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From 100 mph to 0: Navigating Unemployment in the Pandemic

Emilee and I were connected early on at Furman University through various involvements around campus. Then, we had the opportunity to travel to India together and spent three months traveling across the country with 13 other students. Over five years later, Emilee and I are still connected and I am so grateful she reached out to share her story with this audience. She knows that she is not alone in this process and it's important to know that if you are also experiencing this, you have resources to turn to. Regardless of your current employment status, it is always pertinent to find motivation, make connections, and remember to find the positives.


I’m unemployed, or shall we say, I am in a transitional phase, with a recently completed Master’s degree. I want to share my perspective because I know I’m not alone in the slump of endless scrolling, job searching, being ghosted in the application process, or feeling isolated. I believe in radical vulnerability so I want to be transparent in sharing some of my reflections from navigating the job search in a pandemic. I’m learning to lower my own expectations for what a productive threshold really looks like in the midst of COVID-19 and a period of financial stress. I won’t sugarcoat the rest of this post but I hope to share a few tactics that have provided some structure in this time warp of a year.

In so many ways, and for so many folks, 2020 has not gone to plan. It’s not that I had a concrete plan for the year, but the trajectory I envisioned in January would have included graduating with a master’s degree in June 2020 and immediately starting a policy job in Washington, DC to dismantle barriers to equity in education at a national level. When my graduate courses transitioned to online learning the week of March 13th, my cohort members thought we’d be back in the classroom by April. I wasn’t worried about the potential for an economic downturn or a national public health emergency.

I am someone who, at least from the outside, looks like they have it all figured out. Since my days in college at Furman University, each day was mapped out in increments of having 20 minutes to run to a meeting, grab lunch, or turn in an assignment. I thrived on being busy. I enjoyed being a student and an active community member. I somehow created a balance of civic duty, academic responsibilities, and an active social network. This lifestyle continued when I moved to DC in July 2019 to begin coursework for a Master’s in Educational Transformation at Georgetown University. I was thriving.

So what happens when every plan unravels due to factors outside of your control?

Finding Motivation

I have had so much time to reflect on my own work style. In the five and a half months of unemployment following my graduation, I’ve realized that most of my work ethic is motivated by external pressure like deadlines or meeting a team’s expectations. Looking back, it makes sense in the way most of my strongest college and graduate-level writing happened the night before it was due. Without hard deadlines or the expectations of a supervisor to meet, I’ve struggled to feel motivated to start a project, work on an application, or even complete household chores.

Realizing that I need the pressure of a deadline has been a helpful tool to motivate myself to work on applications, write a post, or schedule a networking meeting. I bought a whiteboard calendar and a planner to visually keep me on track for application deadlines or scheduling Zoom calls. Once I write a deadline on the whiteboard, one of the most helpful tactics to hold myself to my own deadlines is to share the timeline with a friend. Never underestimate the power of an accountability partner. Now, when I need to work on a job application, schedule personal appointments, or reach out to a contact, I share my timeline with a friend who can hold me accountable for completing the task.

Making Connections

I’ll be honest, I have never felt so isolated. In a physical sense, I live alone in a pandemic. In a professional sense, I’m removed from the energy of collaborating with a team. As an extrovert, I know I need to cultivate connections in any way I can to combat these feelings of isolation. I have heavily relied on my own professional connections to expand contacts in the field of education. Not every new contact leads to insight into the job market, but I value each conversation as a chance to connect to other like-minded professionals.

I have also utilized LinkedIn to connect with folks in my industry to ask about their work, their perspective on job opportunities, and even just to comment on a report or publication. My attempts to connect have been well received in the era of work from home. Many folks are also more flexible than pre-COVID days and several people have shared their sense of missing human interaction in the professional realm, despite Zoom fatigue.

One Positive Takeaway

My word of the year is flexible.

I recognize that I will likely not have this much free time again in my professional career. One positive takeaway from this era in my life is the luxury of flexibility. I am able to truly meet people when it’s best for them, network freely and openly, or write for the sake of writing. I will say, the line between free time and total boredom is thin. Are there days when I have one networking call that ends at 10:30 a.m. and I don’t know what else to do for the rest of the day? Absolutely. At the same time, this newfound availability in my calendar is a gift. I have to recognize that one enabling factor that allows me to be so flexible is that I currently receive unemployment, a social safety-net I never dreamed I would need to utilize.

In many ways, it truly feels like I’ve gone from 100 mph to zero. There are days where scrolling on TikTok and social media becomes all-consuming. I have forgiven myself for those lost days. I value the more energizing times when I feel motivated to write, read a book or journal article, or connect with friends to catch up and strategize. Now, I appreciate the little victories like submitting an application, finishing a cover letter, or having a Zoom meeting. I’m taking it day by day and finding some solace in knowing I’m not alone in this predicament.

If my perspective resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.

YoPro Know's Takeaways:

– 2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone, do not let yourself feel discouraged if you have become unemployed and are searching for a job

– Being Flexible makes all the difference

– Utilize LinkedIn and other networking opportunities to make vital connections that will help you in your personal and professional development

Connect with the Author here: Emilee O'Brien

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