20
Nov
11

Unemployment Survival Guide

I got a new job! As of this past Monday, I’m working as a build engineer at Bioware Austin. I’m super excited, and it’s a super exciting time to be joining the company, seeing as we’re just about to launch this little Star Wars MMO you may have heard of. I have a feeling that it’ll give me a chance to put some of that last survival guide to good use. In the meantime, it’s a good time to post-mort this last bout of unemployment, which, on the whole, went pretty well.

It may go without saying, but successful unemployed life requires a different kind of discipline than having a job. To some degree, I think it’s like being self-employed, except that instead of creating and selling your product and/or service, the goal is usually to (create and) sell yourself. While this affords a huge amount of freedom, I think it’s a hard thing for most Americans. For one thing, most of us have spent some, if not all, of our lives working for someone else, meaning we’re not used to setting our own schedules, making final calls, or even determining priorities. Certainly, we all do these things to some degree in other parts of our lives, like figuring out dinner for the evening or determining how many days to take off for the holidays, but when your whole day is wide open, every day, and you haven’t even necessarily set any goals or deadlines yet, it can be pretty daunting. But we’re game developers, so we’re all used to daunting tasks. We’ll just do what we do with all daunting tasks — break it down!

  • Have goals other than “get a job.” If you’re like me, your first thought when you found yourself unemployed was “Oh, crap, I need a job!” This is a fine and laudable goal, but it’s easy, if you’re career-oriented, to get a kind of tunnel vision, where this is your only goal.  This can be dangerous, and not only for the obvious reasons. You see, despite what Herman Cain has to say about the matter, getting the job you want is something that’s almost entirely out of your control. That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do to work towards the goal of getting your dream job, but when it comes right down to it, there’s no way you can make that employer hire you. As of August 2011, about 9.1% of the population is unemployed like you are, and I’m guessing that about the same number are employed but looking for a new job. Add to that the fact that the video game industry is pretty attractive, and the odds are pretty good that there’s at least one more person out there who is better qualified for that job you want. It sounds pretty bleak when put that way, and it kind of is, particularly if you have no other purpose. So, instead of obsessing over something that’s not in your control, reassess and start making goals that you do have control over, like “exercise 3 times this week” or “make something I’ve never made before for dinner tonight” or “make a single level of my rogue-like work before I go back to playing Batman: Arkham City.” Silly as it might sound, achieving these small goals will give you more confidence (which is key in interviews), and when you really think about it, is your major goal in life really to work for someone?
  • Stick to a schedule (roughly). On the first day of unemployment, I set some goals for myself and told myself that I had plenty of time to get them done. Then, somehow, ten hours had gone by, and I’d done nothing but play Arkham City. I used to think that schedules were mostly for the benefit of coordinating between people, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took nearly a week for me to figure out that I would be much more productive if I imposed a very loose schedule on my day. It wasn’t a crazy rigorous schedule. That wouldn’t have made sense, given that every day was different, and it might have restricted me unnecessarily.  The important thing is that this is a tool to help you get things done — you want your schedule to work for you, rather than the other way around. Mine went a little something like this:
    • 8-9AM: Get up.
    • 9AM-10AM: Code.
    • 10AM-12PM: Play video games, watch TV.
    • 12PM-1:30PM: Gym.
    • 2PM-5PM: Look for jobs, errands, explore Austin, possibly code a bit more.
    • 5PM-12AM: Make something awesome for dinner, free time.
  • Get the word out quickly. I actually stole this from some other list of tips for the unemployed, but I think it bears repeating. When I got laid off, I was embarrassed. I felt like it had to be because I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t want anybody else to know. The fact is, people get laid off for all sorts of reasons, and potential employers know this. So, while you might be cringing on the inside, suck it up, and tell as many people as you can that you’re looking for a new job. Potential employers aren’t interested in candidates who play hard-to-get. And, while it’s a royal pain to update your resume, if you just sit down and do it, you’ll be done before you know it.
  • Do that stuff you never have time for when you’re employed. This one is pretty straight-forward. Clean your apartment. Go to the bank. Get your glasses fixed. If you have medical insurance, go to the doctor and the dentist. Buy some new clothes, if you have some savings. Check out a new part of town you’ve been meaning to see. Do your taxes, if it’s that time of year. Cook something that takes all day. Work on your personal projects. Read some books. Play an epic, all-day game of Civ. Now is the time, because even though you tell yourself that you’ll do it on weekends and evenings when you’re employed, it’s a hell of a lot easier to take care of it now.
  • Chill. You have just been relieved of a lot of responsibility! Sure, you’ve got bills to pay and things to worry about, but if you’re behind four people in line at Starbucks, all of whom take 10 minutes to order, who cares? You don’t have to be anywhere. You know that saying, “time is money”? It’s not really, for you, anymore. Sure, you’ve got things to do, but free time is no longer a restricted commodity, and you won’t be letting anyone down if you get to the grocery store half an hour later than you expected to.

I could probably overanalyze the unemployed productivity problem for ages, but I’ll stop for now. The last thing I’ll say is that this is a great time to pick up a personal project, if you don’t already have one. I had two in the works, and I ended up making some pretty good progress on one of them, putting the other on the back burner, and picking up a new one. In the process, I learned a few things and stretched my brain a bit. Meanwhile, I relaxed, made some serious progress on my video game and TV queues, and got a lot more healthy. Honestly, I may have to find a way to take a month off every year!

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About

My name is Maitland Lederer, and I’m a video game developer. I learn stuff you probably already knew and have opinions you've probably already heard. I figured it might be a good idea for me to start writing down the stuff I've learned so I don't have to relearn it. It's not, like, great wisdom or anything. It's just things I happened to learn, usually today.

Header photo by D Sharon Pruitt, used under a Creative Commons License.


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