Tales of the Funemployed

Unemployment and LayoffsTrips and VacationsJobs and WorkplaceTravelBusiness Trips

Michael Van Gorkom was laid off by Yahoo in late April. He didn't panic. He didn't rush off to a therapist. Instead, the 33-year-old Santa Monica resident discovered that being jobless "kind of settled nicely."

Week one: "I thought, 'OK ... I need to send out resumes, send some e-mails, need to do networking."

Week two: "A little less."

Every week since: "I'm going to go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas."

What most people would call unemployment, Van Gorkom embraced as "funemployment."

While millions of Americans struggle to find work as they face foreclosures and bankruptcy, others have found a silver lining in the economic meltdown. These happily jobless tend to be single and in their 20s and 30s. Some were laid off. Some voluntarily quit, lured by generous buyouts.

Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. They travel on the cheap for weeks. They head back to school or volunteer at the neighborhood soup kitchen. And at least till the bank account dries up, they're content living for today.

"I feel like I've been given a gift of time and clarity," said Aubrey Howell, 29, of Franklin, Tenn., who was laid off from her job as a tea shop manager in April. After sleeping in late and visiting family in Florida, she recently mused on

Twitter: "Unemployment or funemployment?"

Never heard of funemployment? Here's Urban Dictionary's definition: "The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!"

It may not have entered our daily lexicon yet, but a small army of social media junkies with a sudden overabundance of time is busy tweeting: "Funemployment road trip to Portland." "Funemployment is great for catching up on reading!" "Averaging 3 rounds of golf a week plus hockey and bball. who needs work?"

As frivolous as it sounds, funemployment is a statement about American society. Experts say it's both a reflection of the country's cultural narcissism--and attitudes of entitlement and self-centeredness--and a backlash against corporate America and its "Dilbert"-like work environment.

"Recession gives people permission to be unemployed," said David Logan, a professor at USC's Marshall School of Business. "Why not make use of the time and go do something fun?"

Jean Twenge, co-author of "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement," said in some cases, many employees had lost balance between work and life, with too many late nights and weekends spent at the office. When they stop working, they realize how much they had given up.

Nina Flores, 28, quit her job as a jury consultant in Costa Mesa, Calif., in February and has no regrets.

"You figure out how much ... you miss when maybe you're tied to your BlackBerry all the time or, in my case, traveling for work all the time," she said. "I can't imagine doing that again and sacrificing everything I want to do for me. ... I think it is a new way of thinking."

What's more important in a job now, she said, is flexibility, lots of vacation time and something that doesn't have "that 9-to-5" feeling.

Amanda Rounsaville, 34, of L.A. quit her job as a program officer at the California Endowment in late March. A self-described workaholic who rarely called in sick or used vacation days, Rounsaville found a certain peace last month during her three-week trek through northern Mongolia with two friends, sleeping in $3-a-night, tent-like gers.

Enjoying the solitude, she found herself contemplating: "Do we work to live or do we live to work? Do I have life goals that are not work goals?"

Both Flores and Rounsaville discovered that they like themselves better when they're not consumed by their jobs.

"This is the best version of me," Flores said, adding that she feels "completely healthy," relaxed and focused.Andy Deemer, one of Rounsaville's traveling companions, said he actually enjoyed corporate America--until November when the Internet start-up for which he was working failed to get financing. After it tanked, the 36-year-old independent filmmaker sold his New York apartment, put his belongings in storage, turned his parents' Beijing home into base camp, and embarked on a spiritual quest to find various mystics and shamans around Asia.

"I'm a little worried," he said of his future financial stability. "There's a nagging sense of fear that does gnaw at me when I consider it."

Deemer already has managed to visit a fortuneteller in Myanmar and a tarot card reader in Thailand. In Mongolia, he searched 10 days for a reindeer-herding shaman, finally tracking her down on his last day. The Mongolian shaman had one for him. On a Post-it, she wrote his fortune in Cyrillic. The last sentence, in a nutshell: Go back to work.

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