Hope for Unemployed Creatives

Tim Robbins said it well in The Shawshank Redemption – “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I’m writing this not as an expert but as one who has experienced, and continues to, what it’s like being unemployed in the advertising industry for 6+ months. (Unemployed being defined as unsuccessful in seeking full-time employment – not including freelance.) Being unemployed just plain sucks. It’s, as a friend once put it, demoralizing. If you’ve ever had any insecurities or doubts in your ability as a creative (in my case, an art director) they’re now magnified 100x and looming overhead daily. My old ACD once told me that everyone gets laid off at least once in their life. I had always hoped that wasn’t true for obvious reasons. But, after 4+ years in the industry, when finally it became a reality, I almost felt relieved. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I did feel like I had gone through a rite of passage.

When you first get laid off, you try to be optimistic, at least after any bitterness that was there has dissipated. You realize there’s nothing you can do to change this and start to think about the good things associated with being given the boot. Here are just a few that come to mind:

1. Sense of relief – Though this does not apply to everyone, some of us are well aware when layoffs are taking place and whether or not we might end up on the chopping block. It’s a nerve-wracking, sickening feeling that can consume you constantly. You start to micro examine everything you do, for fear that the one mistake you overlook will be what ultimately seals your fate. You wonder if you should even put forth 100% of your effort because they’re just going to let you go eventually anyway. In my opinion, this is self-sabotage for 2 reasons: 1) When time comes to decide whether Jane or I get laid off, giving the powers that be any ammunition to chose me over her (such as incompetency or lack of motivation on my part) will make their job much easier and just self-fulfill my warped prophecy in the first place. 2) Your career doesn’t end with this job. Even if you go out – go out with as big a bang as possible. End on a good note with everyone. That way, you can at least feel good knowing you did your best, have great references, and are in a good place for things to come, and you don’t have to worry anymore!

2. Severance or salary continuance – In some cases, your agency will grant you one of these without stipulation as to whether or not you get to keep this income if you start freelancing within a certain given period of time. This isn’t always the case, but for me it was. What does this mean? Well, for starters, you can temporarily make double income with one job, thereby building up savings for when your severance and/or new freelance does eventually run out.

3. Reconnecting with all of those long lost contacts – Though I love to talk, I’m not always good at keeping in touch with people (be it old colleagues or friends). However, when you’re unemployed, reaching out to those forgotten ones starts sounding like a great idea, as they might actually be able to get you your next gig. And if they’re one of your Linkedin contacts, it makes the whole process (of sending a simple email, or many) that much painless. And even if they can’t get you a job, I’m certain they’ll have some words of encouragement that will help you get through this difficult time.

4. Being social again – With all the free time on your hands, you’ll be able to attend those events and meet all the new people for whom you previously never had space in your busy schedule. If you’re thinking about making a career change, this is a great place to start. Not only can you get perspective from others, but it may even land you a job. And, don’t just limit it to advertising circles. Spread out to any social networks you’re interested in art, cooking, sports, etc. Many times, people are given a job because of a common interest or passion they share with those doing the hiring. It’s almost like a back-door opportunity where you get to know someone on a more personal level before you even ask for a job. I once got an interview simply because I put Scrabble as one of the things I like to do in my free time.

5. Taking time for you – If, like many creatives, you were working late hours right up until the day you got laid off, now is the time to take a break and gather your thoughts. Yes, it might feel like a guilty indulgence not jumping right into your work search. But the only way you can plan your next step is if you take a look at where you are at this point.  Maybe you’ve thought about traveling (near or far) but never could. Or you’ve been wanting to attend at least one PTA meeting, or pick up/drop off your kids at school.  Whatever the reason, now is the perfect time to do it. This isn’t to say throw caution to the wind and wing it for the next 6 months. But taking a week, or  even a few, out of a lifetime of working, to do what you’ve been yearning for, is not going to be detrimental to your career.

6. Reinventing yourself – You’ve noticed that, over the course of your last job, your website/portfolio has gone completely out of date. If this is your first time getting laid off and you’re junior-mid level, it’s possible that a portion of your work is from school.  You look down at your only business cards to see them emblazoned with your [former] company’s logo. You’re caught somewhere between being the alumni of your college/portfolio school and being just another young creative at your agency. It’s time to wipe the slate clean and grow into a real professional. Get new business cards with your own logo. Update your website with work you’re proud of. Establish a presence of the new you, showcasing the skills you’ve acquired and what you have to offer a prospective employer. You’re now your own brand. Act like it.

7. Learning something new – One of my future posts is going to be a list of things I’ve done since being laid off that has helped me keep me from becoming stagnant both in the professional and personal sense. With all of my new found downtime, this was probably the most important lesson for me.  Learning something new empowers you and boosts your confidence. It gives you something to talk about when people ask “what’s new on the job front” and you’re tired of telling them “nothing.” You can do this by selecting a program/software that may or may not be a professional requirement to know, and teach yourself how to use it. Learning a program which will make you more marketable to employers is as good place to start. And it goes without saying that familiarizing yourself with the basic ins and outs of Twitter, Linkedin, WordPress and the like, will most certainly help in all aspects of your life. Not only does it provide an outlet for you to share information with others, but it’s perfect for learning about endless amounts of subjects. For me, Twitter is great for aggregating news about design, jobs, news, etc. And the number of times I’ve benefited from my Linkedin connections is more than I can count.

These aren’t the only good things about being laid off, there’s also the prospect of working with new people, on new accounts, possibly even in new cities. It really depends on your outlook. Hopefully it’s a good one!