Funemployment Tales: Don’t Have a Job? Volunteer!

You might just realize that being out of work isn't the biggest problem in the world.

Hello, my name is Liz and I’m a workaholic. My friends started young, but I resisted the peer pressure for a really long time. I didn’t take my first job until college, and it was just part-time. But it’s true what they say: Part-time really is a gateway to full-time. By the time I entered grad school, I was working full-time but hiding it from my teachers and schoolmates. “Gotta run,” I’d say. “I have to study.” Little did they know I was going to a corporate office building to don a blazer and supervise a market-research call center. Now that I’m freelancing, I should be glad I’m not compelled to drink weak coffee in a linoleum-floored break room while making chit-chat with people I’d never talk to otherwise. But there is no pink cloud, just pink slips. And I miss the 9-to-5 high. Is it really work if my clothes are so comfortable?

You guys do make me feel I’m not alone, though. Take Amara, for example, who did the best thing a person could possibly do in this scenario: volunteer.

I got laid off in May 2009, and once I figured out the world had changed and I was not going to get hired in two weeks, and was given a ridiculously generously unemployment (because I had one quarter of high overtime), I signed up to tutor with the Center for Literacy to bide my time. On my first day to meet with my tutee, the Center was having people practice reading their essays aloud for the annual showcase, and the first one was an older Jamaican man who read his essay through some hard-fought literacy and a stutter about how he got laid off unfairly as a janitor and how difficult it is to sign up for unemployment when you’re not fully literate and he didn’t even know about it at first, then his employer fought the filing and so then he was screwed out of a higher unemployment payment. It kind of smacked me in the face with my own privilege and I felt like an asshole.

Volunteering is a great way to spend time when you’re out of work. It’s best to choose something you’re passionate about. But it doesn’t always work out. I called an agency whose mission relates to geriatric issues, which I’m interested in, and I told them I would do pretty much anything, from licking envelopes to fixing computers. They said no because I was too young. It was almost flattering, like getting carded, but … not. Another time I went to a volunteer orientation for a cause I felt was very dire and found, to my amazement, that it wasn’t so dire. The person doing the orientation was quite encouraging about the situation and about Philadelphia in particular, and I left feeling like no one needed me after all. Some volunteer applications I’ve seen are more complex and intimidating than job applications. They make me sleepy.

The stories you guys are sending in are wonderful. We’d love to hear more from you about what life was like or is like in the realms of the unemployed or partly employed or voluntarily employed. Send your experiences to