There is much about a job search over which one has no control, including timing and the state of the job market. Adding to your stress may be dwindling finances and deeply ingrained beliefs around productivity and responsibility. Every day without an interview, offer, or meaningful employment can be excruciating, depending on one's unique circumstances.
Stress is a normal part of the territory. However, preparing early for inevitable disappointments and ongoing uncertainty will help limit your level of discouragement. I advise clients to establish a routine practice and support system:
• Set reasonable expectations for yourself and other family members who are counting on you. In the beginning of a coaching relationship, I often meet with the client and spouse together to ensure alignment on acceptable timeframes and opportunity and salary expectations. Areas of misaligned expectations brew resentment and guilt that, then, start fights.
• Establish a daily or weekly job search routine that your family agrees on. Over an extended period it isn't reasonable to spend eight hours a day in search tasks. Two hours a day, once you get going, is pushing it. Normal may be two hours, three days a week, interspersed with networking activities. Irrespective of your circumstances, looking for a job is hard on self esteem-you're marketing yourself, and more times than not employers will say, "No thanks," if they respond at all.
• Decide with your family how you will devote the rest of the hours during the week. Will you take over some of the tasks of others in the household who are working or in school? Will you start a project that you promised you'd do when you had time? Will you go back to school or sign up for training to enhance your resume? Will you do volunteer work that uses your expertise to serve a non-profit whose mission you feel passionate about? Retaining some schedule of healthy productivity will rescue you from overwhelm and feelings of resignation.
• For most adults who are responsible for bringing in income, being without work is rare. Plan for pleasure and personal reflection. Consider taking time each day or week to take a hike or go to the beach or read a book purely for the fun of it.
• Take care of your physical needs. Get adequate sleep, exercise and eat healthy food. Try to spend time in Nature every day, getting plenty of natural light. Tending to your body will give you needed stamina for what may be a long haul.
• Identify positive individuals among your friends and acquaintances, and ask them to support you during the process. Be specific. For example, regular inquiries such as, "How is the job search going?" may feel like an indictment. Give them words to say that will feel supportive, such as, "How are you holding up? What are you doing to take care of yourself?" You may ask these individuals to meet for coffee on a regular basis, just to listen to you talk about your journey.
If you don't want them to move into advice, say so up front-people who care about you will naturally try to help, and often these very thoughtful moves will have just the opposite effect. However, you don't want to admonish them mid-sentence: these individuals are valued resources that you should handle with care.
• Avoid sharing your feelings with individuals who continually disappoint you or who judge how you are proceeding. Acknowledge that some people are empty wells, and formulate acceptable responses to their inquiries and comments.
In fact, come up with several reasonable responses to the question, "How is the job search coming?" You will likely get this question from everyone who knows of your situation, and in most cases the circumstances will not be right for a heartfelt discussion. This is not being dishonest. This is acknowledging a truth and taking care of yourself.
• When you're feeling good about yourself, prepare a list for your wallet of activities that always make you feel better. Examples might be: take a shower, call a long-distance friend to catch up, take the dog for a walk, brush your teeth, go to the gym, explore a new area of your county, do something to surprise your spouse or someone important to you, begin a house project, work in the garden.
A final note: it is not about perfection-you will have down days and, perhaps, many of them. It's about acknowledging this fact and being prepared to respond when a bad mood does set in.
Dorene Mahoney uses experience as a management consultant and business executive in human resources to provide career and leadership coaching to individuals by phone or in person in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dorene helps her clients find clarity and bring forth new confidence and innovative possibilities for action. http://www.stepwellcoaching.com
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