The Weed Witch Guide to Unemployment
Double Feature! The Unemployment Files & My So-Called Pilates Life
Are you unemployed? You’re not alone! Since January, the tech industry has collectively laid off a shit ton of people with the most recent count at 528 companies and 153,598 employees according to layoffs.fyi—a site that could only exist courtesy of someone who worked at a toxic start-up. And yours truly is among the afflicted! *wink*
As a millennial who walked straight from college graduation directly into a recession, this isn’t my first rodeo. I just wasn’t expecting to have to compete against a few thousand ex-Googlers and Nike creatives during peak hiring season this time.
But this isn’t a sad story (though, if you do want to upgrade to a paid subscription, it wouldn’t hurt). This is story about chasing your pipe dreams. Or in my case, how I effectively made the most of my unemployment and found a new day job I don’t hate: becoming my own boss.
The Unemployment Files
Aside from the unrelenting sense of financial insecurity from a lack of income and overall uncertainty about the future, I actually kind of love being unemployed. In fact, this time I was looking forward to it.
Some of my fondest memories happened while I was unemployed. I once spent a week getting high every single night with my roommate watching “The Wedding Singer” on DVD just to hear the part where he says, “Everybody spread the word, I live in my sister’s basement” during his cover of Madonna’s “Holiday.” Why? I don’t know. Maybe the simple, banal joy of falling asleep midway through a funny movie with your favorite friend while you both cope with the struggle of unemployment together is an uplifting act of solidarity.
Would I have done that if I was employed? Probably not. I’d be too busy working hard and playing hard. You take your breaks when you get them, and relish those moments. These are the things that remind you of your humility and humanity before turning the page to the next chapter in your life.
Like most creatives, I had a day job (something Sara Benincasa wrote a whole book about) in the agency world working on content strategy, copywriting, and other content-touching roles for brands of all sizes and industries. After filling in for back-to-back maternity leave contracts (always a bridesmaid, never a bride!) at a major tech consulting firm over the past year or so, I wrapped up 2022 leaving on good terms with everyone and anticipating another hateful return to the open market.
While some people thrive on LinkedIn, I find the site kind of demoralizing. Sure, some of this is my own fault with my lack of initiative to take LinkedIn seriously, but automated systems have never really played in my favor. Even when I was in high school, I remember filling out an HR form the length of a Meyers-Briggs test to apply for a minimum wage job at the now-defunct Borders bookstore that always seemed to be staffed by academics with masters.
Was the reason I was never called in to interview because of my lack of accreditation or because I incorrectly selected when prompted with an impossibly binary question about whether I was a “self-starter” or “team player”? I’ll never know. Besides, Creative Circle has found my past few gigs anyway.
Here at Pipe Dreams, the newsletter and podcast frequently highlights baddies who have successfully piloted unconventional careers to write provocative memoirs, create conceptual cabaret characters, become cannabis CEOs, fearlessly open feminist head shops, launch multi-disciplinary art installations, and become culinary cannabis content creators. For whatever reason, the timing on this round of unemployment finally felt right to chase some new pipe dreams of my own.
Chasing Pipe Dreams
Leaning into my unemployment, I took full advantage of my time. I traveled upstate with The Good Life to Glen Falls House and Hunter Mountain in the Catskills (I did write a book about it after all) and took my first trip to San Francisco in years. I powered through all four seasons of Veronica Mars and restarted all 11 seasons of the The X-Files.
I went for daily walks. I volunteered at all three organizations I usually work with (826NYC, God’s Love We Deliver, Dorot USA). I became more consciously connected to the meals I’d make, getting creative with simple and cost-effective recipes full of flavor and nutrients. I did a jigsaw puzzle! I updated my website and resume, had the foresight to get new headshots, and even filed my taxes early for a change. And it freed up time to revive the Pipe Dreams newsletter and podcast, which became a source of inspiration.
Having my afternoons open gave me the time to attend industry events like the press screening of “The Face of the Jellyfish” premiering at the 2023 New Directors/New Films at Lincoln Center. Could there be a better time to skip out for a matinee about a woman in her early thirties whose face has suddenly changed prompting a mid-life identity crisis than while on unemployment? I think not. If I actually finished writing another book during this lull, it would downright be considered a sabbatical.
Still, what do you do when three months pass and you still don’t have a job offer? After all, you gotta pay rent. This is where things take an unexpected turn.
My So-Called Pilates Life
Because I was already living my dream job being a full-time writer, but also tired of dealing with the feast/famine nature of the beast, I had been toying with the idea of becoming a Pilates instructor since last fall. I generally liked the idea of having a flexible, stable, well-paying job on my own terms where I tell people what to do for an hour, have them thank me and leave, but wasn’t quite ready to translate that into a sex work-type position. Also, I liked Pilates a lot.
If you’re like me, you probably wrote off Pilates years ago as a GOOP-person thing until it became a secret source of shame. As gyms started to reopen during the pandemic, I found myself gripped with unbearable anxiety being trapped in close quarters with heavy breathing and aggressive gym rats, so I decided to use a free trial month at ClassPass to test drive a few Pilates and barre studios for a more intimate experience.
Long story short, I got hooked. It helped me recover after spraining my ankle last summer, strengthened my body and endurance in unexpected ways, improved my mental health, and gave me something to look forward to. For this, I have to thank my instructors at BK Pilates who really created a challenging, supportive environment that inspired this decision. Most of my friends were surprised as they had no idea I was even doing this.
