For the last several months I’ve used “unemployed” or conjugations thereof to describe my current situation. That’s not quite accurate, though, as I am technically simply “underemployed,” meaning I don’t have, at the moment, a full-time job that takes full advantage of my skills and experience in my chosen field. It’s a very different situation, one I never really expected to find myself in.

On the plus side, I’ve actually been fully unemployed for a very small fraction of the last nine months, really only a month, maybe two total, though that time was spread out a bit. Those periods have been the hardest as it’s a constant stream of “have a looked for work yet…have I thought of this…am I doing enough…when will the next paycheck of any sort arrive” worrying, both from me and my wife. It’s so full of uncertainty, self-doubt, frustration and outright anger that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

For the rest of that time I’ve merely (he says with the maximum amount of conveyable understatement) been underemployed.

That has included periods where I was working full-time, but on projects and programs that were well below my skill level. It includes periods where I’ve been doing the thing I love most, writing, but not at a volume that will fully pay the bills. And for the last four-and-a-half months it’s included me working part time (at least less than 40 hours a week) at a national retail chain, something that’s not anywhere near my interests or within my professional aspirations.

Not being full-out, flatly unemployed has been a blessing, I have to admit. It’s meant, largely, that there’s been some income we’ve been able to count on. It’s meant I’ve had something to do, each day, something that needs to be produced or somewhere to go. That’s much better than where I was back in July of last year as I frantically scanned my computer every minute of every day, afraid to leave for more than a few minutes at a time lest I be away when something interesting or relevant popped up or someone responded to a resume or inquiry I’d sent.

It’s also meant, though, that I’ve had to work to keep my skills in the field I spent over a decade of my life in fresh. While some projects have afforded me learning opportunities, I’ve also had to make changes to my personal routine to just keep up on things out of concern I fall too significantly behind the rest of the industry to be an attractive candidate.

While underemployment is no walk in the park, it beats the alternative. And I need to be very careful about which term I use, not only out of respect for those in a worse situation than mine but because, as a writer, I should know that words have meanings. So that’s where I’m at.