If you’ve been looking for a job for a while, you know how discouraging the process can be, and how worn down it can make you feel. This is doubly true now, as the job market continues to feel the effects of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, when you’re worn down and discouraged, you’re unlikely to be putting out your best work, so it becomes a vicious cycle. The longer this goes on, the more anxious you feel, and the less you are able to submit good applications. In order to stop this cycle, you need to stop and take some time for self-care.
The first thing to know is that it’s not your imagination: looking for a new job really does stink. It’s that much worse when you’re really in need of something, either because you don’t have money coming in or because your current position is making you miserable. In situations like that, I have sometimes encouraged my clients to take “gap” jobs at places like coffee shops and retail stores. This can be a bitter pill to swallow because it sometimes feels a huge step down, but try not to think of it that way. That is, in fact, the very reason we call it a gap job—it bridges the gap between where you are now and where you want to go.
In any case, don’t ignore your own needs during the job search. At some point in this process, someone has probably told you to approach your job search as a job in and of itself, and while I can see the value in that, it doesn’t acknowledge that you aren’t getting any of the benefits of an actual job, like pay, colleagues, or an office. You also don’t get the structure that a full-time job provides, and it can be easy for your days to start to feel formless and empty. From there, it’s a pretty short step to watching soap operas and eating Doritos all day, at least if you’re anything like me.
The danger of starting down this path is that it can very easily take you to a place of long-term damage, to your physical and emotional health as well as to your career trajectory. It traps us into thinking we aren’t good enough, smart enough, competent enough—and if that’s true, why bother exercising, seeing our friends, taking Fido for a walk, taking a shower, or applying for jobs? And anyway, I’ve only seen this episode of “Law & Order” a couple times before.
So how can you get out of that trap? Start practicing self-care!
It’s important to note that self-care isn’t a one-time thing. If your best friend gets you a massage, that’s an excellent thing, but it’s not going to be enough to fuel your whole search. Taking good care of you is an ongoing process, and one you will have to find for yourself. Your needs are unique, but there are some good ideas out there, so pay attention to what makes sense to you.
And remember that this isn’t about being selfish. Some people even talk about “emotional first aid”: if you have chest pains, you would go to the doctor, so why do we not have the same wisdom around our emotional wellbeing? (The linked Ted Talk is well worth a watch if you have 15 minutes!)
Get into habits of that make you feel good. Try different things and identify what works for you. Some basic advice includes eating well (don’t forget those veggies and whole grains!), exercising regularly, and connecting with loved ones. If you have a relaxation routine like yoga or meditation, be sure to maintain it, even though you won’t always feel up to it.
Are you someone who can concentrate on something like your LinkedIn profile for 15 minutes and then you’re off watching cat videos, set a timer for 15 minutes and try taking a walk around the block. If you are better off diving in, go to the library, put on headphones, and set a goal for yourself. At the end of that task, give yourself some sort of reward: a piece of chocolate, a call to a friend, a night off with a good (or deliciously bad!) book. Do you power through your tasks in a coffee shop or do you get distracted by all the people? Are you more productive early in the morning or later on the day? Find your way of accomplishing the necessary tasks, and your own way of taking care of yourself. For some tips on getting started, check out the University of Buffalo’s Self-Care Starter Kit, which is designed for social work students but has lots of great information and resources for the rest of us, too.
And take notes! What fuels you? How do you get your best work done? What makes you laugh? What gives you energy? Once you know that, learn how you can turn that into a routine that you can carry with you even when you’ve landed that wonderful new job.