Unemployment is hard, but I've found unexpected value sitting in, and prolonging, 'the gap'.
Let me preface with an acknowledgment that my experience comes from a place of privilege and realize this isn't an option for everyone. But if any of the below is accessible to you, I encourage you to rumble with societal norms and challenge yourself to sit in the gap. There's more value there than you might realize.
Or heck, even entrepreneurialism.
All words I've used since March 10, 2021 to put my current unemployment status in a more comfortable light.
But call it what you will, I'm still unemployed. At least in the traditional sense. I've held a salaried, 8am-4pm permanent job since I was 19. I rarely take extended vacations, only taking a 2-week vacation twice in my almost 20-year career, and I've never taken more than a few days 'off' when transitioning between jobs. Sound familiar?
I've never experienced a professional 'gap,’ intentionally or unintentionally. Until now. And to add to the discomfort, it started as an unintentional gap. I say started, because I'm working hard to re-frame it, as I intentionally choose to prolong the gap.
It takes quite a rumble, with yourself and society, to purposely prolong your 'gap' to focus on rest and play.
Gaps focusing on raising children (which I would argue aren't gaps at all), or caring for a family member are universally accepted.
For the last 5 months, that's exactly what I've done - I've wrestled with myself to find the courage (and lose it, and then find it again) to challenge this societal norm and use my gap time to focus on rest and play.
Sure I've been productive - I obtained my HR designation, and launched HireEdge. I've applied for jobs and put good effort into discovering and owning my 'nuggets'. But if I'm honest, I was motivated to do this work to assure myself I'm still a contributing member of society. It felt less “lazy.”
In the beginning, it was easy to rationalize the need for time and space to grieve the unexpected loss of a job. Society also accepted and encouraged this need. With so many having a similar experience recently, there was a collective sense of encouragement to take a (small) gap.
So I took a few guilt-free weeks. And then the rumble with guilt started to creep in as I decided to take a few more. And as weeks turned into months I've ridden the full-on rollercoaster, enjoying the ups of being proud of myself and lamenting the lows of fighting my own shame stories. And everything in between.
I've fallen victim to the comparative suffering trap, telling myself that others deserve this gap more than I do. That my COVID journey was comparatively less exhausting and impactful. That after healing from the unexpected part of my job loss, I should be able to bounce back and get back in the game - and anything less is a negative reflection on me and my work ethic. Ooofft.
But as Adam Grant so succinctly puts it:
Resting is not a waste of time
Relaxing is not a sign of laziness
Breaks are not a distraction
Play is not frivolous
But this isn't what our society instills.
And this is what I've now spent months reframing. And the value out of this rumble has caught me off guard.
Here's what I've learned, sitting in the gap:
Many cultures value sabbaticals as a normalized part of a career. Just because our culture doesn't (outside of academia), doesn't mean that there isn't value in taking an extended break. It's our culture that has it backwards.
It's ok to put what's 'right for me right now' ahead of what's 'right for me down the road'. Especially if you've spent a lifetime focusing on down the road, often at the detriment of your 'right now'.
There's a kind of healing that only occurs when you intentionally create space for rest and play. And you have to sit in that space for awhile before you can begin to heal.
In the same vein, you don't actually realize how much healing you truly need until you've given yourself permission to stop and unwind.
I am courageous, not cowardly. Intentionally sitting in, and prolonging, the gap takes courage, and that courage trickles into so many other areas of your life.
Here's what 'valuing the gap' looks like for me:
Enjoying a significant landscaping project rather than trying to jam it into evenings/weekends.
Saying 'absolutely, I'll be there' when a friend asks for short-notice support at an important medical appointment.
Supporting a friend through deep grief without depleting my cup.
Sleeping. This is undervalued and seems simple. But giving myself permission to sleep as my body needs has been key.
Enjoying my hobbies when I want, not just when I have time outside of work. This means riding all the bikes, when I want and with whom I want.
Enjoying stand-up paddle boarding, week-day camping, and a multi-day girls’ canoe trip - things that wouldn't easily fit into my usually jam-packed life.
Grocery shopping during the day - when the aisles are quiet!
Week-day nature walks - with a newfound presence and joy in the moment that cultivates experiences like picking up a garter snake.
And my biggest learning? That not having an impressive list of socially-approved accomplishments in an almost 6-month employment gap is NOT a failure! In fact, it's my biggest accomplishment, and I'm really proud of it!
So if you find yourself in a professional gap, intentional or not, and you can financially sustain it, maybe don't rush to send me an email on how to support your immediate job search. Give yourself permission to explore your employment gap.
Inspect its corners. Understand what's lurking in the shadows. Investigate the gap floor. See what nuggets have fallen in the gap, that with some rest, play, and respect could turn into invaluable learnings to support your next step.
By all means, keep my email handy — I'm here to support you when the time is right — but don't stress about avoiding the so-called 'dreaded resume gap.’ When you're ready, we can work together to frame it in a way that gives you an edge.
Finding value in a gap journey that is under-rated and under-valued by society takes courage. Courage to prioritize your 'right now', explore different needs, practice rest and play, and not value yourself for a list of socially-approved accomplishments.
If you're with me on a gap journey, or have experienced one previously, be proud and share your gap story. The only way society will start to value a gap instead of judge it is if we all tout its value.