5 Things To Get Straight Before Being Unemployed In Your Early 20s


You guys, this is no big deal.

Nobody’s judging you; nobody thinks you’re a failure yet. Nobody’s berating or belittling or trying to press you even deeper in the proverbial sludge of “having your shit together.”

Baby, you got this.

You’re a hot young aspiring-something with a Bachelor’s degree. The only things you have to fear are falling behind all of your like-minded friends, being the less successful sibling and petrifying into a total waste of your parents’ genetic material and money. And maybe some other stuff like paying off student loans, or dating after college, or whatever.

Again: No. Big. Deal.

And I mean, what are you even doing every day? Like nothing? Definitely like nothing.

Doing nothing is great. Taking a day, heck, maybe even a weekend for yourself can be relaxing, self-affirming, and possibly productive if you so choose. After all, that’s why parks and matinees and Extreme Couponing and Bar Rescue exist. Yep, a little time to reflect and deflate on your own terms in your own bed, or on your own couch for a few hours is pretty unassailably fulfilling. But it hasn’t been just a few hours, or a day, or even a weekend; it’s been about three months.

You’re unemployed and in your twenties and there’s some shit you best get straight. These are unfathomably valuable lessons, so read closely:

1. Have some idea of what you want to do.

This is a big one. Basically, people are going to ask what you’re doing. It’s easy money on the human interaction market. And you, being a functioning conversationalist, will inevitably feel obligated to provide an answer of some sort. “What do you do?” is the new “Oh where are you going to school?” Or for the more direct: “Where are you working?” which is the evolved form of “Have you thought about what you’re going to do after you graduate?” I’ll pause for a second, because it’s fair to say that these questions are probably benign, bottom-of-the-barrel talking points themselves with little to no malice meant.

But you won’t take them that way, will you?

No way, Friend.

These darts to your psyche are just about the most damaging verbal constructions since whoever thought of saying “you IDIOT” literally left entire continents in ruins.

Anyway, the best counter to said barbs having a couple of slightly self-deprecating, pseudo-thoughtful and superficially wide-eyed ear worms at the ready.

They don’t even have to be true! At all!

For example:

“Oh I’m doing some freelancing. It’s not exactly paying the bills, *chuckle* so I’m still looking around, but you know…” Trailing off here can be a great strategy to employ in a lot of situations, but only if you’ll be able to sidle off sooner than later.


“Oh applying to grad school. Those GRE’s…ha ha. Whoof.” You may get the deluge of “What for…” questions, but just say whatever you majored in. Alternately, saying “law” or “business” instead of “grad” can stop that line right in its tracks.


“Oh I don’t really see myself doing anything.” Save this for the highest-strung of your friends’ parents and potential employers, or pretty much anyone you want to impress with your aloof, downright refreshing attitude towards a life-well-lived.

2. Make contacts and know what they can do for you.

I honestly think most people want to help you out of a slump of this nature. Like, how validating must it be to watch an advisee or protégé succeed? You were there for them. You nudged them this way and that until something fit. Through ups and downs and rejections and eventual ascension, you were their rock; the one who believed. You fucking made them, and they fucking owe you fucking everything….

But, for real, I think most of the contacts you make genuinely want to help you out. They’re more successful than you, generally know more people than you, and probably have some gems of wisdom that they wish they’d known way back when. The importance of networking is practically canon, but, obnoxious as it is to be told something you probably already know: talking to people who do what you want to do and asking for their take is a really, really good idea.

Unless you don’t know what you want to do.

In that case, the glow of elation and relief after someone tells you not to “worry so much. Everyone reinvents themselves a few times in their twenties!” for the fifteenth time begins to dim. Also, “Well, I guess the best thing you can do for me is to act as a resource for more contacts,” may start to sound super hollow. This is because it is super hollow. Know what a contact can actually do for you. They probably want to help. Wasting people’s time is the worst. Especially when you know it and they probably do too.

