IT'S YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE. IT'S BEEN SEVERAL MONTHS IN BETWEEN JOBS AND YOU FEEL YOURSELF SLOWLY LOSING YOUR MIND.
You’ve exercised all the job search strategies imaginable but still with no success. Meanwhile, the career clock is ticking away and money is running short. You feel the hope of ever working again dwindle along with your self-confidence.
How do you get through the job search process without becoming discouraged or, worse, cynical? What grander life questions can be uncovered during career limbo? And what if, in fact, this existential crisis is the exciting breakthrough you needed all along? As I approach my 6th month of unemployment, here are some of my takeaways—essentially a survival guide—for the long-term job hunt.
HOW LONG-TERM HAPPENED
Half a year ago, I was laid off from my full time job, and today I’m still unemployed. My current work status is the equivalent of “single and ready to mingle”—only with more anxiety and occasional spurts of total desperation.
I received my termination notice at the end of March, which landed me smack in the middle of the most barren job hunt season. Summer is the time when hiring managers seem to have their vacation away messages on indefinitely and spare office chairs are typically filled by eager college interns, meaning my job options were slim-to-none. But I didn’t allow this technicality to deter me from my search, and I strived to make the most of my newfound free time for as long as it lasted.
CUE THE INNER TURMOIL
In the beginning, unemployment felt more like a vacation than probation. After getting over the initial shock and sadness of my losing my job, I realized that I could take this time to focus on myself. My job had meant long hours and stressful deadlines; now suddenly I had enough energy to have a social life again. Having time to cook meant no more eating out 5 days a week, and I was saving a lot of money in the process. My apartment was in tip-top shape. I could get used to this.
Thoughts like “What if I never get a job”, “How am I supposed to support myself ” and even the heavy handed “Who am I?” loomed.
But, in fact, I did not get used to it—the work free bliss quickly faded at my 3-month mark. This had been the longest time since college that I’d been out of a job and with still no prospects in sight, my optimistic and carefree outlook was soon overtaken by self-doubt and fear. Thoughts like “What if I never get a job”, “How am I supposed to support myself ” and even the heavy handed “Who am I?” loomed. My anxieties took over full force, and consequently drove me down into a serious depression that lasted for nearly two months.
At a crossroads, I realized I needed to find a way to pull myself out of the downward spiral. By adopting positive, practical habits that I learned through my personal experience, I reinvigorated my job search but also found alternative approaches to enjoy and make the most of my adult life. After all, your job is just one part of your life, and it certainly doesn’t define you.
START BY GIVING YOURSELF A BREAK
A seemingly simple concept but certainly not easy to execute. Stress is inevitable during unemployment, but you must make the best of the existing circumstances. Maintaining a calm mind and body will not only make you less anxious but also allow you to be more creative.
Giving yourself a mental or physical break whether it’s meditation, journaling, listening to classical music, taking a bath or going for a long hike, will give you the ability to think and feel more clearly. Job emails and interviews will be easier to tackle. You will be able to enjoy fun with your friends and family. You will be more present.
The key is to commit to staying relaxed. It’s surprisingly difficult, but try to check your feelings often. A peaceful mind is a happy mind.
TAKE THE FREE TIME TO REFLECT BUT NOT DWELL
Think about what you liked and didn’t like about your last job and what you’d like to change this time around. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a similar or unsuited situation just because you’re anxious to get a paycheck. The better you know what you want, the easier it will be to communicate in your interviews and ensure that your next experience will be more satisfying. Reflect but try not to dwell on the negative. Once you’ve identified what you’d like to change or improve, focus on the process and the leave the past in the past.
Think about what you liked and didn’t like about your last job and what you’d like to change this time around. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a similar or unsuited situation just because you’re anxious to get a paycheck.
MAKE A CHANGE, BIG OR SMALL
When you feel blue, why not try something new? The change can be significant or subtle but, trust me, it’s always impactful.
Examples of a big change could be taking a trip, moving, or going back to school. These options require money (something you might not have in excess during your unemployment), but if you have the means to make a major life shift, it might be the thing to inspire, reinvigorate, or redefine the next step in your career path.
If you’re not ready or able to make such a bold jump or financial commitment, there are simpler solutions. Rearrange the furniture in your apartment to mix up your living environment. Read a new book to expand your perspective and thinking. (Might I recommend Getting There and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, two inspiring books that illuminate on finding meaning in work and life). Take a class to enhance your resume or for your own personal enrichment. Change, no matter how small is progress.
SET AND KEEP A ROUTINE, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE TO
Without a job to structure your days, it’s natural to feel a bit directionless. Set up an easy morning routine you can commit to on the weekdays. While waking up early, making breakfast, and checking jobs for an hour may seem minor, it gives your day purpose. They are small victories but victories nonetheless. Keeping busy and feeling productive will help you to relax and focus.
Stay social and set weekly plans with your friends to keep yourself on an evening routine. It will not only give you something to look forward to but it could be a way to subtly network and learn about new opportunities.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD COMPANY
You are the company you keep so during this time it’s best to be around positive and supportive beings. Reach out to close friends and family that you feel comfortable talking to about your tough work situation. Let them distract and ease you with jokes or a fun outing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your trusted mentors for advice or to hear their own work stories.
Keep away from those who make you feel ashamed or negative. Their energy will only cause harm and diminish the confidence you will need to find a fulfilling position.
Keep away from those who make you feel ashamed or negative. Their energy will only cause harm and diminish the confidence you will need to find a fulfilling position. Perhaps you know someone going through the same dillema. Commiserating together might be okay in the beginning but quickly commit to empower each other on the quest for new work. Propose group work sessions. Edit each other's resume and cover letters. Practice mock interviews.
Having a solid support system will boost your morale, maintain your interpersonal skills, and most importantly remind you that you are not in this alone.
Confession: it’s not my favorite activity and often I have to force myself to strap on my running shoes or drive myself to the pool, but I do it because I know how important it is for my wellbeing. Being active helps you to relax (see my first point on "giving yourself a break"), keeps your body looking and feeling good, and is a good and healthy way to fill up your day.
Working out doesn’t have to be a drag or a big feat. Sign up for a class like punk rock aerobics or simply take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood everyday. Just keep your body moving. Some fresh air won’t hurt either.
EMBRACE THE EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
Sure, unemployment might feel like one long mental breakdown. But instead of denying it, why not embrace it? If you are working hard in your search, you will find a job. It will happen.
So be nicer to yourself. Remember that most of things you say to yourself, you would never to a friend. It’s quite unlikely you’ll see any positive changes if you keep beating yourself up.
The fact is, life is long and forever changing. The best way to survive and enjoy it is to accept that it is hard but you will you overcome it. Not to wrap this up like the end of a Mr. Rogers episode, but consider that this hardship is just a chapter in your life story and overcoming this trial will only help you to be a more interesting and enlightened person.
And now if you’ll excuse me, time to get back to LinkedIn.
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Have you ever been unemployed for several months or even years? What tricks did you use to stay on your A-game?