The 8 Stages of Funemployment

Illustration by Crystal Chen

This is one candid account of leaving one’s job.

Stage 1: The Glee

This is going to be awesome. It’s probably exactly like having unlimited vacation. You are singing “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee—”


Stage 2: What Have I Done Keep Smiling

—“I’m so jealous,” other people will say. You will grin and pretend it’s going to be awesome but inside—

inside, you are crapping your pants.


Stage 3: The Panic at Your Disco

The day has come. What is this feeling

oh gosh it’s a panic attack

is it going to be fine is this going

to go

well


Stage 4: The Shock

The world hasn’t ended. You’re still alive. There is still electricity and internet in your apartment.

What!


Stage 5: That Quiet Guilty “Should ”Feeling

What are you doing moping around, your mother says. Aren’t you supposed to be on holiday? Why don’t you go to a museum or learn how to make pots or do all the other things you wanted to do?


Stage 6: The Hurricane

Oh wow.

Oh wow!!

You can still do all the things! These little things that you thought the market economy had no utility for? You can still do them.

You can start that podcast/YouTube channel/get your blog up and running. You can become the next Tim Ferris, but female and Chinese. You can capitalize on this whole microinfluencer thing and target your content at other Asian Americans. You can spend all day trying to get strangers to follow your Instagram profile, which is now improving because you’re not just posting random stuff, you’ve actually got a content plan.

Consistency, bro.

Instead, you whittle away your hours reading the New York Times and The Atlantic because reading it makes you feel so smart, so well-read, so Ivy League. Occasionally you have nightmares of what would happen if Donald Trump became president. This gives you the idea to write Donald Trump apocalypse romance fanfiction and self-publish it on Amazon. But wait, someone else has already written Trump and the Bellboy.

As whip yourself up in a hurricane of opportunity costs, a realization quietly settles in the eye of the storm: the world doesn’t care what you do with your time.

This scares the shizz out of you.


#Stage 7: The Realization You Begged For

You are not used to operating in society like this.

You have not “deserved” this vacation, and yet here you are. You have not “deserved” this life of leisure, and yet here you are. You have not “deserved” to travel to the Welsh coast on a whim, and yet there you went, stood on cliffs, admiring strange-looking flowers and posing on the edges of cliffs, all without the tether of a cheekily-worded Out of Office message.

OOO gettin Instagrams kthx

Laozi says, “The Way that can be ascertained is not the Way.”

Buddhists say, “Stop trying.”

So you try to stop trying. You try very hard not to find your Way, to find your Way.

Freedom feels like this: there is no-one here to regulate you. Control you. Manage you. There is no-one here to motivate you, cheer you on, or dangle a promotion in front of you. There is no Friday to look forward to, because every day is Friday and every day is not Friday.

There is no one here.

It is unnerving, being by yourself. It is strange, not being able to stress over a deadline. Or worry about about KPIs. It is downright weird, not to “look forward” to the weekend. You realize that 5-day work week and 2-day weekend is now all as arbitrary as which heads the pigeons decide to poop on.

You thought that by removing yourself from the structure of society, your disdain for it would vanish too. That you would be able to live, breathe, and eat peacefully among the fragrant wood of your mind.

Nope.

To deal with this discomfort, you call your mother and tell her that you burned your dinner. You wait for her to yell at you and tell you that you don’t know how to do anything. She doesn’t take the bait. She just says, “aw, sweetie.”

There is no outsourcing the following:

  • To accept that you are no-one.
  • To trust that you are special.
  • To realize that all your efforts will be in vain.
  • To know that whatever you do has an impact.
  • To protect yourself.
  • To open your heart.
  • To stay humble.
  • To cherish yourself.

200 emails a day. 20 meetings a week. 8 happy hours a month. That used to hold the dialectic at bay. But you took the wall with you when you left your last job for the void of the unknown, and the dialectic merged with itself and became a paradox.

The paradox.

Here is the paradox now, breathing hard. He has run a long way to meet you.

Love the paradox, and you’ll be able to live well no matter what happens.


Stage 8: The Truth in the Truce

Emails trickle in from the other side of the work-life divide. Friends wonder what life is like for you now, and what you’re up to.

Well, here’s what it’s like—now that you are here, in what feels like the apex of your unemployment, you want another job. If you were a true Romantic—French, Spanish, or Italian—maybe you could enjoy your self-imposed holiday. But you were born with that good rice-picking Chinese DNA cultured in late American baby boomer Protestantism, and so “funemployment” is a struggle against everything you have been raised to believe your whole life.

You get max two emails a day. One of them is always from your aunt, who sends you messages like FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: AMAZING CONCERT PIANIST BACKFLIPS CARNEGIE HALL BRAHMS VERY NICE! Those emails have a 2% open rate from you. You feel guilty because you now have all the time to watch all the AMAZING CONCERT PIANISTS backflipping and yet still ninety percent of your time is spent wondering and worrying about how you will get a job and thrust yourself back into the whirling pigpen of the market economy.

But that’s how it is. It is a whirling pigpen and you are a part of it.

So you set up a spreadsheet and start pulling in job leads. You design a macro for your cover letters. You download ToutApp so you can see if recruiters are opening your emails (they are). You design-think yourself the best Bullet Journal format for you. You make OKRs for yourself for the next quarter. One of them involves baking a chocolate cake, which you have never done before.

You take your laptop to the park and write cover letters under the cover of trees. You apply for jobs as you ride the bus over the Thames. You set up coffee meetings as you stare down a Diplodocus at the Natural History Museum. You send cold emails while tearing up at the sight of Jacob wrestling with God at the Tate.

Guess who’s got your back

Stage 9: The Job

What you know of Stage 9 is a projection, based on what you’ve learned from career websites, personal development blogs, and self-help literature. You’re not here yet. But you’re feeling your way toward it.

You watch a TED talk arguing against the success-failure binary, and another about relaunchers re-entering the workplace.

How’s life? Your friends will ask. They may expect you to say nice things. Some people will wish they were you, and others will not be able to fathom what you are doing. Your mother hints that maybe you could have a baby.

“Am I wasting my talent, by abstaining from social convention?” you inquire to a wisp of cirrus, “or am I part of the highest good, simply by being?”

Laozi says,“shut up already.”

Okay.

About

Crystal’s last job was the kind “a million girls would kill for.” She left behind a glamorous industry in a glamorous city for There’s Gotta Be Something Else. She got it in full upon her move to United Kingdom, upon which the general populace voted to leave the European Union. She is very sorry.

These days, she enjoys freedom as a flaneuse and Instagrammer. She would love it if you (1) followed her on Instagram, (2) liked this post (click that “❤” below!) or (3) wanted to introduce her to someone who is hiring. Any of the three or none of the three would be pretty cool.