Usually when people are faced with a job search, they dive into the mechanics of looking for work—how to write a perfect resume, how to answer tough interview questions with ease, and so on. That’s all important, but human beings that we are, it’s only part of the equation. The other part of the equation has to do with managing how we feel.
Let’s face it. Life transitions can be incredibly stressful, and a job search is no exception. And since you aren’t an automaton that can just take cold, hard inputs and churn out reliable results, how you feel has a big impact on how effective you can be in your efforts.
So, in addition to building all the requisite job search skills, ask yourself a question: “How do I plan on staying sane?” What is your plan to keep the stress from building to a point where you want to pop? (The last thing you want to be doing is scraping yourself off the walls when you have a resume to write.) How will you keep your attitude from spiraling downward and getting mired in the muck? How will you keep your outlook as positive and optimistic as realistically possible?
Having a sanity plan may not be the first thing you think of when suddenly plunged into an unwelcome job search, but in the long run it just might be the best step you can take, both for yourself and the people around you.
Here are several ideas you might incorporate into your sanity plan:
Exercise. Exercise is one of the best things you can incorporate into your life when you are in a high-stress situation. From a purely biological perspective, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and produces endorphins (essentially natural feel-good chemicals). And when you’re in good shape, you have more energy. When you have more energy, you aren’t as close to the edge. You have more of a buffer zone to deal with the challenging feelings that come up.
Mingle with positive people. The people you surround yourself with make all the difference in the world. Take stock of the attitudes of the people you interact with frequently. Are they overall positive and optimistic, or do they tend to look on the gloomy side? If you realize that the overall effect is a downward pressure, seek out others who are more positively inclined.
Reach out for support. On a related note, don’t try to do this alone. You need support. That might come from family, but it might also come from outside your immediate circle. Find a job search group. Reach out to a friend who is a good listener who can provide an objective perspective.
Meditation. My meditation practice has ebbed and flowed over the years. When it has been a consistent part of the picture, I’m always amazed at what a difference it makes in how grounded I feel and how much better I am at not letting challenging circumstances tilt me over. If meditation isn’t already part of your repertoire, I recommend the book Meditation Made Easy by Lorin Roche. It’s very accessible and light. It’s the book that opened the door to meditation for me.
[See more of Curt's career advice at U.S.News Careers.]
Practice gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude has a significant impact on both your emotional and physical well-being. One common way to ratchet up your focus on feeling thankful is to keep a gratitude journal. Every day, make a list of things you’re grateful for. Some days it might feel like a stretch (“I’m grateful that I’m still breathing”), but the more you do it, the more naturally it comes. (Here are 15 questions to help prompt your gratitude.)
Remember the big picture. A couple of years ago I was going through a really challenging stretch and I decided to keep a “positive journal,” a journal in which I explored only either what was positive in my life or how I could move from the negative to the positive. One of the epiphanies I had was that, despite the challenges I was encountering, there was still an incredible amount about my life that was great.
I realized that I had let the challenges swell up to a monstrous size in my mind, pushing all the positive in my life to the side as though it didn’t matter. “Sure, this is good, but… .” So step back from the challenge and take stock of what’s good in your life. Acknowledge the challenges, but don’t let them take any more space than it actually deserves.
Stay mindful and stay present. So much of the stress and anxiety in most any situation comes not from the situation itself, but from the stories we tell about that situation. And those stories typically have nothing to do with what we’re experiencing in that present moment. Have you ever caught your brain spinning out a story about the negative results that will happen at some point in the future? (If you haven’t, I want to know your secret.)
In reality, this present moment is all that really exists. You may get a job tomorrow, and all that worried-about future will never exist. Or, you might get hit by a bus. Either way, it’s all a made-up world that causes you undue stress. A great way to cut the story short and focus on what’s real is mindfulness. In its simplest form, mindfulness is being totally aware of what is happening, right here and right now. What are the sensations you’re feeling in your body? What shadows is the sunlight creating? What are the sounds you’re hearing. Focusing frequently on the present will short circuit those stress-inducing stories.
Look for the lesson. I hesitate to suggest this one because it risks coming across as a little Pollyanna-ish, but it can be helpful in shaping your perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s crappy about a situation because pain gets our attention. But with some work, you can also find the positive elements. What are you learning as a result of what you’re going through? How are you better equipped to cope with adversity now than you were before? What has this given you the opportunity to practice? How has your network grown as a result of being in the search?
None of that cancels out the fact that the negative exists, but it does give you a more complete picture to focus on and shines more of a positive light on the situation.
Remind yourself why you’re great. It’s easy for your self-confidence to take a hit during the job search. Make it your mission to reinforce your belief in yourself. Start by taking inventory of “reasons why I’m great.” Don’t be shy. This isn’t the time for modesty. Let the glowing comments flow. What are you good at? What skills do you have? What successes have you had, big or small, work or non-work? What do people admire about you? What do you admire about you?
Don’t just stop with making a list yourself. Ask other people what they see in you. What do they think you’re good at? In what areas do they see you as exceptional? Take the list out from time to time and read through it slowly. Don’t just read the words intellectually. Allow yourself to feel them.
Stay tapped in to what you do. If a job search goes on too long, you might start feeling rusty in your chosen professional focus. You can even forget to some degree that you really are good at it, especially in the face of what feels like repeated rejections from potential employers. Explore ways to dip your toe back into it. Maybe that is volunteering in that capacity with a non-profit. Maybe it is creating a project of your own that allows you to put those skills to use. Whatever it looks like, the main idea is to create an opportunity to reconnect with what you do.
Play. Make a list of things that are fun and pick something from the list regularly. Don’t get so immersed in the seriousness of the job search that you forget to be light in your life. Have fun! If you’re on a budget, get together with a group of friends and brainstorm cheap, fun activities. You might even get together a “cheap fun group,” meeting on a regular basis to bring some inexpensive play into your lives.
Let go of how things “should” be. Byron Katie has a quote I love that goes, “When I argue with reality, I lose - but only 100 percent of the time.” To the degree that you’re able, let go of how things “should” be. The reality is, right here and right now, you’re in the job search. Thinking, “I should have a job by now,” or, “It should be easier to find something,” will only create unnecessary friction.
Do a focus check. Finally, do a regular focus check. Ask, “Where is my focus, on the positive or the negative?” Start training your brain to gravitate toward the positive. It’s not that the negative doesn’t exist, and it’s not that you need to ignore it completely. It’s just that, for the most part, dwelling on the negative has no productive purpose. Focusing on the positive, on the other hand, will help you stay energized for the long haul.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.