Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Accidental Guide To Enjoying Life While Unemployed – Part 4 – Expand Your Mind

Welcome back to my accidental guide to enjoying life while unemployed. Part 4, the final installment, focuses on expanding your mind, a natural enough progression from having dealt with the basics in Part 1, eating & drinking in Part 2 and keeping fit and active in Part 3.

I apologise for the delay in getting this up. The delay was, aptly enough, due to my having landed a job, which, due to its nature, meant that I was occupied with running around, having to arrange all sorts of things before its commencement.

That being said, I did have fun writing and researching this. And, given the sheer amount of time that I’ve been off work, will continue to practice what I’ve preached with only the occasional indulgence.

Part 1 – The Essentials
Part 2 – Eating & Drinking
Part 3 – Keeping Fit
Part 4 – Expand Your Mind

Please note that I do not benefit from any of sites I have linked to.

Learn Something New

Face it. Now that you have all this spare time, you might as well learn a new skill, or further an existing one. For one thing, it’s called improving your marketable skills. For another, keeping your brain sharp helps when it comes to just about anything in life, whether it’s going for meetings with potential employers, networking or plain old problem-solving. And, in certain cases, it’ll help you keep abreast of what’s going on in the world, which, in my line of work, is crucial.

If you’ve got high-speed access to the Internet, then learning something new is, quite honestly, not that hard, particularly since free online course providers in the form of Udacity and Coursera have started up in the past year or so. While these two initially focused on computer science courses, now, both of them have expanded their subject offerings, with the former now providing courses on Physics, Statistics and Logic, and the latter offering courses on Sociology, Literature and so on. Class Central provides a comprehensive list of courses offered by the two providers.

Perhaps you’d like to learn how to build a web site. In that case, why not learn HTML from Codecademy or Mozilla’s P2P University, and put it into practice by building your own web site or write a blog. That way, you’ll be able to reach out to a wider audience and connect with others, and, who knows where that will lead?

There’re also other online course providers, such as Udemy, which covers a wide range of subjects from programming to Photoshop to MS Office to Lean Startup and so on. It’s organised The Faculty Project, which brings “academia’s most outstanding professors to the computers, tablets and smartphones of people all over the world,” and includes courses on Modern China, Economics and Energy and the Environment and Foundation of Business Strategy.

If all of these courses have left you feeling a tad overwhelmed – something that happens when you have far too much choice – Lifehacker has listed a selection of courses which will only be running during the summer. Alternatively, you can refer to my post when I first discovered online learning resources for other sites.

If none of the course offerings grab your eye, there’re always podcasts.  Great sites for these include LSE Public Events, which put podcasts of all of their talks online within a few days of the talk itself, with talks covering all aspects of the social sciences. You can also apply for tickets to attend the event rather than have to listen to a recording of the event. You can also find podcasts covering a wide range of subjects on iTunes University which is available to you as long as you possess an i-Device of some kind. And, of course, there’s TED which contains wonderfully inspiring and though-provoking talks.

Want to learn a language? Try Memrise, a site created by memory expert Ed Cooke, who was featured in Moonwalking with Einstein, and neuroscientist Greg Detre. According to them, Memrise combines Science, Fun and Community to help users build up their vocabularies in Spanish, Mandarin, French or Italian.

Of course, online learning doesn’t cover everything that someone may like to learn. In addition, you might prefer to learn something more in-depth and gain a practical qualification of some kind while you’re at it. In which case, then why not try The Open University (OU)?

The OU is a pioneer in distance learning which offers close to 600 courses which count towards over 250 qualifications, enabling students to build up professional skills or even work towards a degree – undergraduate, postgraduate or research. And because modules are taught through distance learning, you can register and study almost anywhere in the world. As The Open University is a university, courses have set starting points throughout the year, usually October, February or April. The downside of going with an accredited institution is, of course, that it’s not free. Well, not entirely. The OU offers a selection of courses online at no cost, so you can always check these out first to see if the OU is for you.

Last, but not least, talk to an expert and see what they have to teach you. The Amazings, a collective taking the life experienced of passionate retired and retiring people and turning it into unique experiences for the younger generation, is an intriguing London-based organisation for doing exactly that. Learn a unique skill from those who’ve had far more experience than any of us have, whether it’s retro hairdos from veteran hairdresser Michael, or local history from teacher Sean or arts & craft from ceramists Su & Sue. All workshops are priced between £10 and £30.