3. Develop a routine.

As was covered earlier, what’s really, really cool about being unemployed is that you can do anything. All the time, anything. This is also what’s really, really daunting about being unemployed. Believe you me, it’s a mental crevasse that you’ll hopefully plumb as little as possible before snagging onto something relatively sturdy, you know, like a job or an engaging hobby or goals to work towards or something.

Without structure, things fall apart. Your day-to-day is one of those things. Luckily, there’s a solution, its called developing a routine, and, naturally, its far easier said and planned than done. But steel your reserves: it’s necessary.

The important thing to keep in mind is that nothing you do really takes up that much time. You go for a run: 30 minutes; maybe you do core (hard maybe): 5 minutes; watch the Daily Show/Shark Tank/Listen to a podcast: lets say like 90 minutes…

You get the point, there are probably 14 waking hours at your disposal (20 if you’re cool) and you need to do something. And sure, you could say, “Alex, intermittently watching TV/Netflix/playing 2048 on my phone is my routine, and that can take as much time as I want it to. GFTO of my nauseating mental fog so I can chase this dragon,” and that’s fine. But where will you be when you’ve seen every Ken Burns documentary, re-watched every H. Jon Benjamin project in its entirety and your vision blurs for a second every time you look away from a screen? You might want to try something else.

If every night you write out ten things you want to do the next day, you’ll find there’s plenty of time left over to reward yourself with that sweet, sweet stupor to which you’ve grown accustomed. And know what? It’ll be all the sweeter. You earned it after all. You went “for a run,” “read more of that book” you’ve “been working on,” and applied “for at least two jobs.” No way around it, dawg, you’re impressive af.

4. Neither your friends’ parents nor your parent’s friends will hire you.

Sorry. It would be awesome though, right? You know them… they know you… it’s not quite nepotism…

Sexy results.

Sadly, it probs won’t come to pass. It turns out that when people consider paying you money to do things for them, personal favors and the benefit of the doubt are hard to come by. The sickening reality is that you’ll probably have to milk them for all they’re worth in an advisory capacity (see unfathomably valuable lesson #2) instead of a financial one.

But good news, y’all! You’ll never be indebted to them either! No one around some soul-crushingly-windowless office will ever be able to think of you as that kind of charity case! A charity case maybe, but not that kind! No M’am, you’re free to be disappointingly inept at basic business tasks all on your own.

“Ugh, Johnson doesn’t even know PC keyboard shortcuts for Excel… Sure wish he was someone else’s kid…”

“He found us on Craiglist…”

See? What rapidly ebbing self-esteem? And how adult are you, Buddy? You didn’t know anyone who knew any of these people. Game. Over.

5. Don’t feel guilty because your roommates and friends are employed; let it motivate you.

When I had my last job, I would usually be the second or third of my five roommates to get home. Granted, this was dependent on whether or not I made an effort to catch a later bus to really, really subtly and effectively make inroads with someone I had a crush on.

No lie, my life is dope and I do dope things.

Regardless, I definitely noticed when others would get back before me, but didn’t think anything of it. On the other hand, when the later arrivals would come in and I’d be conspicuously draped over the loveseat watching The Price is Right or some other enthralling basic cable option, I felt like I was slacking. It was especially extreme on either end of my time there, when I was, as I am wont to be, gainfully unemployed.

My current roommate has had a pretty involved, steady job since the summer after we graduated. Much like in my previous situation, and through no fault of his own, his employment made me feel like I was wasting my time, slacking off and generally inferior in mind and body; that was a truly naïve, mentally masochistic attitude, so don’t think that way.

Don’t get me wrong: wallowing is fun. “Woe is me” is one of the better “is me”s. And you can get drunk by yourself and sing-a-long to a lot more of the Mountain Goats’ catalog than you probably realize. Eventually though, you really do start to feel like an astronaut could see the hunger in your eyes from space, and the actual creeping sense of uselessness and dread surpasses the joke and becomes very real and very consuming and will get you nowhere.

Good luck!

image – girl/afraid