I’m Unemployed. On Purpose.

In case you have not heard, I quit my job in February of this year to take time off. When I tell people that I usually get a response that includes:

  • “Wow! You must have REALLY hated that job!”
  • “So what career are you changing to?”
  • “Oh, so you are somehow incredibly wealthy–must be nice!
  • “I wish i could do that!/I’m so jealous/You’re so lucky.”

I love being a taxonomist and I love being a librarian.  I am not changing careers at all.

I loved my previous position but over the four years I was there the job changed wildly.  I was hired for a six month contract to work on a tiny site and ended up authoring a good portion of the taxonomies on twenty sites with over twenty million items.  A department of two rose to double digits.  I loved everyone I worked with but it was time to move on.


Several years ago I decided that when I did finally quit that job I would take some time off.  I spent the first year of my employment in Chicago taking care of a dying parent and dealing with that loss.  So I was sure that when I left, it would be for some time off.  Because I knew that was my plan, over several years, I saved up money.  I drastically decreased my expenses up to five months before I quit my job.  I am not super wealthy.  I am not particularly lucky.  I just had a plan.  If you are interested in taking a sabbatical I am here to tell you it is in your reach with some planning.


So here’s what I learned:


People really hate the idea of me being unemployed.

It’s amazing to me how hostile or rude (people who are otherwise wonderful) become when I tell them I am intentionally unemployed.  I don’t know if it is part of the American capitalist ethos, or it’s jealousy, or what, but many people have to tell me that my situation is not something they could do or it’s not something they advise doing.  I feel that way when people make choices all the time but I’d never tell them that to their face.  There’s something about rejecting the paradigm to make as much money as possible that really doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.


You do not magically become that better person you imagine you’d be without a job.

Well, that was shockingly almost eight months ago.  I’d like to tell you that I have accomplished every goal in short order.  Of course I have not but I have moved forward in pretty much every area I was interested in.  I’ve taken a lot of fun classes and learned some stuff I’d been interested in learning about.  I’ve traveled a bit, knocking a few states off my goal of getting to all 50 states.  I didn’t magically become a person who meditates for an hour every morning at the break of dawn, or someone who makes all their extremely healthy and delicious food from scratch as I think everyone’s work pipe dream of what they would do if they didn’t have to work.  The time shockingly fills up, especially if you tell other people you are unemployed.  Everyone has a task for you.


Staying unemployed is harder than you’d think.

I have turned down a lot of jobs, which seems like the scariest, worst karma thing a person can do.  It’s definitely been the hardest part of the whole adventure.  First, there’s the scary thought that maybe when I am finally ready to get a job these people I keep turning down will stop calling.  They’ll be sick of hearing my negative answer.  Also a lot of nice people who think I am not willingly unemployed have offered me employment, which is super nice and feels rude to say no to!  Finally, those naysayers who would like me to know what a terrible idea being unemployed is have to remind me over and over again that gaps in my employment look terrible and I will never ever ever ever get a job again.  Several jobs in a city I love, a city that notoriously never has jobs, have come up, and I have to have faith in my decision to not have a job instead of jumping at them.  Because if this all comes true, I am the only one to blame for such a boneheaded decision.


Despite being technically unemployed, I’ve been consulting a little bit on some projects pro bono.  I’m still professionally lecturing.  I’m podcasting.  And soon I’ll be teaching a class on taxonomy at a graduate school.  So perhaps not as break-y as one might have assumed.


But that’s part of the break–realizing what the set point is.  I kick myself for wasting any of the precious moments (no pun intended) I am able to have, that most people will never have, that actually cost money.  But everyone needs a day off some times.  Even from their sabbatical.


Although I am definitely not done with this funemployment, I can definitely see the time in the not so distant future when it will be over.  That foreshadowing kicks me in the ass to get my things done. But it also puts the brakes on letting employment back in my life a little at a time.  Taking this break has made me better able to say, “No!” to jobs I know will not be in my best interests more than ever before.  Of course everyone takes jobs they know they won’t love for the money, but knowing the time and experiences you’re giving up to do so puts that all in better perspective!

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