a surprise to anyone? I am embarrassed to say that it was to me.
Can’t afford to go out for dinner with friends? Have the dinner at home! Craving some new books and magazines? Go to the library! Feeling like that dress doesn’t fit so well anymore? Fix it! Need to exercise and can’t afford a gym membership? Take free lessons online or go outside! Every time I had one of these realizations I felt like a genius. But these are the normal reactions of anybody who is not caught in the consumer hamster wheel.
We can get so used to reaching out and buying things because we think we have unlimited money in our pockets. But often times we can get free access to what we need or want, either because they are publicly available (libraries are my temples now) or we can borrow them from friends. You also learn new skills or dust off old ones. In my case, I learned to use a sewing machine so I could fix my clothes or up-cycle them. I couldn’t afford to take sewing lessons, so I learned by watching youtube videos, reading sewing blogs, and borrowing books and magazines.
You realize the great value of your support group
I would not have survived this time without the people who supported me. My friends pep-talked me when I dragged my feet and celebrated my small achievements. My family listened when I needed to unload and offered fresh perspectives. And P made sure our home as a pressure-free environment, which was heavensent especially on the days I didn’t have the energy to send applications or as the months went by without any result. I have promised myself to not fall into the trap of neglecting these wonderful relationships as the professional boat stops rocking.
You learn the importance of kindness and taking care of yourself
This is something I wish for everyone to know at any stage of their lives. Being unemployed, sending letter after letter, and application after application, most of the times getting only a “Thank you but no thank you” can really fool you into doubting your self-worth.
But this experience was enriching as much as it was humbling.
The most difficult thing for me to do this year was getting up every morning knowing that I would give my best to the job hunt, and it very likely would not lead me anywhere. The thought of putting hours into writing a good cover letter , only to have it end up in somebody’s trashcan was discouraging to say the least. But one can also find purpose and strength in such a challenge. I want to believe my Swedish improved with each of those letters, and it helped me get past the anxiety of writing and sending them.
Having no choice but to push through also helped me identify my procrastination patterns and start on a kind of self-therapy to reduce my perfectionism habit. When I hit rock-bottom in my self-hate I realized that it already felt like the world was out to get me, did I really need to join the ranks? It took time and it is still a work in progress, but my happiness has honestly increased since I decided to play on my own team.
To anyone out there in the middle of the journey, I wish you the peace of mind necessary to be patient with yourself and be kind when it gets darkest. Give yourself a break when it gets too difficult to go on. Breathe. This, too, shall pass.