The 3 People You Meet When You Are Unemployed
Eight years ago I sold everything and took a year off
In 2011, feeling tired and burnt out, I became inspired by Tim Ferriss' book: The Four Hour Work Week to take a break and rest. I tapped into my retirement savings and completely disconnected from my previously stressful life.
Recently married, my wife and I felt burnout from our careers for some time. Hers, finance. Mine, health care.
Our previous lives had been a frenzy of academics, overachieving, social climbing, and 60 hour work weeks. Burnout was on the horizon, and it took us roughly a decade of living like idiots to realize that this would not be sustainable if we wanted to start a family in the future.
So we quit.
We quit everything: Our jobs, our stuff, sold two businesses, quit our town, quit some toxic friends and family. I even quit shaving and getting haircuts for a while.
It was finally time to relax and pursue other interests — at least for a while until we could figure out our new life.
It was a scary and unforgettable experience. We moved to a large coastal city, enjoyed meeting new people, eating out at fantastic, big-city restaurants, and hitting the beach in the middle of the week.
At the time, I was writing a syndicated health column for a newspaper without pay, so I asked them if they wouldn't mind paying me. Surprisingly, the editor agreed.
As a newly minted freelance columnist, I was free to spend my days researching and crafting my articles at local coffee shops, sandy beaches, and libraries.
I met a lot of people during these weekday writing sessions. Many would sit next to me and ask what I was working on. I usually welcomed the intrusions, plus I met some interesting people.
As these clandestine strangers eventually became friends, I would see many of my new companions hanging out at the same spot every day. I became curious how so many unemployed people could afford to live in my new city, despite never seeming to work?
As I got to know them better, I soon discovered common traits among these unemployed.
I rarely ran into anyone who was genuinely unemployed. Many had been recently laid off gig or contract workers. I came to refer to them as "the Grumps."
Many of the Grumps were freelancers who were in between projects. They were currently unemployed and would likely find work again soon. They were educated and good at their jobs, but they were caught up in the new "hustle" pressure.
Not surprisingly, this group was the most miserable of the bunch. They were always complaining about money and previous employers. Also, they seemed to be the least optimistic about their future prospects despite having the most skills.
"Man, take it easy. Consider this a mini-vacation. Apply for a few positions and enjoy the break." I would say.
"I can't. I need to be here for interviews."
They were trapped in an infinite loop of work-stress-work. Unstable and miserable.
The Rich Ladies
I met some wealthy people during this time. Some were famous, and some were rich and famous. One, in particular, stands out.
A Diva from a popular reality TV show and her small dog plopped down on the couch next to me one day.
"Hi, just so you know, I'm allergic to dogs…."
"Whatcha working on?" She asked, oblivious.
"Writing a column." That was my standard reply.
As it turns out, she was charming and would often stop to talk with fans and take selfies, never appearing annoyed or put out by the interruptions.
Eventually, I asked about her show and what else she did for a living.
"Not much. My husband mostly works."
This was a phrase I would eventually hear a lot, as she would soon introduce me to many of her friends and co-divas as "Chris the Writer" — a moniker I had not earned yet.
As far as I could tell, it seemed as though The Rich Ladies' primary duties were to go for long weekday brunches at expensive hotel restaurants.
They seemed genuinely happy. Not in the "all good on the outside but miserable on the inside" way, but legitimately happy.
They would laugh, tell stories and talk about their kids. Unlike the previous group, it seemed as though they didn't think much about money or material things in general. Sure they wore nice clothes, expensive jewelry, and drove fancy cars, but money wasn't front of mind. They never talked about it.
While it may be tempting to be overly critical of the Rich Ladies, they are in some ways more enlightened about life than the Grumps mentioned above.
Money certainly won't buy you happiness but, it will certainly solve your money problems. You can't help but feel a lightness when all your bills are paid. Freeing you to focus on more important things in life, like conversations about your family with friends over afternoon mimosas. The Ladies embodies the "joie de vivre" ethos, whether they realized it or not.
By far the most interesting of the group. Usually found at the beach or park, these folks seem to have no actual discernible skill set other than the ability to live off the generosity of others. They were either artists, writers, or simply entrepreneurs.
I have always found it strange when people refer to themselves as entrepreneurs. Shouldn't you have to earn that title? It's like the episode of Seinfeld when George tried to get everyone to call him "T-bone." It just didn't fit.
The Slackers were always scheming new business opportunities, living off romantic partners, or couch surfing with friends. They were exciting but also equally exhausting.
They were narcissistic and seemed to exclusively talk about their feelings or some new physical ailment in their body. Everything revolved around how they felt that day. There was also constant drama and relationship issues. Conversations with these people were unidirectional and would leave me feeling spent and needing a shower.
Although I enjoyed my time off as a temporary member of the temporarily unemployed, I'm glad I have a job again and more structure to my day.