By Dr. Virginia Bola
Looking for work can be difficult, frustrating, anxiety-
provoking, and demeaning.
There are few situations we encounter in life where we feel
so powerless. Not only do we have a sense that we have
little control over the outcome, but we also feel judged. We
become objectified, presented like a colt at a yearling
auction or a slave on the bidding block. We walk, we talk,
we run around in circles, while the "buyers" look us over,
discuss our finer points and weaknesses, and make their
decision to buy or reject. We are keenly aware of the
competition. There are performance pressures: 30 seconds to
make a great first impression, 30 minutes to define
ourselves as a person, as a worker, to present a lifetime of
skills, experience and knowledge.
We are acutely aware that every word we utter, every body
squirm, every gesture, is being observed, assessed,
recorded. Regardless of whether we really want the job or
not, we want it to be offered as an affirmation that we have
worth, that we count. If we attend interview after interview
and receive no offers, the demoralization seeps into our
subconscious, confirming our deeply defended but strongly
entrenched suspicions that we are just "not good enough,"
that we don't "measure up," that we lack value.
If we are young, we fear our lack of experience and
maturity. If we are older, the bland face of a young
interviewer makes us feel inferior and that, just by being
in this helpless position, we have somehow failed our
The longer we remain out of work, the more tattered our
self-esteem becomes. We start to exhibit that desperate
"deer in the headlights" look that makes the likelihood of
being offered a position ever more remote.
What can we do to halt this erosion of self-value? How can
we survive the challenges of looking for work while keeping
our self-confidence, self-value, and self-esteem intact?
Here are three approaches you may find helpful:
1. Don't blame yourself. Economic difficulties, job
migration, corporate downsizing, and employer relocation are
social realities. Being laid off does not adversely reflect
on your personal worth, your skills, your character, nor
your value. "If I had been smarter, I'd have seen it coming"
thinking leads to self-criticism and a sense that your
current plight is somehow of your own making. Put the blame
back where it belongs - on an economy that values profits
above people and the short term bottom line over long term
stability and steady growth.
2. Take time to appreciate yourself. Too often, unemployment
carries not only financial pressures but leads to self-
destructive thinking: I'm not able to support my family, I'm
a loser, I'm not a man, I'm not the superwoman I planned, I
don't contribute anything worthwhile to anybody, the world
would be better off without me. Since we define so much of
what we are by what we do, when we no longer have a title,
we lose ourselves. Work, and the income it provides, is
important but it is only a part of a whole life, reflecting
only a portion of our character, our abilities, our worth.
Take the time to remind yourself of your other life roles:
husband/wife/significant other, parent, church member,
community participant - any roles you play which are not
directly related to work. Because you are not temporarily
generating an income, and all that stands for, does not mean
that you are not contributing significantly in many other
areas: to your family, your friends, your community. While
reminding yourself of your non-work personal value, make
sure that your frustration with job search is not allowed to
spill over and poison your other life roles.
3. Reclaim a sense of control. You may be powerless to
ensure an appropriate job offer or line up employers who are
champing at the bit to take you on, but you do have control
over other aspects of your life. Exercising control over
anything can re-assert your old balance and generate
confidence in your ability to weather the storm. Set up a
schedule for yourself which will give you control over your
time and your activities, both job search and personal
responsibilities, to avert the wasted energy of running in
all directions without accomplishing anything. Examine your
diet and exercise program and use your extra time to ensure
that you are healthy and fit. Explore what the current
stress is doing to your relationships and personal
interactions and take the time to strengthen personal ties
and sources of support, not drive them away in your misery.
Review your household budget and identify ways to save,
different patterns of spending, and priorities which can be
Yes, being unemployed can be humiliating and depressing and
often leads to anxiety, fear, and a permanent sense of
insecurity and self-doubt. Using the above and similar
strategies can help you emerge from this temporary crisis
stronger and with a deeper sense of self and your value, not
just as a worker but as a human being.
Dr. Bola developed innovative job search techniques for
disabled workers for 20 years. A licensed psychologist, she
appeared as a Vocational Expert in a variety of
administrative and civil courts. Author and e-zine
publisher, she can be found at: http://www.virginiabola.com
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