By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Hershaff and Thompson nodded. Like Mansinne, they were at this event to hobnob with a local donor to the nonprofit Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sends anyone of demonstrably Jewish descent on a bus tour of the Holy Land. Earlier this year, Mansinne, who has a Jewish mother and Catholic father, went on the 10-day trip, which she followed with a one-week jaunt through Turkey. The latter section of the voyage would have been impossible if she still had a job to return to.
Taking in the room over a glass of white wine, Mansinne, wearing dark-framed glasses and a gray sweater over a white collared shirt, said she was struck by an odd feeling of nostalgia. "It's funny, to be at this event, because this is exactly the type of event that I used to throw," she said. "For two years, this was all I did, was go to events like this, and I was in charge. Now I'm not in charge."
The driven young men and women now suffering waves of job losses were the same ones portrayed in their collegiate proto-state in David Brooks' landmark 2001 article in The Atlantic, "The Organization Kid." Brooks described the meticulous overachievement of Millennials, which stood in contrast to their Boomer parents' hostility toward authority and the paths to success sanctioned by authority. To judge from what the newly jobless are saying, the Organization Kid seems to have chilled out a bit.
Peter Shanley, a 27-year-old Yale graduate, was mowed down in a round of layoffs at Yahoo the week before Christmas. Armed with about $40,000 in severance pay and $475 per week in unemployment insurance checks, he has set aside plenty of time for what most would consider leisurely pastimes. Since his layoff, he has taken an extended skiing vacation in Idaho. He's done five of the top seven hikes in Marin County. Right now he's training for the Death Ride, a 129-mile bicycle trek through the Sierras in July. (The day after his layoff, Shanley says, he defied the frowning gods of the recession and purchased a discounted $3,000 road bike.)
At about 4 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Shanley chatted in the back lot of Zeitgeist, a one-time biker bar, now evolved into a beloved hipster hangout, at Valencia and Duboce. Sporting dark sunglasses, a blue T-shirt bearing the insignia of the Italian national soccer team, and a moustache thick as a Fuller brush, he sipped a pint of beer and explained that his job search is, of course, active. But it's not what you'd call desperate.
"I'm not apathetic about the fact that I have no income right now other than government checks," he said. It was a sunny, windblown afternoon; the air smelled of boozy malt, burning weed, and cigarette smoke. "But in this market, there's only so much you can do."
Lest joblessness get too comfortable, Shanley still hits the gym early in the morning and takes time to volunteer. He has regularly devoted man-hours to the Berkeley-based service group Causes.com, and is considering a several-month stint as a volunteer with a microloan organization in Africa next fall. He sends e-mails to prospective employers and tries to set up interviews. He's thinking about going back to school for a Ph.D. in behavioral economics. Notably, he said he's been spared the psychological blow many associate with loss of work. For him, unemployment has confirmed the need to relegate jobs to their proper place in his perspective on a life well lived. "I don't really define myself by work," he said. "I work to support a lifestyle that's very full and rich and fulfilling."
Funemployment isn't just about fun. Many take the time to volunteer, self-educate, pick up odd jobs, or consider career shifts they had placed indefinitely on the back burner. As Mansinne mulls her next move, she is also babysitting, job-shadowing at Petaluma High School, and putting together a North Bay wine-tasting event for Birthright Israel.
"When I talk to people, it's not about unemployment," says Katie Edmonds, 29, who was laid off from a videogame art studio in April. "It's about, 'What are you doing with your time now?' A lot of people are like me. They just had so much waiting in the wings that they pile their plates really high with things to do."
Unemployment, says Tania Khadder, a San Francisco resident and co-founder of the blog Unemploymentality, "forced me to reevaluate what I was doing and what I wanted." Edmonds agrees that a serendipitous loss of work was just what she and some of her friends needed as they drifted into their late twenties with vaguely realized ambitions. The unremitting schedule of the gainfully employed — work, after-work drinks, television, sleep, more work — doesn't leave a lot of time for purposeful examination of the future. Edmonds, who did a stopover at fashion-design school before graduating with a degree in political science from UC Berkeley, is now making plans to return to grad school to study public policy. Being unemployed, she says, "took my attention, which was spread over a lot of different things, and gave it focus. In a way, it derailed my financial plan. But it accelerated my professional plan."