Upskilling and Downtime : how I got through Furlough, one step at a time

Hi, I’m Lauren, a 24 year old marketeer living in London.

I’ve been on furlough for the last four months.

As one of the first people to be placed on Furlough, I know exactly how it feels to live with this uncertainty day-in and day-out.

I’ve written this article to share my experiences – what kept me sane, and what I’ve learnt about myself.

Here’s my story.

From travelling to finding my dream job

In August 2019, I had just returned from three months of travelling around South East Asia. I had been planning and saving up for this trip for years, and with everything going on in the world right now, I am extra grateful to have had the opportunity to complete my trip when I did. 

This is me in the town of Kanchanaburi, in Thailand.

Upon returning home, I went into full job-hunting mode. I have a degree in Psychology from Warwick University, but also a master’s in Marketing from Birmingham University.

I was laser focused on building my career in marketing.

Having spent a month frantically applying for jobs, I secured my role as an Account Executive at a London based digital marketing agency.

I was so excited to move out of my parent’s house in Bristol and get started with my new job!

It felt like all my hard work doing internships, working for free, and studying to get good grades had paid off.

Seven months in, I’d become great friends with my colleagues and the work was fulfilling and interesting.

I was particularly enjoying writing for the company blog and learning about social media.

I was loving my new life both in and out of work. 

Then everything changed.

Struggling with uncertainty

I found myself on furlough in March, and I am still on furlough four months later in July.

I’ve always felt that even this is a privileged position. Redundancy was (and still is) on the cards, so it could have been much worse. Nonetheless, it has not been an easy time, as I’m sure anyone furloughed could tell you. 

Whilst it may seem as though being furloughed is akin to a paid holiday, my experience was far from relaxing.

You might consider me a furlough early-adopter, as I was one of the first to experience it.

No, really.

I learnt the meaning of the word ‘furlough’ the same day I was placed on the scheme. 

During those first few weeks, I felt like I had completely lost my purpose, and ended up engaging in every lockdown stereotype possible.

I filled my days with:

  • Duolingo
  • Yoga
  • Baking bread (with mixed success)
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Meditation
  • Running 
  • Recovering from running (shin splints are no laughing matter)
  • Scrawling REDЯUM all over the walls

I remember feeling so anxious.

Not just about the pandemic itself, and the unravelling tragedy, but also about what was going to happen with my job, and my finances.

The security of my salary was now a serious question. I didn’t know how long the scheme would last, or if redundancy was around the corner. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had bills and rent to pay.

One of the best parts about my job had been my colleagues. We would go for dinner together, visit tourist attractions, and take fitness classes as a group.

We were a very close knit team.

This made the transition to furlough especially difficult. I felt so isolated, and the strict lockdown that was ongoing didn’t exactly help .

I had grown so accustomed to being busy and living London life to the full that this new period of stillness was alien to me. 

Realising just how much my sense of self was tied to my career, something dawned on me. 

I’d lost my drive.

New skills and silver linings

After the initial panic had worn off, I had a long think about how I wanted to use my time on furlough.

I started upskilling on Google Skillshare, as well as completing a course on programmatic advertising to try and expand my professional skill set. 

With all this extra time on my hands, I was also able to learn about things outside of my career that I’ve always been interested in. I took online courses in both Forensic Psychology and Climate Change & Human Health. 

I used Skillshare to level up my skills in Google Analytics

Not all of these courses are directly applicable to my current job, and some were just out of personal curiosity. The beautiful thing about our digital age is you can pick and choose what you like – often for free!

Also remember that just because a new skill isn’t applicable to your current role, it doesn’t mean that you won’t use it in the next one or even outside of work. In my case, improving my campaign analytics skills helped me patch the gaps in my ability as a marketer.

This newfound confidence inspired me to start freelancing and to put my skills to good use.

I obtained a couple of clients before finally joining Joivy. That’s when I learned about skill-trees.

Building my skill-tree

A skill tree is a visual representation of your abilities. Drawing a tree lets you highlight your strengths and pinpoint your weaknesses. You can add new branches to the tree as your skills develop, watching it grow as you progress. 

The simple process of writing down all of my skills, reminded me of other things that I can do, and so on, like a snowball. 

It had been so long since I had done a full day of work for my agency. Reflecting on my old responsibilities reminded me of the parts of my job that I loved (even the parts that I know I need to improve on!)

After filling in my tree, I was more sure than ever that I am following my path.

To get started on my tree, I wrote down everything I usually do in a day, followed by tasks that don’t happen so routinely, but are still important to the job.

Then I grouped these together under broad categories, and drew them out in a diagram like a mindmap. 

During furlough, I rediscovered my love of painting and drawing, so I decided to go one step further and produce a digital drawing of my tree. I drew this on my iPad, and it was exactly as therapeutic as it looks!

The digital version of my tree!

Presenting the information in this way was a huge confidence boost, and now that I’ve got a skill tree I can continue to add to it the more I learn and grow over the next few years.

I also think that it makes a great tool for interview preparation, or as a visual accompaniment to my CV. In a field where every other job asks for a creative application, this has been a fun way of getting my abilities across.

Finding my way

By focusing on my personal development, I was able to turn furlough into a more positive experience. I went from desperately trying to create a new “normal” routine for myself (as “normal” as manic painting, baking, and daily German vocab can be) to working as a freelancer for three of my own clients. 

Whilst I had considered doing some freelance work alongside my agency job, I had never felt confident enough to actually get started.

It would have been years before I was ready to take the plunge.

Being forced to leave my comfort zone and push myself without the shielding of my manager was scary, and it definitely hasn’t gone to plan 100% of the time.

But that’s 2020 in a nutshell. 

Investing in yourself is always rewarding, so if you’re considering picking up some new skills through an online course, or even teaching yourself – do it! 

You never know where it may take you. 

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