One of the dreaded questions that people ask me, is what I do with my free time, now that I’m unemployed. I have a strong sense that people are judging me, and that the only acceptable answers are the ones that are somehow productive or personally fulfilling.
The “productive” answers are that I am applying to jobs. I am “building my resume”. I lead the Ace Community Survey Team.
The “personally fulfilling” answers are that I maintain two and a half blogs. I am an origamist.
The more embarrassing answer is, I browse the internet. I watch youtube videos.
Watching youtube sounds pretty sad, but would it sound less sad if I were more specific?
There’s a lot of media criticism, criticism of video games, TV, movies, music, and a bit of internet culture. Note, I don’t actually like most video games, TV, or movies, so I usually avoid reviewers who try to answer the question “Should you watch/buy this?” and instead find critics who talk about what media says and how we relate to it. I also watch a bit of leftist youtube. I keep up with new music releases. There’s a bit of speedrunning and let’s-playing in the mix. And probably the most niche thing I watch is competitive Dominion. So there you go.
I’m not really sure what to think about all this. On the one hand, you could say that I should be doing something more productive. Like programming and statistics exercises, since that’s what I’d use in my future job. But on the other hand, it’s frustrating how arbitrary these rules are–these internal rules I have about what activities are acceptable or unacceptable.
For example, my internal rules say watching videos is unacceptable, but reading books is acceptable. Why? Books are just another form of media, not necessarily any more enlightening or challenging than a video essay. My internal rules also say that travelling is an acceptable excuse for taking an extended break from work, but browsing the internet is not. Why is that?
And to what extent are these rules internally imposed, or externally imposed? One of the things that mystifies me about my husband is that he doesn’t seem to have the same rules, and he is often happy to spend the whole day doing something I would consider wasteful. And the idea that it’s wasteful doesn’t even occur to him. I admire this. He still tells me that I should spend more time looking for jobs.
“Watching youtube” is called “research”, IMHO 😉
I have no advice for how to handle your internal rules, but here are some things I find helpful for talking to other people when they ask ‘what do you do?’
– sometimes, I choose to steer the conversation towards why I quit my last job, so we talk about my past rather than my present
– if I am concerned about the other party thinking I’m not adult/responsible/independent/mature/etc. enough or something, I will steer the conversation towards how I moved to Taiwan, found a job and a long-term residence only after I was physically in Taiwan (and I found those things on my own), I learned Mandarin, and I stayed there for years. This impresses most people enough (or at least I believe it impresses them, which is what counts) that I am confident they will never doubt my Real Adult credentials.
– if I actually want to talk about my present or future, I turn the conversation to whatever project I’m working on or travel trip I’m planning (and I usually have something like that going on)
– not giving a **** what other people think is a most useful attitude, albeit not one I always employ.
I realize that only the last item is something you could directly copy, but I think you could come up with equivalents which work for you. The longer you are in this situation, the better you will get at handling it. In my case, it also helps that I live with my parents who actually encouraged me to quit my last job before I decided to quit, and they prefer the current situation to the way things were when I was last in formal employment.