How to Make Unemployment the Most Productive Time in Your Career

by Ryon Harms on February 22, 2010

When most of us find ourselves in transition we’re like the man in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Here’s the allegory in a nutshell: Imagine a group of people living in a cave lit only by a small fire. Now imagine one of them getting dragged out of that cave and brought out into the sunlight. The person getting dragged out would no doubt curse the person pulling him out, and once on the surface would be blinded by his first painful exposure to the bright sun. Eventually his pupils would start to adjust to the sunlight and reveal to him an entire new world of truth and possibilities.

Point is that the fear and anxiety that comes from a recent layoff or firing can be overwhelming. However, once the dust settles and we start to rethink our predicament, we realize that in fact being in transition can be turned into a major strategic advantage over working peers. Don’t believe me?

When it comes down to it, time is money. And time is exactly what you get when you’re in transition. Unlike working for somebody else, what you do with that time is entirely up to you. You can waste it on the worn out  job search path most people take, or you can cash in your time to establish a foundation that will pay dividends for your entire career. If I were you, I’d bet most of my time on three surefire winners: knowledge, networking and sharing.

Knowledge – Your brain is like a bank. The more you educate yourself – the more you read, the more you learn from observation and experience – the more you deposit and the more you’ll have available to you at an opportune time. If you’re not reading books, industry rags, business blogs and an infinite number of informational resources on the Web, you’re wasting a golden opportunity to make huge deposits of knowledge in your brain trust.

Networking – Today and even more so in the years ahead, your worth will not only be judged by the people you know, but by the people that know you. Known as the Network Effect, the more you invest in your network, the more value you’re able to give new members which serves to drive demand for membership in your personal network. Working professionals that understand this principal would kill to have enough time to grow their networks and in turn their career capital.

Sharing – Now imagine combining those two key elements – sharing your constantly expanding knowledge and contacts with your constantly expanding network. The result is immensely valuable and the key to making your transition the most productive time in your career. In addition to your unique knowledge, sharing should come from your intangibles, the very things that an employer might otherwise pay you handsomely for.

Only question is, what happens when you return to that cave called employment? No doubt you’ll find those cave dwellers rather dull and unproductive. Here are Plato’s thoughts on how they might see you back: “Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn’t they kill him?”


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan C. February 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Nice BLOG! Came to me by way of the USD Alumni Network.
Speaking from an 11month layoff from the Semiconductor industry, most of my time is spent on gaining knowledge, networking my tail off and sharing small successes/situational info with other friends/family. In all fairness, 70% of one’s unemployed time should be spent on three surefire winners: knowledge, networking and sharing. However, the reality of requiring more income than the hefty EDD max and the “info channels of opportunity” prospective employers exercise, still calls for 30% (or less) effort in the “traditional” or “worn out job search path”. It is tough to dismiss the simple quantity of job opportunities available through the services; however employment via networking is often the quality “hook-up” we all desire.


Pat w February 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

This came to me via the USD linkedin website. I have been struggling with the concept of unemployment for quite some time. Since jobs, albeit low grade jobs, are always available, the question for me concerns the quality of my time.Too often do little transition jobs become the characterization of a person’s life. Well, I was not about to start down a substantive-less path. Still, we are beings of purpose; we live happier and longer when we have goals and stay productive. In this pergatorio of joblessness I have decided to give myself a new education. I have read more in the last year than most people will in their entire lives, everything from US history to the classics like catcher in the rye, and Hemmingway’s the sun also rises. My thoughts; if you cant get a good job, increase the horizons of your mind by exposing yourself to the brilliance of the brilliant. Its that simple. I got in touch with a old prof from johns hopkins and he gave me a reading list. I feel I have purpose again. Perhaps not now, but later down the road, I believe the time I have spent turning through pages and sipping a mocha will benefit me in ways getting someone’s latte now cant. But thats just me, lazily looking at the shadows of the forms. cheers!


Ingrid February 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for sharing! I am also enjoying the other blogs you recommend.
I saw this via LinkedIn (USD Alumni Network) as well.


JobsDirectUSA November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Based in Jacksonville, FL, Carlos Gil is a Web 2.0 and social media guru whose philanthropic work has been featured by amongst numerous news media outlets. In 2008, Gil founded JobsDirectUSA shortly after being laid off by insurance-giant American International Group (AIG).

As a direct result of his own job loss Gil self-funded and launched the original website (see here) for job seekers, like himself, to discover jobs and become re-hired quickly. Today, Gil’s JobsDirectUSA and activism reaches millions of career professionals throughout the country.

Gil, a non-college graduate, began his career in 2001 as an 18 year old part-time shoe salesman who earned minimum wage while living in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Since then, Gil has represented Fortune 500 corporations such as American International Group (AIG), Citigroup and Regions Financial Corporation in various Management roles overseeing multi-million dollar consumer loan portfolio’s and credit receivables.

Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosGil83


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