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Posted on Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:02 a.m.

The brief life and tragic death of one man's summer of funemployment

By Richard Retyi


When you're unemployed you eat a lot of soup with giant spoons.

On Thursday, April 21 at 4:30 p.m. I walked into my boss’s office and resigned. A few hours later, after turning in my keys and cleaning out my office, I made a few phone calls and ate a giant plate of General Tso's.
Then I drank three-too-many Manhattans at my favorite watering hole and sent a bunch of emails to myself on my Blackberry. One sent just after 1 a.m. read, “At 11:43 p.m. I realized I was unemployed.” So began my summer of funemployment.

I don’t mean to trivialize unemployment by tacking the prefix “fun” onto the word, but I don’t believe that all unemployment is bad. On April 21, I found myself unemployed, but, thanks to a cheery outlook and some decent financial planning, I had about three months of normal living before I had to get really worried.

I rent. My car is paid off. I don’t have kids. Other than a healthy appetite and Neflix streaming, my standard of living is pretty modest.

I also have the benefit of being attached to bona fide girlfriend Rachel who just graduated from a second degree nursing program and has decent job prospects of her own. If one of us got a job before September we’d be fine.


May, June, July. Three months of unemployed bliss — my first summer off since I was 14. I was really looking forward to it, but it only took two weeks for the plan to fall completely to pieces.

After drinking a lot of water and eating greasy food on my first day of freedom, I was the picture of productivity. I updated my resume, applied for a pair of jobs at the University of Michigan and wrote more than I had the entire month of April.

By Monday I had all my ducks in a row. I had committed to an equal number of writing projects and social gatherings. Life was sweet.

Things turned in the second week of funemployment. I stopped getting up early. I started going to bed later and later for no real reason. The one real task I had to complete each day seemed overwhelmingly hard, even simple things like “get pants hemmed” took six hours to accomplish. Then the panic set in.

Though I’d been out of work for only two weeks, I worried that no one would ever hire me again. I pictured myself striking out at every job opening and becoming a delivery man at Jimmy John’s (which actually appeals to me, if only they paid better).

I applied for more jobs at the university, but because the wheels at Michigan turn so slowly, I knew I wouldn’t hear for a month, if at all. Rather than enjoying the first month of funemployment, I was dreading the next two free months.

I knew there was a wide world outside Ann Arbor that I could explore, but I wanted to enjoy my summer. I wanted to soak up the sunny days, drink coffee and watch the world pass by. Lie in the grass in the park and read books. Stay up late on school nights and watch bad movies.

Instead I was paralyzed with the sheer number of options I had. I’d wake up at 11 a.m., maybe go to the gym and agonize over the endless possibilities. After nine days without work from January to April 21 (yes, I counted) all the free time was killing me. I made one phone call to my friend Jordan Miller, and, before I knew it, I had a new job.

Side note #2: Without Jordan Miller, I would be several thousand dollars (and counting) poorer, and I would probably never have written for or any of the other publications that will have me. Depending on what you think of me and/or Lie to Your Cats About Santa, Jordan is either awesome or the devil. I think she's awesome. End compliment.

On June 2, 40 days after I ended one career, I accepted an offer to begin another. The summer of unemployment was over — I started the following Monday (June 6 — D-Day), giving me three final days of freedom, two of which I spent at the mall buying fancy clothes.

I’m not complaining about having a job. It’s great. I make more than I ever have before and work with incredibly intelligent people at a great company, but I do mourn the summer that never was. I had a few of those sunny days, a few afternoons in coffee shops, and I stayed up late on a lot of school nights, but I didn’t make it to the park.

Don’t make the same mistake as me. If you find yourself unemployed, there are ways to maximize the situation and wring some fun out of a tough situation. Here are some tips to help you have the summer of funemployment I never did:

1. Plan everything
It’s Sunday night, you’re getting ready for bed, and you start thinking about what you need to do the next day. All you can think of is that you should probably get some eggs. Get a piece of paper and a pen and write yourself a detailed schedule. Include everything. I mean everything.

10 a.m.: Wake up.
10:15 a.m.: Eat breakfast
10:30 a.m.: Go to Meijer and buy eggs
11 a.m.: Watch TV
Noon: Check email
1 p.m.: Go to the gym
2:30 p.m.: Eat lunch
3 p.m.: Nap

If that seems excessive, trust me — it’s not. When you’re unemployed you have so many options that it can be paralyzing. I once spent an entire day kicking around the apartment aimlessly because I had to shave. Shave! I killed an entire day of sunlight putting off shaving.

Plan time to relax. Plan time to look for jobs. Plan time to work out. Plan time to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing but plan, or you’ll end up doing nothing.

2. Don’t listen to your parents
I waited a few days before telling my parents I was unemployed because I knew eventually they’d start worrying about me. It took about a week for my mom’s first “Do you have a job yet?”

I love my parents to death but the last time they applied for a job, you could smoke on airplanes. These days it usually takes a little while longer for applications to be accepted, sorted, vetted and piles of “yes”, “no” and “maybes” to form.

My parents expected me to be in office waiting rooms right away sitting with other candidates, fedora in hand and a pack of smokes in my pocket. Don’t listen to your parents — they’ll just freak you out.

