The Non-Expert

Credit: Jennifer Daniel for TMN

Terribly Happy

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we use some recent knowledge of severance packages to help one of the newly unemployed.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: Hey Non-Expert. I just got laid off and I have all this time on my hands. Tell me what to do. I’m open. Seriously. I’ll even accept payment, coupons, etc. I just have TOO MUCH TIME. Love you guys—TB

Answer: First, let’s address the real elephant in the room, TB: your terrible, terrible name. It reminds me of the infectious lung disease, tuberculosis—an affliction generally held in low esteem within the corporate community. If you really want to take the long view of your situation, looking beyond your current unfortunate state and well into a new and fulfilling career elsewhere, consider the negative associations your name carries. Imagine the CEO of Baskin-Robbins alone in his office, his silhouette backlit by a tremendous bay window affording a breathtaking view of Copenhagen. The air hangs thick with the scent of centuries-old polished wood, leather, and sprinkles. He reaches for his dagger—a gift from Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz—and, with a smooth and confident stroke, tears open an envelope that contains a résumé. Your résumé, TB.

This titan of industry reads your employment history: “Facilitated production flow and implemented media placement of interactive advertising units for a major online free credit report service.” Impressive. He lifts his telephone receiver to arrange an interview with this young man he is sure will succeed his dynasty, this business wunderkind, this—then, suddenly, he sees it. Your name.

He pushes his chair away from his desk. (He probably has one of those sheets of plastic between his chair’s coasters and the carpet, because a man does not get to be CEO of Baskin-Robbins by allowing himself to be slowed down by thick shag.) Then he stands before his window, as he has done so many times before when contemplating his most difficult ice cream and topping-related decisions, and asks himself, “Is there a place in this organization for ‘TB’?”

No wonder only one out of 10 Americans are unemployed—not everyone can handle it!

No, TB, there certainly is not. And that’s why you should think about changing your name to “Falcon Hardsteele.’“

Now, your current situation. As someone who has also recently found himself with an unexpected surplus of free time, I sincerely understand what you’re going through. Your life’s structure has suddenly been stripped away. Hours that were neatly organized and overseen by others are now yours to fill, and it’s certainly not easy being your own boss. Couple that with the guilty insistence that every leisurely hour spent now feels like a tremendous waste of time, and you can see how unemployment can quickly become psychologically paralyzing. No wonder only one out of 10 Americans are unemployed—not everyone can handle it!

That’s why you should try to view your free hours not as a gaping void, but as an open landscape, with a breathtaking view—of you. This time is a gift. Think of it: without your workaday routine, you’re liberated from the herd. Free to roam. You no longer have to take your lunch hour at noon. Now, you can eat lunch at 12:30, or even 1 p.m. And, as you drive past that new American Apparel billboard—you know the one, TB—you no longer have to tell yourself to wait until later that evening to masturbate; you can just simply turn the car around and head straight to the nearest Carl’s Jr. restroom.

(If you were terminated from a job at Carl’s Jr., this obviously does not apply. Also: sorry.)

This is an ideal time to begin a personal project—something your oppressive work schedule never afforded you. Filling your hours with a project can prove spiritually fulfilling, or at least distract you from the feelings of impotence and failure desperately competing to consume your very being. Think of all the fun things you can do with your free time:

Learn to bake

Make a sheet cake from scratch, and remotely celebrate all of your old co-workers with birthdays in the month of April—just like old times.

Build some IKEA furniture

That VJÖORT has been sitting in its box for so long, you can’t quite remember what it is. Media storage? Sideboard? Hinged daybed? This is the perfect time to find out what a VJÖORT is, and why you bought it back in 2006.

Start a Twitter account

Your friends are worried about you and want to follow your every move to make sure you’re not harming yourself. Get to Tweeting and loved ones will never wonder about you again—especially after getting the constant 411 from you, with tweets like:

Put on a sport jacket to walk to the Post Office, and found a peanut M&M in the pocket. Looks like my luck is finally changing.

Just watched Oprah interview Leno. Glad to see Jay finally setting the record straight. Turns out, he’s really been misunderstood!

Did you know American Apparel has a website, and you can browse all you want for FREE?

Watched Van Helsing on HBO. Cried entire way through.

Blog about it

You can really stretch out by blogging about your experiences. Put a human voice to America’s recession statistics. You’ll probably even be able to sell your blog as a book, although you might have to make some small enhancements to appeal to the current publishing marketplace—like spend a whole year being unemployed and eating a different kind of bug each day; or include a section of sarcastically captioned color photographs of “corporate douches” you found online, to really sweeten the deal.

Invent something cool that everyone wants, like the iPhone

But not the iPhone because they’ll definitely sue and you cannot afford a lawsuit in your current situation.

If you are having a difficult time adapting to life outside of the office environment, there are things you can do to ease into the adjustment more gradually. To maintain a connection to the workplace, try organizing your daily thoughts using graphs or pie charts, like the one below:

You could also get in touch with a few of your downsized co-workers and form a “Downsized Club.” Set a place and time to meet, and agree to spend a few hours together to share some strained small talk or grim silence—just like you did at the office.

Another great trick for keeping one foot in the job market, while maintaining some piece of mind: talk long, wistful walks through the aisles of a Office Depot. Just take in the sights and sounds of the latest innovations in office supplies. Run your hands through a stack of padded mailers. Inhale the heady scent of a toner cartridge. If an employee approaches you, just tell him you’re there “visiting some old friends,” and make sure to never return to that Office Depot again; they will have you arrested.

Finally, my advice is just to have fun, really enjoy the time off, and take advantage of your sizeable severance package. For example, when my job at The Tonight Show ended every employee personally received a $12 million severance package from NBC. That’s right. Just ask anyone; it was even reported on, so you know it must be true.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Van Helsing is about to start and I don’t want to miss a single, tearful minute.


TMN Contributing Writer Todd Levin was a writer for The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien. He has also written for GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Salon. He lives in Los Angeles, where he comforts himself in knowing at least the sun is bright. More by Todd Levin