When I was in eighth grade, our teacher said to our class that if we looked up the word “extrovert” in the dictionary, there would be a photo of me. I like loud activities with lots of people—concerts, dance parties, karaoke. I’m into improv, which is both collaborative and highly social. There have been times when I was exhausted, telling myself that I was going to stay at a party I was heading to for a short time, only to feel a burst of energy after walking in to the crowd and commotion.
American culture encourages gregariousness and socializing, and being an extrovert makes going to parties and striking up conversations with strangers nearly effortless. But when you’re the type of person who goes out more often than you stay in, you realize that there’s a cost to being an extrovert. When I lost my job, I had to learn to balance spending as little money as possible with accepting that socializing and stimulation is essential for me to function.
Last summer, two hours into an eight-hour bus ride from New York to Pittsburgh, I answered a phone call from an unknown number. I had been working as a contract employee for a company through a temp agency, and it was a call from my contact at the agency. She told me the contract was ending earlier than expected due to budgetary reasons.
“So you don’t need to go into work tomorrow,” she said.
“Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“This happens all the time.”
“Sometimes the money runs out early and they have to let some people go.”
I cried off and on for the rest of the trip, texting friends with the news. I wasn’t as upset about losing the job as the abrupt change that hit me without a backup plan. I was riding high from a great weekend at an improv festival and this was a crash landing back into reality. Once home, I got in my car to pick up groceries and discovered that the engine wouldn’t start. This was four days before my 28th birthday. Saturn return has a funny sense of humor.
The last paycheck I received went to fixing my car, and it took a few weeks to receive unemployment benefits. The uncertainty of what to do next weighed on me every day. Should I stay in Pittsburgh? Should I move? I distracted myself from my confusion with sundresses, magazines and socializing. I met my friends for happy hour drinks, joking about my hard day at my non-job. When I wasn’t ignoring my problems, I was pretending to address them.
“This is my last meal like this for a long, long, time,” I lied to myself over brunch with my best friend as I handed over my debit card.
I took the situation more seriously when I realized I was halfway through my meager-to-begin-with savings. Until I had a job and figured out my next step, I needed to save as much as I could.
I tried to be realistic and optimistic. I’d drink coffee at home instead of going to coffee shops. I told myself I would cut down the nights I went out, hunker down, apply for new jobs, and spend as little as possible. The optimist in me told me all the time I spent at home meant I would get so much reading and writing done.
Some people can work very well at home alone, soaking in solitude. I found out quickly that I am not one of those people. I hated being alone all day, and missed the regular interaction of working in an office, the buzz of people working around me, even the small talk in the break room. The isolation left me unmotivated to get my day started. Reading and writing time turned into streaming Netflix time. I felt oddly drained in a way I never had before.
Not going out at night was even harder. It was hard to resist the temptation of hanging out at a bar with my improv teammates, even though it was chipping away at my bank account. Plus, I felt guilty knowing that so many people are perfectly happy staying home most nights of the week. There are entire memes around spending Saturday nights at home and I wanted to do anything but that, especially after staying home all day. It was summer, there were glorious breezes blowing through the back patios of my favorite bars, and I wanted to be out there, drinking sangria. My life until this point had been structured around my income and taking that away altered everything.
I knew that unemployment would be a financial burden, but I was unprepared for the emotional side effects. I thought it would easy to transition into a quieter way of living, but it was far more complicated. The only way to solve this issue was to accept that there was no issue at all, that there was no right or wrong way to be—just the way that works best for me. Some people need quiet time to recharge, and I need stimulation. I gain energy when I’m around other people. I took note of what works for me and adjusted accordingly. I figured out how to be who I needed to be without having to spend so much money.
I began to budget for coffee shop visits because I found I concentrated best with activity around me. I also took advantage of anywhere I could go for free. The library was one of those places, and I figured out the best times to go. A friend had a desk at a coworking space and I would join her occasionally. Even going on a walk after spending hours at home could make me feel better. At bars, I switched my drink of choice from gin & tonics to cheaper beer. I forgave myself for not being what I thought I should be and allowed me to be myself—a dancing, people-loving extrovert.
Andrea Laurion is a writer, improviser, and performer. She lives in Pittsburgh with her cat, Harold.