PORTLAND, OR—Nicholas Higby, a graphic designer laid off in January, is on his way to mastering unemployment, the 34-year-old reported Monday.
"Yeah, I don't mean to brag, but I definitely have this down cold," Higby said. "Of course, I'd rather find another job, but until the economy turns around, I'm doing a pretty kick-ass job at the not-working thing."
Ever since losing his last job, Higby said he is enjoying all his city has to offer.
"I've eaten through my savings, but funemployment [sic] is enough to get by if you're careful what you do," Higby said. "I'm hitting all the free concerts and museums. I'm getting exercise at the park. I'm making repairs I've put off for years. It's amazing how productive I've been."
Higby has not always been so successful at not having a job.
"The first month, I was totally lost," Higby said. "I was either moping around the house or chasing leads for jobs that were ridiculously out of my reach. But now I have experience under my belt."
Through a months-long process of trial and error, Higby has learned the tricks of the unemployment trade.
"Leaving the house every single day is very important, even if it's just to spend a few hours at the coffee shop organizing the MP3 files on your laptop," Higby said. "I try to be out the door by 2 or 3 in the afternoon—no exceptions. You have to get out and do something during the day in order to not feel guilty about going out drinking that night."
Higby warned strongly against going to bed too early.
"It's depressing to be out at 9 a.m., because you see everyone else being productive," Higby said. "Besides that, morning TV sucks. The Rockford Files starts at noon, so I try to be up, showered, and out on the couch by at least 11:55."
According to Higby, continuing the search for employment amid setbacks is key. Every day, Higby makes it a point to go out and apply for jobs, buy a paper and peruse the classifieds, or wait for his cell phone to ring.
"It's hard being rejected so many times, but you have to stick to your guns," Higby said. "I make sure to spend at least 10 percent of my day looking for work."
Another of Higby's tips involves assigning additional meaning to activities he once did as a matter of course.
"If you think about how you need stamps, and you put getting stamps on your mental list of things to do the next day, when you do go get those stamps, you've achieved a goal," Higby said. "Another example: Thursday is Sports Illustrated Day. Now, back when I had a job, I also used to read Sports Illustrated on Thursdays, but Thursday was never Sports Illustrated Day."
Higby said he considers himself a cut above other non-workers he knows.
"I have other friends without jobs, and they're pathetic," he said. "They get nothing done. They're always depressed or frustrated. I know it's rough the first couple months, but they should have their act together by now."
Conversely, Higby said he hit his stride about three months ago.
"I definitely can recommend doing your reading at Powell's City Of Books rather than the library," Higby said. "The library is filled with dregs, people who have no idea what to do with their surplus 40 hours a week."
Higby added that it is important to uphold the appearance of productivity.
"When I'm out during the day, I carry around some notebooks and papers and take them out whenever possible," he said. "It's no good to be just sitting there on a park bench staring off into the distance. It creeps people out."
"And don't burden others with your sad reality," Higby continued. "I used to complain to my friends that I was bored, but I quickly realized that, after busting their asses at work all week, they don't want to hear it. Now, I talk about 'working hard on my portfolio.'"
Additionally, Higby is careful to cycle through his companions so as not to become a social burden on any individual friend.
"Josh works weekends, so on Monday and Tuesday he's sitting at home looking for someone to watch a movie with," Higby said. "Kenny freelances, so I usually call him on Wednesday. If I drop by Beth's restaurant in the slow hours before dinner rush, I can usually kill a few hours and score some Pad Thai. You could definitely say I'm pretty proud of all the non-work I've been getting done."