When I moved out of my parents’ house in 2017, I had a few months of expenses in savings, no income, and a mission: find a job in a city where I didn’t know anybody. This was my first no-turning-back job hunt. I had no idea that I was entering a forest of fear, isolation, and hopelessness that would test me like life never had before.
I remember feeling lost. I remember scrolling through job postings for hours, annoyed that I was seemingly under- or overqualified for every one. I questioned what I really wanted, as I found myself applying for all sorts of jobs that would mean nothing to me but a paycheck. Then I questioned my worth when I heard nothing from recruiters. Was I really the high-minded, save the world idealist I thought I was? Was I somehow less than others because I couldn’t find work?
I was all over the place mentally and going nowhere in reality. My money was drying up fast, with three months of a lease left to pay and a humbling drive home if I had to abort the mission. But these few months of uncertainty taught me to be strong in ways that only a big challenge can. Once I conquered myself and got my own mind in order, I started to take control of what was in my reach. Before I knew it, I felt like life was pretty okay again.
I accepted that maybe I would fail. I accepted that so long as I was doing all I could, I would be proud that I tried. I looked forward instead of back, I worked hard at things that counted, and I leaned heavily on my friends and family for support.
Those days feel familiar here in July of 2020, as many of my friends are losing jobs to the pandemic and I often question whether my own job security is an illusion. Now, I look back on my first experience hunting for a job for inspiration.
It’s still relevant today because while so much of what’s happening to our planet today is out of our control as individuals, we still have to deal with ourselves. My dad always said, “I’m going to be right if nobody else is,” because at the end of the day, that’s all we have control over.
With self reflection, hard work, and my support system, I found a job at a company whose mission I could stand behind. It was just in time for my savings to pay my last month of bills. And this story isn’t just about the end result; I was happier in the few weeks leading up to that job because I had stopped worrying about what I couldn’t control, and focused on the key steps I could take to keep myself strong.
The following are tips I hope will help you, if you find yourself in the forest of a job hunt like I was.
1. set time to worry
Set aside a block of time in your day to worry. Allow yourself maybe thirty minutes to hate the situation, wallow in self pity, and have a good cry if you feel like it. After that, dust yourself off, eat a snack and get back to life.
If you can’t get control of your mental or emotional state, please find professional help. You don’t have to do it alone. Talk to people.
2. find key skills to develop
During the job hunt, it helped my mental state to feel like I was more in control of my life. One of the things in your control during a job hunt is using your time wisely. All the time you’ll save by following tip one will free up some time to develop skills you’ve always wanted to have, or maybe skills that you know you’ll need in your next role.
For me, investing in myself by learning more about video editing, linguistics, and visual communication was a huge boost to confidence. These are skills related to my field that no job would be likely to require me to learn, but they gave me a bigger set of skills and nourished my desire to keep growing. I felt like I was making progress, and got some shiny bullet points for my resume to boot. I still use what I learned during this time on a regular basis.
3. work hard, then give yourself a break
When you’re without a job, it’s tempting to think you have to search for one around the clock. You don’t, and it’s less effective to do that anyways. Our minds are only sharp for so many hours of the day. I settled on four quality hours of searching and applying each day, but what works for you is personal.
If you push through when you shouldn’t, you could end up doing like I did, which was putting less than my best on the desks of potential employers due to mental or physical exhaustion. Also, I think they can tell what time you’re submitting a resume. An application submitted at one or two o’clock in the morning might not look good to some employers.
4. Dive into A Hobby
Having a hobby is a great way to blow off steam. A little escapism is fine, especially when your life needs a constant besides bad news and rejection letters. For me, my hobbies were music and video games. Video games allowed me to stay in touch with friends near and far through the power of the internet. Making music allowed me to express myself and step away from the screens for a while, as well as connect in real life with people.
When else will you have so much time to work on yourself and learn new hobbies? Don’t feel bad about using this time to connect with people in new ways. It might even open the door to new opportunities which will long outlast your job search.
5. define Your own Worth
Accept yourself for who you are. A dollar sign on a paycheck is not your worth; it is a means to an end. A paycheck can buy food, shelter, clothing, and fun. Without all these things, you would still be you. You would be a hungry and cold you, but you would still be you. What a paycheck cannot buy you is the person you are in mind and deed. No situation will take away your ability to mentally respond to life’s circumstances and resolve to be the best version of yourself that you can.
I’m not saying everyone can magically will themselves away from a bad situation, and I know that not everyone has the same opportunities. For people who are fortunate enough to be able to live comfortably, it does us good to realize that the America we know today is just one possibility, and this level of comfort is the exception to human history.
So for those of you who can afford even the basics, think as if you live in the most abundant society that has ever existed, because we do. Disregard the messages you hear that you have to buy more, do more, or be more. All you have to be is the best version of yourself that you can. Love other people, be as selfless as you can, and be disciplined in pursuing a balanced life.
A job is just an opportunity to serve others while funding your own life. Only you can determine what version of yourself you will be, and what your life will be about. Make it count.