transitions + staying busy

As I’ve mentioned before, I finished grad school last year and was really excited to get to work. It had been hard to go from working and bringing in money (even just as a barista) to being a full-time student, and I was anxious to be finished with school and start contributing again. After a long (for my line of work) job search, I snagged a PRN job and thought, this is definitely my launchpad. Now that I can put some work in this field on my resume and am not a total newbie, I’ll be getting other job offers in no time. That’s what everyone said. There was no reason to think otherwise.

But it didn’t happen. I started my PRN job in April, and I saw zero interest in any of my applications aside from one interview in October that went nowhere. Otherwise, no calls, no emails — not even to tell me that they’ve gone with another applicant. And with my current job, I may work four days a week, or I may go two weeks without a single hour of work. It’s impossible to predict what they may need. For the past several months, more often than not, I have been without work. What’s worse is that my confidence is shot; applying for new jobs feels useless. I just got hired for a social media job, and I am so, so much more excited about this position than anything I’ve looked at related to my actual career path. Still, it’s only part time, and I haven’t actually started yet.

And the thing everyone wants to know — family, friends, even co-workers: “Well if you’re not working, what are you doing to stay busy?” With some people, this happens every single time we talk.

The response I would love to give:
“Seven. On a scale of one to ten, that’s how depressed this question is making me feel right now.”

I know people mean well, but here’s the thing. There’s only so much time you can spend searching job boards before you’ve seen it all. There’s only so much time you can spend filling out applications and following up with employers before you start losing your mind. That leaves a lot of time left over. While I would love to give an exciting answer as to how I use it, there isn’t one… and it’s painful to have such frequent reminders.

I started this blog several months ago to have a creative outlet. I created an etsy shop selling wreaths to have some extra income. To be honest, I have absolutely loved both of these projects, and I don’t know if I would have started them “if I hadn’t had all this time,” much like Kathleen Kelly probably wouldn’t have written a children’s book in You’ve Got Mail if she hadn’t been put out of business. They have both been so much fun, and I’ve been really thankful to discover two things I love doing so much.

On the other hand, the average day is kind of… depressing. I don’t really know people in Nashville, so I’m typically cleaning, reading, hanging out with my cat, and watching Friends or Fixer Upper, waiting for my husband to come home. (It’s also hard to blog when life doesn’t feel simple or full.)

And then these well-meaning people ask what I’ve been doing, and I want to cry. I’m embarrassed about going such long periods of time without work. I’m angry about the number of times I have to say, “No, I haven’t worked since we last talked. No, I don’t have any days scheduled coming up. No, I haven’t been doing much.” And in those rare moments when I feel at peace with the way my life has turned out for the moment, when I love all the books I’m reading and am proud of the wreaths I’m making, I can’t bring myself to say it. I quickly plummet back down to embarrassment because no one is “supposed to” feel okay about doing so little.

I understand that people are typically asking out of concern. They know that it’s hard being in a new city and not knowing anyone, and they want to make sure I’m okay. Really, I get it. But it’s hard for my satisfaction in my quiet life to hang around more than a day or two when I get near constant reminders that I’m supposed to be doing more — as if my brain isn’t fighting the impulse to dwell there 24/7.

I’ve struggled for weeks with how to end this post (also secretly hoping that it would become irrelevant). If I knew how to end it well, I might also have an idea of how to make more sense of what’s going on. But I can say this: if someone you know is going through a rough transition, 1.) just be there. Having people to consistently talk with makes everything easier, and 2.) take your cues from us. We may need to talk about anything but our situation. We don’t think you care less about us for not asking about work/friends/whatever the transition may involve; in fact, it will probably be a relief if you don’t. If we need to talk about it, we will. If not, we will be so relieved to talk about anything and everything else.

Love and support your transitioning friends well. We need you. But, please, don’t inadvertently heap anxiety on us by asking us how we’re staying busy.

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