Make the Most of Unemployment: Learn, Adapt, Improve

Unemployment Series

Being out of a job does not equate to being out of work. There are plenty of opportunities out there to keep yourself busy while you search for a new position, allowing you to gain valuable skills, and even earn yourself some ākhirah points.

2008 was a very good year and a very bad year for me. It was the year I completed my PhD in Molecular Biology and officially became a ‘Dr’. It was also the year I started my 18 month stretch of unemployment.

I wanted to be a scientist since I first learned the meaning of the word. But after four years of stress, tears, and broken dreams, the only conviction my PhD left me with was that nothing on Earth could make me go back to the lab. Job hunting was a major chore, as most Bio-sector openings were for postdoc positions in research. In the end, my period of unemployment was extended by a complete lack of direction; for the first time in my life, I had no idea what to do next.

Depression began to creep in as I felt the weight of societal expectations on my shoulders: that of my parents, my family, my neighbors, and even strangers I met at weddings. It was so embarrassing to admit that after eight years of higher education, I had failed (FAILED in big, bold letters) to do what most school-leavers have achieved: to get a job.

Alḥamdulillāh for me, the story did not end there; rather, it was the lowest point from which the only way was up. My situation began to improve when I launched my first social media initiative, It was the catalyst that rapidly converted my time of aimless thumb-twiddling into a time of self-discovery, proving to be one of the most productive and creative periods of my life so far.

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There were many positive consequences to working on SignLabs: first and foremost, I was helping the community – that’s always a win, māshā’Allāh. Producing the promo videos reawakened my love for film-making, an activity I hadn’t engaged in since I was a teenager. I also learnt that as much as I loved it, I wanted media and film to remain a hobby, and not a career.
Lastly, from a recruitment perspective, it galvanized the project management skills that I had unknowingly developed during my PhD and rebuilt the self-confidence that had taken a serious knock from years of toil and frustration.

It was this same confidence that allowed me to break societal norms once again: in March of 2009 I made the somewhat controversial decision to go back to university, to study for a government-sponsored Masters in Bioinformatics. Yes, a Masters after a PhD (!). As much fun as I was having with social media, I missed my first love, the sciences, and wanted to give them one last try to see if we could work past our differences.

Alḥamdulillāh, we did. Twelve months of hard work and copious amounts of pleading with Allah led to my first, official, full-time job as a newly qualified Bioinformatician in 2010. I literally walked out of university one day and into my new work place the next. That is the power of du‘ā’.

I am still benefiting from my 18 months as an un-employee. I am now less phased by positions of responsibility, both in and outside of the work place, and continue to collaborate on a number of community initiatives, māshā’Allāh. I also really, really enjoy my new job – a job that I only found having had the time and space to re-think my career path. Verily, after hardship comes ease, alḥamdulillāh.

A large part of the negative emotion we experience during unemployment comes from believing that we have let the world down somehow. That we are failures, and not worthy of success. Volunteering your skills, and indulging in creative pursuits during this trial can help you to feel useful and productive once again, whilst earning the blessing of Allah through your efforts to serve Him. Use this time away from the usual 9-5 routine to improve yourself for the benefit of everyone. It is a silver lining that you cannot afford to leave unmined.

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10 responses to “Make the Most of Unemployment: Learn, Adapt, Improve”

  1. SimplyMe says:

    I agree it is the feeling of usefulness that either gets us up or down. Feeling useful and productive is a confidence booster even for stay at home moms.
    Alhamdlillah! Congratulations on you achieving your dream job in both ways, the hobby as well an earning job.

    “reminder to self”
    ‘Everything falls into place as decreed- when it is time’

  2. S says:

    Jazakillahu khayra for this post.

    Very timely for me! As someone who has been unemployed since i left uni (three years ago), with only ad hoc temp work here and there. I can relate to what you mean re depression, failure etc.

    Here are the list of challenges I face almost daily:

    – The stress of not working, feeling of wasting my life becomes unbearable at times.
    – Boredom
    – Loss of confidence in your own ability, which in turn make it even harder to actually get a job.
    – Feeling of shame and embarrassment when ppl ask you about work
    – Not having financial stability and having to rely on others (parents etc)
    – Resentment and anger when even your close friends ask you ‘you are still looking right’? As though it’s impossible to stay unemployed for so long, I must not be trying.
    – Struggling with the qadr of Allah. Having to constantly remind myself to have tawakkul in Allah’s plan.
    – Pressure from family. Even when they don’t say anything.
    – Not being able to do other things (da’wah, hobbies etc). I don;t know if it is wasawasa or what, but each time i plan some da’wah, community work i don’t allow myself to do it because i should be looking for a job

    and so on.

    But on the plus side, the daily struggle to have tawakkul is a good thing for me. I remember the story of Ayyub and remind myself of my countless other blessings. It’s just a matter of having trust in Allah and to keep on going.

    May Allah make it easy for us all.

    • Not being able to do other things (da’wah, hobbies etc). I don;t know if it is wasawasa or what, but each time i plan some da’wah, community work i don’t allow myself to do it because i should be looking for a job

      It would be a waste of time to look for a job 24/7. There are only so many things you can do to find a job (check out Siraaj’s ‘Three Rules for Dealing with Unemployment’ for practical advice), leaving several hours of the day free for other activities.

      Tackling the defeatist attitude is critical for one’s mental health, never mind finding a job. May Allah grant you success, ameen.

  3. Carlos says:

    Your mind and your body have value. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. If nobody will recognize your potential and hire you, that does not matter. Hire yourself! Start your own business. Make your own living. Be your own boss. Compete against those who were so nearsighted as to not hire you. Never depend upon anyone but yourself for your own success!

  4. sakina.f says:

    aa sis

    Jazakallah khayr for sharing this! It means alot to me as insha’allah I will be starting uni soon and in the long term I’d like to go into medical research, and your story has been inspirational , showing that muslimaat can be the best scientists and end up with a job that they really really enjoy, (as well as get involved in community work) by the grace of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala

    :) p.s. did you film your promo videos whilst at the Living Islam camp?

  5. tz says:

    Knowing you went through 18 months of unemployment is giving me hope and optimism in enduring what may be a long road to being employed again. I recently quit my job after realising it’s not halal. I believe Allah will test me and my patience in finding a halal avenue and I have moments of self doubt sometimes. Inshallah I will persevere through my moments of insecurity and be able to wake up for the night prayer- there will be much barakah in this

    • iMuslim says:

      masha’Allah you seem to have an optimistic attitude which is a great Sunnah to fulfil. I pray Allah, ar-Razzaq, blesses you with pure rizq which you will use to serve Him, ameen.

  6. SA says:

    To a large degree I relate to the article. I finished Uni, went on to get an enviable job and then two years after, I was made redundant. Now almost after 15 months of job searching amidst other personal tests, I find myself (as you stated appropriately) lacking direction/clarity. It is as though you are at a cross road and roaming around in circles.

    When you have been given so much and then it gets taken away from you, by the will of Allah (swt), you need to be mindful that you are a prime target for the waswasa of Shaitan. You need to guard your ibadah like a hawk and add onto it. I recently went to a tafseer class where the Shaykh said that ‘Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra’ actually means that after every hardship there is more than one ease provided, in other words when it rains it pours. You never lose hope in Allah’s magnificence, He will indeed provide for you with means, without means or against means.

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