But while I had the time to commit to an intensive six-month certification program, I still had to fund it.
Dollars and Sense
Pilates certification programs are cheaper than a going after a masters, but they’re not cheap. Neither is living in New York City, but this is Hustle Town. If you’re an aspiring writer or Broadway dancer or artist or musician or comedian or some other catch-all creative, it’s expected that you hold a minimum of three jobs at any given time that often includes moonlighting as a server, bartender, voiceover actor, Lyft driver, etc. And I was determined to make it work.
As I hustled for freelance, I picked up two foodservice and alcohol safety certifications through Qwick to stay on call for any last minute hospitality gigs. I threw myself back into the mix for a few random shifts at Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a renowned pie shop with a very fitting name for a weed witch. I signed up for paid studies through UTest and continued to look for flexible part-time work, all the while assuming any of these actions would eventually result in some form of income.
Instead of throwing myself into an anxiety or depression spiral, I remained productive. I obtained a few certifications, acquired some new skills, immersed myself in my local community, and reassessed what was serving me in my life—all desirable traits to future employers.
After years of chasing bylines that might eventually get erased anyway, I realized that I was happiest building what I do here and contributing to a select number of outlets that don’t pay dog shit. Going back into corporate America would require sacrificing time and mental space that I’d like to allocate to other projects. Plus, I rationalized that I could always fall back on continuing to work for places that don’t value me as a human being or whatever.
That’s when I decided to go all-in on pursuing my own pipe dream: to become my own boss. Incredibly, I was among the select few accepted into the comprehensive Pilates teaching certification program at Core Pilates, one of the most recognized studios in New York City. Come take a class with me!
That said, I recognize that not everyone gives a shit about Pilates and that is not the focus of this newsletter. So I’ve created a separate newsletter for updates about upcoming classes and techniques.
The Weed Witch Guide to Unemployment
OK, so you’re unemployed. Yes, this is a very stressful time that requires patience, motivation, and resilience, but you’re going to get through this. Here are 8 tips for making the most of your unemployment from someone who has gone through several rounds of this.
Buy a lot of weed. This is absolutely the first thing you should do while accounting for your budget of rent, food, and utilities. You never know how long a bout of unemployment will last and will have no social life for the foreseeable future, so might as well remain calm with a solid supply of cannabis-induced disassociation.
Apply for unemployment. Technically, you should do this first. But if you were unexpectedly laid off, you might want that weed a little sooner to soften the blow. When the initial shock wears off, make a beeline to the Department of Unemployment website and make sure to sign up for Medicaid and other social services you might need while you’re filling out forms.
Give yourself one week vacation, then grind. Even if you miraculously pick up a new job immediately after getting laid off, give yourself a buffer week to refresh and reset. Then, develop a daily routine and stick with it. This includes setting an alarm, making your bed, putting on normal clothes, doing your hair and makeup, meal prepping, setting a few hours aside for daily job hunting, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. Falling into a depressive slump or go full party-mode will start to unravel and create more work, so maintain some discipline.
Make a few lifestyle changes. Are you getting enough sleep? Can you get creative with grocery shopping? Obviously your life is going to change with a limited income, but it’s also an opportunity to focus on yourself and make healthier choices. Stock up on dried beans, tofu, and opt for produce that’s on sale. Try a DIY pickling project or make your own condiments. Go for a daily walk or run. Meditate. Take a luxurious bath. Do a face mask. Exfoliate. Moisturize. Use essential oils. Engage in radical self-care. All of these changes will serve you in the long-term.
Try cutting out caffeine. Don’t get me wrong, I spent many years as a barista and love a cup of coffee in the morning just like everyone else, but I have a boss bitch friend who subsists solely on triple espresso days and vodka nights for her rise-and-grind lifestyle that is so unappealing to me. Recently, I decided to test drive mushroom coffee after relentlessly making fun of it and writing it off as an L.A. thing for years. Truth be told, it definitely doesn’t taste as good as coffee. In fact, it doesn’t really taste that good at all. But it did help me kick my caffeine habit and embrace decaf options.
Have fun! Listen, there are only so many hours of the day that can be spent filling out job listings and waiting for the phone to ring. So make it work on your own time. Carve out days to go to free museums and art galleries. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Get your feet wet. Sit in the park. Draw. Read. Stretch. Sing. Dance. Call up an old friend. Take up a new hobby. Try to master a new recipe. Learn how to properly roll a joint. Start a blog or the first chapter of the book you always wanted to write. Join a local freecycle group. Power through a show you’ve been meaning to watch. Give yourself permission to be weird.
Lean into your pipe dreams. Dreaming is free, but some of these dreams are actually attainable. Maybe you always wanted to open a cafe. Why not research business models or take a course to start working on a plan? Try your hand at something new and pursue your passions. If it doesn’t work out, worst case scenario is you get another job.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If there’s one secret ingredient to maintaining chill during unemployment, I can credit having a solid mood stabilizer and a therapist. While mental health remains a national crisis, there are resources available for low-income and unemployed individuals to get baseline help inducing many providers who accept Medicaid. You don’t have to suffer through this, and staying on top of your mental health can greatly improve your chances of landing on your feet faster.
What’s your unemployment strategy? Share your favorite tips in the comments.
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