43 Lessons I Learned From Being (Self) Unemployed For a Year

 Last year, I took one of the riskiest decisions in my life: I quit my safe job, working in a corporation in London.

It wasn’t only to find another job. Resigning from that position was the beginning of the most important projects I have ever undertaken: a total reconstruction of my life.

This involved escaping the “rat race” and rebranding my career and finding out who I really am, what I truly want, and my purpose. Regardless of how lofty and idealistic this sounds, the truth is that I was embarking on a journey of self-discovery and creating a life on my own terms.

When I was handing in my resignation letter, however, I didn’t realize just how big of a task I was taking on and, certainly, I had no idea that it would take this long.

I’ve officially been self-unemployed (as I like to call it) for an entire YEAR. And I can safely say that it’s been the most liberating, eye and heart-opening, educational and inspirational twelve months of my life.

I’ve learned a few things along the way too (43, to be exact).

Here are my lessons.

  1. Quitting your job doesn’t mean you’re a quitter. It means that you have the guts to walk away from something that doesn’t serve you and find a better alternative (even if you don’t know what it is yet).
  2. Not having a job doesn’t mean you’re lazy. Actively looking for work or redesigning your career (and possibly your entire life) is a full-time job. Quite likely, the most important job you’ll ever do. Treat it this way. Otherwise, it’ll be a bumpy ride.
  3. It might be hard at the beginning, but eventually, you’ll find pride in saying that you’re jobless. And by the way, every person that gives you a judgemental look when you say this probably would prefer to be in your position.
  4. If you quit your job, don’t be afraid to call yourself self-unemployed. It sounds cool and describes your situation more accurately.
  5. Finding your passion, purpose, and path (and generally most things that begin with “p”) requires time. Don’t be afraid to take as much of it as you need/can.
  6. “Not all who wander are lost.” Searching for your purpose (or simply your next gig) doesn’t mean you’re lost. It means that you’ve realized you’re in the wrong place, and you’re taking action to change it.
  7. Most people have no idea what they want to do in life because they don’t actively create it. Instead, they get pushed around and go where life takes them. And that’s FINE. It’s also fine to become the creative force in your life, at least to a degree.
  8. After you quit, detach yourself from your old job and lifestyle. Change your environment, turn off your phone, spend some time alone. To start anew, you need to feel different. *Caveat: this detox can take months, but don’t panic: see point 5 and be patient. You’re not wasting your time — you’re investing it.
  9. Travel if you can. You finally have time to do it!
  10. Oh, but traveling is extra money, and you’re not earning, right? Well, changing locations might actually save you some cash. When I quit, I was living in zone 2 in London. I spent over six weeks traveling in Poland, and it cost the equivalent of two weeks of living in my flat in West Hampstead.
  11. Now that you quit your job, you also might want to leave the place you’re living in because you’ve realized that nothing holds you there. *I ended up leaving London a few months after quitting.
  12. If you want to rebrand your career, don’t jump straight back into another full-time job. Give yourself time to think and experiment.
  13. Don’t write your resume. Mind map it. See your entire experience and skillset on one page of a drawing. What are you seeing? What would you like to see? What’s missing?
  14. After you’ve mind mapped your CV, ditch the written version of it and start creating video resumes and cover letters. They’re way more fun to put together, make you stand out, and allow you to show your best asset: your personality. Plus, you’re demonstrating that you’re creative and can go the extra mile, rather than just saying it on paper.
  15. If there are gaps in your skills that stop you from getting that next gig of your dreams, what can you do to plug it in? Think courses, freelancing, volunteering, part-time jobs, networking, and many more.
  16. Upskill, reskill, unskill. This is your time to create your new self. Have you always wanted to work in the podcasting industry? Start a podcast. Do you feel you’d do with upgrading your Excel skills? Teach yourself. Would you prefer to be a bit less reserved and diplomatic? Join a co-working space and retrain your social habits.
  17. If you don’t know what you want to do in life, take the first thing that interests you, and pursue it. Worst case scenario, you’ll find out that you don’t want that hobby of yours to become your job. You’ll always learn something, and you’ll add it to your experience.
  18. If you pursue something, take it seriously and tell yourself it’s your job for a while. Maybe you want to explore writing? Commit to writing every day. Or you’ve wanted to experiment with YouTube? Start publishing videos every week. If you don’t make it feel like your job, you’ll never find out if you want it to become your job.
  19. Start figuring out what is your dream way of living. Every job comes with a lifestyle, and it’s often the lifestyle we hate rather than the work. Pay attention to what you like and dislike.
