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On the Margin

In January 2008, 78.3 million Americans had jobs.  By November, that was down to 76.7 million people and shrinking fast.  The 3.9 million who were unemployed in 2007 have seen their ranks grow by 41%, meaning that a lot of people are unemployed now that haven’t been in the recent past.  Those who have been there before probably know a thing or two about how to survive the situation, but the newcomers likely don’t.

This series is written for those of you who have recently left the middle class with what feels like a bootprint on your ass.

migrantI will start today with a brief overview of some of the skills I have learned during the roughly five years that I have been marginally employed.  During this time I have done a wide variety of things to make money, including:  bartending, consulting to nonprofits, consulting as an engineer, reporting, selling my own novel, selling other people’s novels, selling Amish made furniture, designing furniture, carpentry, masonry, and professional driving.  I’m not proud – but I like getting paid.  But that’s not the kind of skills you need to survive lengthy unemployment.

First off, don’t panic.

More than anything, you have to keep your eyes open and sharp.  Depression will threaten that more than anything, so keeping your attitude up will be your top goal.  Learn how to check in with yourself – how are ya doin’?  Make sure you know the answer straight up. Exercise regularly, both in body and mind.  Keep a regular schedule and sharpen your skills by reading up in your chosen field.

With your eyes wide open for opportunities, the most important thing you can do is stay active and healthy. Get out and constantly network with people you don’t even know, just getting to know them.  You never know where a lead might take you as you ask for new leads.  People are often interested in helping someone like you who could use a break, so remember who they are and remember your great Karmic debt to the universe when you finally land something.

Try to keep up with friends, even if their talk of vacations and recent purchases eats at you – let them know cheerfully that you know how to survive without all that stuff.  Be proud of your ability to keep it together under stress, because that which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.

Specifically, the skills you’ll have to develop fall into broad categories for the next posts:

Good Habits:

  • Eat well – lentils and rice can be dinner for less than $0.50 a serving.
  • Get up every day – a routine separates you from the unemployable
  • Have a hobby – make something you are proud of, like a blog, a craft, or skill

Bad Habits:

  • Eating out – it’s good to get out, but you have to watch it.
  • Drinking and drugs – both can kill you.
  • Smoking – cut it out or at least cut down
  • Lottery – you’re not getting out of this in one easy step.

Finding Work:

  • The State – unemployment benefits might be yours.
  • Start your own biz – consulting and other work takes little startup.
  • Agencies – temp gigs have gotten many people by.
  • Networking – constantly talk to people just to know what’s going on.
  • Small gigs – opportunities are everywhere if you keep moving.
  • Resumes – you’ll need many, some of which are “dumbed down”.
  • Free work – watch it, but it can lead to a paid gig.

Sharing & Paring Expenses:

  • Home – a roommate or a new commitment can help
  • Car – you may not need one of your own
  • Food – cooking together can save a lot

The Dark Side

  • Priorities – in a pinch, know which bill you pay first
  • Banks – they have their schedules, and you’ll have to know them
  • Collections – know the laws, know your rights.
  • Creditors – tell them before you miss a payment.

Before I get into these topics, I’d love for everyone who has been through this to offer their suggestions.  It’s easy enough to do it anonymously in the comments, and I will not delete any genuine comments on my blog.  Thank you for reading, and I look forward to what you have to say.

10 thoughts on “On the Margin

  1. Erik: This one does NOT make my brain ache! I think I’ll bookmark this for future reference…I MAY need it. I am preparing now for what is to come. Been there before…but not at this age.