Go to the library

It may have been years since you last stepped into a library, what with the advent of Amazon and Lovefilm, but, when you’re unemployed, you find yourself with a shortage of cash and a surplus of spare time, in other words, the converse of the situation you were likely in while you were working. This is where the library comes in.

It’s not all just children’s books and the latest novels recommended by Richard & Judy that you can find here. There’re also the non-fiction and reference sections which just might amaze you with its range (I found Daniel Yergin’s The Quest, the sequel to The Prize, at my library), graphic novels and, in my case at the Idea Store, DVDs and CDs which are free to borrow! And with the ability to perform online and telephone renewals, there’s no excuse for you not to be able to find time to return the books at your leisure.

Take care when it comes to renewing online though, and check thoroughly to ensure that you’ve managed to renew an item, as not all systems make that clear. I got stung by an overdue DVD and ended up having to pay £1 per day. Ah well!

On top of all this, most, if not all, libraries now offer Internet access in the form of terminals or wireless access. If your local’s one of these, you may find the library a great place to work, which will help greatly if you prefer to keep your home a home.

If you have no idea where the nearest library is, check out this handy site.


Volunteering isn’t just about giving something back to the community. It’s also great for maintaining a routine in one’s life, and helps to restore some element of structure to your day. It gets you out of the house so that you can be around people, people who know all about unemployment, and who can provide advice and support, even if you weren’t looking for it.

Volunteering also helps your employability, as it can help to bridge the gap in your CV, and shows employers that the most important thing to you isn’t money.

One important thing to note is that you can volunteer if you are on benefits as long as you do not receive money for the work you do (not including expenses) and meet the rules of your benefit. has more information on this.

Do-it is a great way to find out what sort of volunteering opportunities there are in the area you’re interested in. You can choose to sort by geography, area of expertise and sector in which you’d prefer to volunteer in. Timebank London is a new resource designed to help you find a way to volunteer in London, directing you to an assortment of organisations and projects and a variety of opportunities, ranging from mentoring refugees to regenerating your local environment.

Other ways of volunteering include helping out at a street food stall or a festival, or, as I like to think of it, bartering my skills. Volunteer to take photos at an event. Review a gig. Do publicity. Help out a street food stall. The list goes on. If you know of a festival or event coming up which you’d like to go to, it can’t hurt for you to get in touch with them and find out whether they need help. This works far better if you contact them well in advance.

On a personal note, I volunteered at a dance festival recently. In return for the five hours of work I was required to put in over three days, I received a social pass which meant I got to go to all the parties for free. I didn’t take full advantage of this benefit, but just being around other people who were so into something I used to be passionate about brought back great memories and made me feel really good.


I don’t think any section on mental well-being would be complete with touching on meditation. Meditation, it is said, helps one to relax, and, in time, develop a greater awareness of self. At a time of increased stress, such as during an extended period of unemployment, practising meditation could be an effective way of alleviating the pressures of modern living.

If you’re based in central London, Inner Space offers a series of talks and courses on various kinds of meditation, including creative meditation and practical meditation at both of its locations in the City and Covent Garden. You can also pop into the Quiet Room in their Covent Garden centre where you can chill out or meditate. Best of all, these are offered for free.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer something that’s conducted more regularly, Good Vibes offers a 30-minute guided meditation class in a gorgeous infra-red studio every Wednesday at 12 noon for £4. Book online or turn up 15 minutes early in order to get a place.

If you don’t live centrally, then not to worry. Once again, the Internet's your best friend. An easy and accessible way to learn about meditation is The Guardian’s guide to meditation, published in association with Headspace. The guide contains a gentle introduction to meditation, as well as podcasts aimed at helping you sleep, taking the stress out of commuting and so on.

That’s it for The Accidental Guide To Enjoying Life While Unemployed for now. I’d love to hear from you as to whether you found it useful. Please do share it with your friends, whether they’re unemployed, about to be or just live in London, as I feel it has useful tips for all kinds of people in all situations.

Stay well.

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