  20. Once you’ve worked out the key elements of your ultimate life, put them to the test. Working from home sounds alluring, but you might get lonely and be surprised at how sophisticated your procrastination skills are.
  21. On that note, if this is your first time working from home, you might need to go through a period of “adjustment.” I know you’ll eventually learn this, but…wearing your pajamas all day long really (I mean REALLY) isn’t a good idea.
  22. Create a solid work-from-home routine by being mindful of what habits make you productive (like a clear start and finish time) and which ones put you in a sloth mode (like wearing your PJ’s).
  23. Still hating WFM? Don’t fret; there are cheap alternatives! I’ve tried: coffee shops (average cost: £2.50 for a few hours), public libraries (free), friend’s houses (free) and co-working spaces (I got mine for free). I loved them all!
  24. How can I get a desk in a co-working space for free, I hear you ask? Reach out to friends who are already based in co-working offices to see if perhaps the startup they’re working for has a spare desk. Employees leave, and sometimes it can take weeks to replace them — this is your opportunity to jump in and keep that seat warm for the new person.
  25. Continuing with this theme, a co-working space is an excellent place for you to hang out. You’ll meet people who face similar struggles and people who are a few steps (if not miles) ahead of you. These are the guys you want to learn from! You’ll also often find yourself by the water cooler, randomly talking to this fashion designer, finance guru, and a web developer wiz — all of whom can have the skills that you need.
  26. Find a way to switch off and be on your own EVERY DAY. Go for walks, do yoga, meditate, run. You’re not wasting your time — you’re creating space for fresh ideas, and you really need them right now.
  27. Leave home EVERY DAY. Even if only for 10 minutes. I’ve had days when I didn’t have a single sip of fresh air, and, every time, I was left feeling lethargic and unmotivated by the evening. This feeling often lingered for more than one day. So, I beg you, get your butt off that chair and change the scenery.
  28. “Work expands to fill the available time.” Working more doesn’t mean you’ll do more. What if you gave yourself one hour to do something that usually takes you two?
  29. REST. You deserve it.
  30. When you do, though, make a mindful decision to rest. Scrolling through Instagram for half an hour because you got distracted from your task is not resting. Making a conscious decision to pause working and check out your social media for 30 minutes IS.
  31. Network — meet new people, learn from them, teach them, and collaborate.
  32. But know that networking isn’t only forcing yourself to chat with strangers at boring events for entrepreneurs. I was so impressed with one of my teachers that after completing her course, I invited her out for coffee and convinced her to start working with me. PS I surprised myself there.
  33. “Give and you shall receive.” Be open to sharing your skills and knowledge with others. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll always get something in return, even if you don’t expect it. Sometimes it might also be a job offer.
  34. Surround yourself with people who’ll say “keep going” when you doubt yourself.
  35. Avoid taking advice from people who infuse fear in you. Remember, it’s not your fear — it belongs to them — so leave it with them.
  36. All that money that you’re spending to buy yourself some time to think, explore new options, and upskill — you will recreate it in the future. I know that you might need to sacrifice your savings for that first house. However, what if these savings will get you a lifestyle and a career that you love and a salary that can buy you five of these houses in three years?
  37. If you’re broke, seek support. There’s plenty of benefits and grant schemes for people who need it.
  38. Do you resist the idea of being on benefits? Great! The point is not to stay on benefits; the point is to get you where you want to be. Any support you get is temporary, so see it as a springboard to the next level of your life. However, if you can avoid this stage, that’s even better.
  39. Getting a temporary job that will pay the bills and give you the space to set yourself up for your brand new career is a fabulous idea. However, don’t get sucked in and don’t stay there forever.
  40. Also, avoid anything that will mess up your health (mental or physical) — it’s not worth it.
  41. Don’t worry about having a gap on your CV (a video one). If you use your time wisely, you won’t have to have a gap. Mention everything you did while (self)unemployed: from completing courses and running that fortnightly podcast of yours to being part of a toastmasters group.
  42. Still don’t know what to include in your (video) resume? You’re probably too modest. Most people are (trust me, I used to be a CV writer). Speak to your friends and ex-work colleagues and ask them what they think your most significant achievements and assets are. You’ll be surprised what a high flyer you are!
  43. Have fun! You finally have the luxury of time — don’t be afraid to use it to enjoy yourself. After all, you only live once.