  2. Erik: I feel like a lateral crawling creature following my nose across links to land on the most intriguing sites…thus I stop for a rest with you. You are my first comment in my blog hopping…the subject raw and throbbing for countless brothers and sisters… So much to say…been here before…am here now…but the difference is the the set of my sails and my soul with this self same financial wind that blows….I understand now what I didn’t know before and that is my part in the creation of my life and circumstances brought on by my THOUGHTS and FEARS … I’m no longer a victim…it wasn’t “done to me,” but rather for me by a source that knows my need to grow. Now I turn to my own divinity for creation and miracles. I place the order with the universe and like manna of old, just enough is provided to keep me moving through the dark with only the beams of headlights to show the way. Such a mix of metaphors…oh well… I have lived through enough to know that all will be ok and will be revealed on the other side of this “mess.” For those who are frightened, take heart, this too shall pass… nothing lasts forever – not the easy or the hard times; notice I didn’t say good or bad times – that’s a judgment call – and too often in my life what I’ve considered “bad” turned out to be a great blessing, as will this current financial situation. I’ve survived a lot of valleys only to climb back to the mountain tops above the timber line where the view is clear and the air crisp and refreshing, BUT NOTHING GROWS ABOVE THE TIMBER LINE. We must come back to the valley for growth. Nothing puts energy into a difficult situation like pure gratitude … A line from Kippling speaks of meeting Triumph and Disaster and treating “these two imposters just the same.” They are imposters and they’re both tempered by Gratitude… Find the treasure in all of this…find the core of you and open to the miracles. It’s quite a ride…my blessing to all who are suffering and frightened…go inside…find your connection to the divine, to your own divinity, and place your order…then get out of the way to allow the miracle, and practice common sense, frugality, initiative, industry, creativity while the Universe moves mountains in your behalf… I wish there were more space to spill the words that aren’t adequate at very best to explain the phenomenal power all of us possess to call forth exactly what we need. I’ll end with Emily Dickinson’s words: “Dwell in Possibilities.” God bless you all…

  3. Having been “marginal” during most of 2003, here’s a big one; when you interview for a job and are waiting for word (especially in competitive times), apply for something, anything, else. That way, waiting for that final up/down decision is a little less fraught; it’s not the only thing you’re waiting on. And if you get rejected, it’s not your only iron in the fire – which is a vital psychological life-ring.

    Als0 – I strongly recommend calling EVERY agency that operates in your field (whatever it is; I’m in IT), keep notes about each call’s content and resolution, and schedule followups. Treat job hunting as a full-time job.

  4. I voluntarily left my corporate job in 2002, to find a really good (but not well-paying) job at the U of M for 20-30 hours a week. As a grad assistant working part time I was finally able to finish up the Master’s thesis that I’d been toying with for a year or two while working full time.

    The self-employment track was something I tried 2004-2005 but I found it difficult without the recommended 3-6 months of savings financial advisers always tell you to have. If I could have worked 20 hours a week at the U and done some consulting, that would have been ideal but I’d already cut that tie before I realized how much marketing I’d have to do on my own.

    After that, full time work was a bit difficult to find but working through Prostaff, I got a couple of different gigs in corporate settings, eventually landing in a more long-term contracting position with Medtronic, where I’ve been for ~21 months now.

    I want to say “amen” on the paring of expenses, and say that it is important to find fun things to do on a small budget, not to cut out all fun while you’re struggling. Check out libraries, half-price bookstores, yarn stores (oh wait, not if you have a fondness for luxury fibers). Find the 2-for-1 deals at places in your own neighborhood (Reid’s) or the happy hour food specials when you need to celebrate. The car thing is hard, especially when commuting from Saint Paul to Fridley, but it can be done temporarily. As far as exercise, I really lucked out and have onsite access at work to 3 times/week yoga and other fitness classes for only $25/month. Essential to my health!

    Volunteering for nonprofits (serving on a board) has always been a good way to meet lots of great people and network. It can be difficult if you don’t have extra money because generally a financial contribution is required for board membership, but serving on a committee or a taskforce is another way to serve, meet new people and keep your self-confidence high.

    I love this topic. It is relevant to many people who have had to make adjustments or even who voluntarily left the corporate world because it was consuming their soul. Learning to survive on the margin is something that can give any of us more flexibility to make choices that work better for us in the long run.

  5. A big mistake many people make when living paycheck to paycheck is to shift their diet to “gutfill” — dull ramen or mac & cheese. Just living on starch and little flavor. It isn’t necessary and creates other problems (digestion, nutrition, depression).
    A $5 hard piece of imported parmesan converts to cups of finely grated parmesan and tastes infinitely better than those green silos of pre-grated. A few drops from a small bottle of toasted sesame oil adds tremendous flavor to rice or ramen. But the real mistake is ignoring fruits and vegetables and blow the budget when the craving for protein hits.
    One can buy a pablano and make a simple sauce to coat chicken thighs or drumsticks. Orange juice can also be a sauce component/marinade.
    Baking bread isn’t exactly simple, but the ingredients and technology have been around for thousands of years. It isn’t too expensive to fail a few times, and when you succeed, you will find not only a skill, but a wonderful meal.

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