The Long Job Hunt: Keeping Calm and Carrying On
Are you staring down pages and pages, in your inbox, of acknowledgments to filled-out job applications? Maybe you're looking at months, possibly even years, of emails informing you that the HR department of a given company has received your resume and will be in contact if you're a good fit.
It's a daunting thing to look back at, and for many of us, an even more overwhelming thing to anticipate in the future. If you're at your wit's end and can feel your composure starting to crumble under despair and desperation, this article is written for you. This article will not help you get a job faster, nor will it share some industry secret that turns those emails into interview invites. What this article will do is offer you seasoned advice from the voice of experience on how to tame, curb, and otherwise live with your anxiety without letting it consume you.
Now that we have that covered, I want to add that there are many other articles and pages devoted to helping you with your job anxiety. Some of those pages are great, but for me—someone going through this very predicament at the time of writing this—none of them feel very authentic. They offer sound advice and clean logic, but anxiety seldom responds to logic in my experience. So what I’m going to tell you isn’t entirely about logic, either. Chances are you don’t need to be told to keep faith and have hope: you’re already giving your best effort for that.
What you need is the capacity to keep cool when you’re staring down unemployment without the prospect of that changing soon.
Having been in this position for a few months now, I'm not going to pretend that these techniques have worked for me every single time and I haven't had a weak or dark moment--that would be impersonal and, for my purposes, pointless.
But these techniques have helped me overcome those moments, and while I am certain that I will face them again, I know that I can and will get back on my feet once they pass because of these things.
So here's what I've learned, mostly the hard way, and hope I can pass on to you in a less painful fashion.
Take the weekend—or at least a day—off.
Do you know who probably isn't scheduling interviews and deciding on career placement over the weekend? Most people. No matter what industry you're in or looking to transition into, everyone—including you—needs to take a day off.
This advice probably seems counter-intuitive to you: after all, isn't every moment spent not looking for a job another moment spent not getting a job? While that's true, it's also the case that every moment spent looking for a job is a moment taken away from your family, friends, hobbies, pets, and so on. Just like you would do if you were pulling 40 hours a week, you need to make time for those things for your own sake. Those things are vital to keeping you mentally healthy and balanced.
At this point, you're probably thinking, "I can't afford to spend time on those things." But after so many meltdowns and pulled out hair, I'm here to tell you that you can't afford not to spend time on those things.
So seriously. Take a break. You need it.
Ignore your phone for a few hours.
This feeds into taking a break and is probably the hardest advice for me to follow. With every application you put in, you suddenly zero in on every glint of light or vibration your phone makes, hopeful (and praying) that someone is going to see your application and respond as soon as they have time. And they will! But when they have time will, at the very least, be more than a few hours from your application, so when you've finished your applications for the day, put your phone away. Stop compulsively checking the email and wondering if the ringer is broken. Spend that time taking the first piece of advice and take a proper break.
Set a cutoff time for applying to jobs.
Some articles say to put in eight hours a day—and that's absolutely great advice—but only put in eight hours a day. Set a time during the day or evening where you refuse to apply or look for more jobs. Taking a few hours every night to not download every available job board application and apply to every position isn't going to diminish your chances of getting a job in the slightest. What it is going to do is let you sleep better, relax more, and mentally restore the reserves you drained from writing ten cover letters today.
Eat on a regular schedule.
One of the first things that fell out of my routine once I left work was eating regularly. With my spouse gone most of the day and kids out of the house, it just doesn't occur to me to feed myself. Don't get me wrong, I'm not starving myself intentionally, either—I'm just too focused on doing everything else to stop and stuff a sandwich down my neck. So now I have an alarm on my phone to let me know that it's time to get up from my desk and find something vaguely edible.
This probably seems like really easy advice and obvious logic. There's a good chance you're nowhere nearly as absentminded as I am and eat whenever you feel hungry because that's the normal thing to do. But even if you're not hungry, it's important to keep your energy levels up for the sake of your mood. You're not going to avert the inevitable worry spiral when 5:00 rolls around and no one has called or emailed you yet, but you will help mitigate the damage it does if you're not also tired and hungry because you let breakfast and/or lunch roll by without its due attention.
Develop a new hobby.
Notice that I say "hobby" and not "skill", although you can certainly accomplish them at the same time. There's a good chance that you're going to look back at this time in your life with at least the following two feelings: grateful that it's over and regretful that you didn't make more out of it. I'm not talking about making this time period a learning experience (though it probably will be)—I'm talking about spending your free time doing something you're interested in but normally couldn't pursue because of every other obligation. It doesn't matter if that interest can be turned into a marketable skill, though that certainly will help later on—what matters is that you finally try out that new sport you've always been curious about or give a good faith effort to learning how to draw slightly more sophisticated stick figures.
When you're staring down your work calendar without a vacation day in sight, you'll wish you had at least tried when you had the time.
And finally, express how you feel—somehow.
It's all too easy to feel like we're admitting failure or defeat if we talk about how hopeless or worried we are, especially if the people we're talking to depend on us. But whether it's family, a friend, or even a piece of blank printer paper, you have to give voice to those anxieties if you ever expect to control them. Ignored anxiety is like a capped off hose with the spigot turned on medium: at first, you're not going to notice the pressure building. You can (and if you're like me often will) suppress it for a while because it's not that bad right now and you have other things to deal with (like the job hunt).
But ignoring it doesn't make it go away. It just keeps building, and often by the time you're motivated to do something about it, it's crossed the threshold of a slow anxiety to an outright panic. So rather than leave that hose to fill and burst at the seams, find some way to express your feelings. If you're not comfortable doing it with someone else, that's okay—I'm certainly not most of the time—but you have to get them out somewhere.
So if you won't talk about it, write about it, and if you won't write about it, take it out in a painting or on a punching bag or whatever pursuit lets you release that pressure before it implodes on you.
Do you have any other tips and tricks for keeping your sanity during the long hunt? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below! I know your fellow job hunters (self included) would appreciate it.
© 2017 Lauren C