3. A gentleman always wears pants in the city
Not technically a funemployment tip, but it doesn’t hurt to look nice when you hit the town and you don’t have a job. Jeans always trump khaki cargo shorts, especially in the summer.

4. Set a budget and try not to drink too much
Pretty self explanatory, but I can’t stress the first one enough. When you’re unemployed, your schedule is thrown off, and you get bored a lot. Buying things is fun, and takeout always tastes better than homemade. Set a weekly spending limit and stick to it. While you’re at it, try not to drink too much. Not only will it get expensive but it’ll throw your schedule off the next day.

5. Enjoy Yourself
There’s a stigma to unemployment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself a little. Keep sending resumes and applying for jobs, but if things haven’t hit rock bottom, have some fun. Go to the movies during the day. Go to Borders, grab a big armful of magazines and read them on the second floor while looking at people walk down Liberty. Stay up late and watch all six seasons of LOST. Enjoy yourself, because chances are you’ll have a job soon enough and, when you do, you’re back in the machine.

6. Breathe
It will be okay. Trust me.

(Richard Retyi writes the bi-weeklyish column Lie to Your Cats About Santa and on Monday will begin his fourth week at a great advertising and marketing firm in Detroit called Big Fuel. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRetyi or read more of his stuff at his blog InBedByEleven.)


Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

When you have a job most of your waking hours are dictated by your employer. That means around eight of your 16 waking hours (for those of you who get eight hours of sleep) are spoken for. That leaves eight hours in the day. Subtract at least one hour before and after work for getting ready and commuting (if you live close to work) and that leaves around seven hours a day of "free time". When you're unemployed, you have no schedule and all 16 hours to fill. It sounds counter intuitive - wouldn't more time be a good thing? - but it isn't. More time is harder to deal with, especially if you've been unemployed for a while. How many hours do you really think you can apply for jobs? I wake up at 6:40am every day and leave the house around 7:30am for my commute to Detroit. I get home around 7pm and try to get to bed by midnight. That leaves five hours of free time, but I'm so much more productive in those five hours than I was in my 16. Don't be fooled, full-time workers, it's not easy being unemployed. Not just the stress of not having a job and having no income but the pressure of filling all those hours and feeling unproductive. Especially if you have a personality that skew towards workaholism, it's brutal. Trust me - plan your days and try to enjoy yourself a bit. Focus on the things you can control. Health, family, hobbies. End speech.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:08 p.m.

I'm just a bit surprised you didn't line up another job before you resigned. I could see why your parents would freak out about that especially in this economy. I had a co-worker who did that and after three years is still out of work. He's finally going back to college to become an accountant and yeah, he did ask for his old job back but they already hired his replacement... Of course, it doesn't stop me from sometimes wishing I could tell my boss I quit and just walk out.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:38 p.m.

I don't know what the circumstances were leading up to RR's resignation and I don't want to speculate, but sometimes there is not time to line something up before you resign. I could tell you if I were in a situation where I thought I might be fired, or if my work situation had otherwise become too toxic to bear, I'd soon I'd move pretty quickly to resign before that happened. Again, not implying that was the case here, as it's none of my business.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

Why the heck can't this person tell his funny little anecdote without it becoming a referendum on unemployment in general? Jeez

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, Jul 2, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

because it ceased to be an anecdote when he opted to present 6 points of advice for negotiating unemployment.

AA Lover

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

I was unemployed for approximately 5 months last year, and I really appreciate this positive outlook! I am sure that some people will be offended by a sunny outlook on an otherwise unchangeable?/unfortunate situation, but when I was unemployed I really appreciate support from those around me. Thanks for your opinions about your "funemployment" and congratulations on getting a great new job!

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

Thanks for the kind words.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

congratulations on your 43 day "vacation". I have a friend whose "funemployment" is approaching 730 days I have another friend whose "funemployment" is past 365 days. No end in site for either of them. They are both well educated and in their late 40's to early 50's. Most prospective employers appear to prefer younger folks in their mid to late 20's who come much cheaper.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

Spelling correction..that should be children..sigh.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Agreed! I have three friends who have familes are in their mid 30's and have been out of jobs for over a year. At my job (which I'm thankful to have for now, but with all the state cuts and I work at the oh such lush job for a county government..which by the way is not a cash cow like people seem to think, with myself and two chidren..I'm just a smidge above the poverty line..anywhoo)..., I see plenty of people coming in everyday in the late 40's to early 50s..sometimes even older or people in their 30's who do have families (because let's face it, it's cheaper to hire people who don't have families) struggling everyday to find jobs. Some of the older people do not have the electronic skills necessary and have a hard time learning, especially if they are coming from jobs that did not require computer skills. It's a hard way for a lot of people and frankly I find that this article is going to be very offensive to those that are and have been struggling to find jobs.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

I'm 34 and starting my third career. I think it's incredibly rare for someone to stay at one company for their entire work life.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

Reminds me of the "Summer of George" from Seinfeld. Did you happen to eat a block of cheese the size of a car battery?

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

I have a friend who is in the early stages of his Summer of George. His life makes me jealous.