I lost my job in the middle of the pandemic. COVID has caused countless job losses and business closures across the world, with unemployment insurance claims in the U.S. reaching over three million in March this year, far surpassing the record made during the Great Recession. Although unemployment rate has since decreased, nearly half of all Americans have lost income due to the pandemic.
The effects of losing a job have been compared to grieving the loss of a loved one through death or separation, as we follow the same processing pattern: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and finally moving on. With extended unemployment of more than 10-12 weeks, (hello, week nine) we are much more likely to develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety than if our unemployment is short-term. The effects can be even worse for those with pre-existing mental health conditions, or a predisposition to feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety. This comes from the loss of many more things than just the job itself. The obvious is income and financial stability. Many of our basic needs depend on us having money, including food and shelter. We may also lose access to crucial contributors to our well-being, such as hobbies, gym membership, health insurance, travel, car lease, and therapy. We also have to consider how much our jobs and career can contribute to our self-esteem, sense of purpose, and independence. We don’t realize how much our identity can be shaped by what we do for work. We spend the hours of our days at work being useful and needed, and we achieve something every day. When that is gone, it can be extremely difficult to find a sense of purpose in other areas of our lives. But let me tell you, they exist.
Applying for jobs can be emotionally challenging, as it inevitably comes with rejections. According to Business Insider, job seekers have to apply for an average of 27 jobs before they get an interview. So I braced myself for the impending doom of rejections (27+ for each interview), crashing of my self-esteem (borrowing money from friends and family feels devastating), hopelessness (how am I ever going to find a job!?), and loss of purpose (what is the actual point of my existence?). But after a few weeks of this, I began to evaluate how much of my energy, both physical and emotional, I was sinking into searching for a job. I blamed myself constantly and gave myself a hard time whenever I did something enjoyable instead of trawling for jobs. None of this was helping me in my job search or my well-being. I was completely miserable, and of course…still unemployed. I had to find a different approach if I wanted to come out of this a) with a job and b) with some emotional strength.
I realized my feelings were similar to those I had experienced when online dating: I wanted to find a healthier way to put myself out there without pinning my self-worth and happiness on the results of my search. To do that, I needed to remove all expectations and be more ruthless with how I spent my energy and time. I also had to stop putting these jobs and people on an unrealistic pedestal. It’s tempting to come across a job/person and put all your energy into it because it seems perfect. But there’s no such thing as perfect. And if it is already sapping our energy from the get-go, then it’s already far from ideal.
So I thought back to how I fine-tuned my online dating tactics. Any matches I received, I took no action until at least the following day when I would give the profile another look to see if I was really interested, or if it was just a match from mindless swiping. I would unmatch everyone that I had no intention of messaging immediately, even if they had already contacted me. That may sound cold, but this was how I hoped people would behave toward me. I find that being ghosted or wasting my time on someone flakey is much harder to deal with than simply being unmatched. So after making contact with someone, I would continue to look for other matches as before, to avoid all my hopes and dreams being swallowed by one potentially non-responsive match.
The same goes for jobs. You find something so fitting for your experience and skill set, you can’t see why you wouldn’t get it. You pour your heart and soul into your application, and then you crash and have no energy left to apply for anything else for the next few days. But you tell yourself it’s okay, because this is the one. They will contact you for an interview. Even if you’re not looking for a long-term job or partner, it’s very easy to think it’s landed in your lap. But often what we are actually doing is compromising our true desires to make it seem ideal, out of a subconscious fear that we won’t find what we truly want and deserve. Searching for a job or partner is no different: we naturally try to make the job/person align with our desires because we (as a society) still stereotype and stigmatize being unpartnered and unemployed.
But these desires are fluid and change over time. What I once would have considered to be my ideal job, would be my nightmare job now. Partners from our past are in the past for a reason. With each relationship and job, we are fine-tuning our ideas of what we want. When we leave one job behind, we have a better idea of what is necessary for us to be happy and fulfilled at work. We become more aware of what we want, and we can avoid getting into dissatisfying jobs in the future. At first, my job loss felt like a premature end to a fantastic opportunity, one that I most certainly wasn’t ready to give up yet. But now, 9 weeks on, I realize that my happiness and fulfillment from my job were very low. I compromised on a lot of things because of good pay and benefits.
For both jobs and love, I shifted to exploring opportunities and possibilities, pursuing something that catches my eye in whatever way that may be rather than having a list of ideals I’m trying to check off. This helped to take the pressure off myself, care a little less, and spend less time on each job application, so that I could do more of them.
I transitioned to searching for jobs on my phone rather than sitting down at the desk on the laptop for the inevitable hours I would spend searching and applying for sometimes only one job. First I would browse and save any opportunities that looked interesting. I would come back to this list later or the next day, when I might notice reasons why the job isn’t a good match and get rid of them. For those that remained, I would apply to all those that had the ‘easy apply’ option, leaving the others on the list. These I work through every few days after vetting them once again to make sure they are worthy of my time. Do I actually stand a chance (looking at number of applicants, required skills etc)? Do I really want that job, and how much work is required to complete the application?
As the economy begins to improve, there will be an increase in job opportunities as well. The difference is that now the sheer quantity of people applying for each job has risen exponentially, meaning the rejection level is much higher. That average of 27 jobs just to get one interview is probably a much higher figure since COVID. This can be daunting—but I choose to understand this as another reason a rejection isn’t anything personal. And my new mindset is helping me stay calmly focused on finding a job (or a partner) that is realistically suited for me.
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Photo: Charles Deluvio via Unsplash; Markus Winkler via Unsplash