For most people, it’s tough to deal with being unemployed. In addition to financial concerns, the psychological effects of searching for a job can be taxing.
For instance, a while ago I worked with a client, let’s call him Jonas (not his real name). Jonas had been going through challenges in his life and was now trying to get back on his feet… which included looking for a job.
What he found challenging was to keep up his spirits during the job search. Even though Jonas was making progress along the way, he hadn't yet hit the big goal (getting a job offer he wanted) and it was weighed on him.
His situation reminded me of a friend who once spent a lot of time looking for the right person to be in relationship with. After one failed date after the other, it was hard for her to not let this impact her self-esteem and happiness.
What I realized is that both these situations have one thing in common:
Here's the reason why being unemployed feels to terrible
Self-worth is fragile when it is tied to uncontrollable external things. A resilient sense of self-worth comes from a focus on process, not the outcome.
It is quite common for people to tie their self-worth to external things, such as having a job or a relationship. And while a person has these things in their life, they don’t notice how vulnerable it makes them to rely on it for self-worth. That only becomes apparent once the thing falls away, for instance, due to unemployment or a break-up.
Or, to put it differently: when you make your self-worth dependent on having a job (like most of us do) and you find yourself in a period of unemployment, you are setting yourself up for grief. The goal is to instead place the focus on something that you can control.
Let's explore how you can put this into practice.
These 6 shifts can help you psychologically deal with being unemployed:
1. Realize that it is not a shame to be unemployed
There are many reasons why you might be unemployed right now and only some of them may have to do with something you can control. For instance, in a dire economic situation, you might find yourself without a job even though you are excellent at what you do.
When you fault yourself for something that is not your fault (such as a job loss in the middle of a pandemic), you add insult to injury. Instead, realize that you are doing the best that you can while dealing with a challenging situation.
When it comes to having compassion for yourself, it might help to take a lesson from fiction. For instance, readers of Lord of the Rings don’t fault Frodo for having a hard time while forging a way through Mordor… that is because it’s inherently hard to travel through Mordor.
2. Acknowledge that you have an intrinsic worth that is not tied to your work situation
In many societies (and even more so in hyper-individualistic societies such as the United States), people’s sense of worth is tied to their financial situation or their work status.
While we can all get a healthy sense of pride from our achievements and while work is one of the places we can derive meaning from, making people’s worth dependent on their work situation is a perversion of the very concept of worth.
You are inherently worthy. There is nothing you have to do, say, or have to be worthy.
As I explained in a previous article, there are many reasons to be in awe about yourself:
- Whether you have a job or not, you are literally made out of stardust.
- Whether you have a job or not, you are a unique expression of life that has never existed before.
- Whether you have a job or not, you have already won the cosmic lottery a gazillion times over.
(Do you know just how much had to happen since the beginning of the universe billions of years for you to be here in this very moment, let alone being self-aware enough to even be concerned about things such as job searches?)
3. Remember that your current unemployment situation is not set in stone and that everything can change
When people are in a challenging situation, they often feel as if it will last forever. But if there is one thing that is true about life, it is this: “This, too, shall pass.”
To really internalize this lesson, it might help to talk to people who got out of unemployment or to remember times in your past when your situation radically changed for the better.
The only constant in life is change. Whatever you are going through right now won’t last.
4. Focus on the process, not the outcome of your job search
Since you cannot control the outcome of your job search (finding a job), you will feel better if you focus on the thing you can control: the process.
How can you focus on the process of the job search? By setting yourself goals that you can control and that move you towards the outcome you want, such as “I’m going to send off one application each day” or “I’m going to send off one networking email each day.”
Instead of telling yourself that you will feel good about yourself when you have a job, allow yourself to feel proud of yourself when you hit your process-goals.
5. Don’t just focus on the job search; practice gratitude for what is going well in your life
When an area of life is not going as people want, they often focus too much on it (which in turn leads to more unhappiness). Instead of focusing on what you don’t have and on what is not going well, it pays off to also spend time thinking about the good things in your life.
Are you grateful for your friendships? For other relationships? For your overall health?
What could you be grateful for in your life right now?
6. Find easy wins
One thing that is challenging about searching for a job is that you don’t get many wins along the way to the big win (the job offer you want). Instead, you probably get turned down on a regular basis.
That’s why it is so helpful to aim for some easy wins in your life in general.
What are easy wins? They can be anything that will come easy to you.
Are you good at playing an instrument? If so, record yourself and share it with your friends.
Is one of your friends looking for help with something that you are good at? Offer them help.
Has someone offered to introduce you to another person? Take them up on it.
By letting yourself enjoy some easy wins, you can add more lightness and positive reinforcement to the situation you are in.
By following the steps above, you can keep up your spirits during your job search and make shifts that will help you in life in general.
Just like Jonas, this will empower you to make progress on the way to your dream position.
Oh, and my friend? She's now happily married!
Which just proves that everything can change, including your current work situation.
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