3 Rules To Get You Through Unemployment
My partner, Emma, endured six months of unemployment. Throughout this time I saw her evolve due to the circumstances laid at her feet; and, indeed, in hindsight, this growth was due to three main rules she adapted to get herself to the finish line. I hope that for anyone going through the same ordeal this may provide some illumination and kindred feeling.
There is no instant panacea to the suffering to be found here. Instead, I offer you a roadmap of how to endure, how to get to the finish line, and perhaps to get you a nose ahead.
To begin, this wretched period of your life can be one of growth and, perhaps, one of necessity.
This period reveals your demons, no doubt about it. But face them you must; for there is something to be said in welcoming adversity.
If you like, this is your own saga straight from the Hero’s Journey, where the dragon's fangs are felt in the pang of a utility bill you can’t afford, or where the gorgon’s visage is shaped into the faces of your family that alight or fall at your attempts at success.
It’s not easy, and it’s hell on earth, but you will get through, because of Rule One: You are not alone.
You won’t be looking at it this way currently, not when your rent is in arrears or you feel like you can’t go on — but you can — and you must. If growth can no longer come externally, then it must come from looking inward.
Unemployment may also drive you to let go of the baggage that is no longer serving you; therefore, Rule Two must be to: Know and Not Know Yourself.
When you reach the bottom of a hole, it can offer a different perspective, one that perhaps you needed. My mentor, Dr. Rubin Hurricane Carter, had an experience in prison where he saw a hole open before his eyes in one of the prison walls. This “hole” was not leading outside to the material world beyond — it was a hole into nothingness, that offered nothing and demanded everything. It was an awakening for Dr. Carter that led him to look inward rather than assign blame for his circumstances on everything around him.
You must be prepared to do the same — Rule Three: Take Some, but not all, Measure of Responsibility.
I was determined to walk right through it, even if it seared the flesh of my skin, even if that hole meant my instant death… If you want the ultimate, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price (The Eye of the Hurricane, Dr. Rubin Hurricane Carter).
Rule One: You Are Not Alone
There are things in life you should take responsibility for, even Dr. Carter took some measure of responsibility for his 19 years of wrongful conviction, but a pandemic is not one of them. There is one caveat, however, that you must take stock of — are you comfortable asking for help?
This was demon number one for Emma: asking for help was the bane of her existence.
In the beginning, Emma down rightly refused to send C.V’s to her closest friends because she didn’t want to be a burden, didn’t feel like she was “worth” the help, and was embarrassed to ask.
Most employment opportunities come through a friend or a network, so this was not casually shooting yourself in the foot, it was blasting the whole damn thing off! Emma, at the time, failed to see she was worth the help, and that there was no shame in her predicament.
But after a few more months had passed, and things became more desperate — old habits began to unravel. Behavioral habits develop to help you survive, but there comes a point where these habits begin to hold you back, and they no longer serve the function they were created for. As a voice coach, I see this play out physiologically, where detrimental habits undermine the integrity of your voice.
Emma’s habit was undermining her chance to create a new life for herself — the habit offered the “safety of the known”, but it also brought stagnation and a hole she could not climb out of — and very soon that hole would’ve filled with water.
For those of you who struggle with imposter syndrome, or self-sabotage, you must reach out. As scary as it sounds, whatever you have written on that C.V is worthwhile, and your friends or family are only too willing to give you that helping hand. Rather than be forced by circumstances, take action sooner rather than later. I understand the paradoxical nature of the request, but all I can say is that it is likely that you will be forced to reckon with this habit out of desperation, so far better to take ownership of it currently.
Ask for help and do not delay. Do not wait for the right time, because it will never come. For Emma, this was a leap of faith into the unknown, and the reward was one of personal growth and opened opportunities that would not have come otherwise. In fact, one of our friends gave us a lifeline, and if not for them, we would not have made rent for the last three months.
So, as a rule, ask for help. These are extraordinary times, and like Emma, you may be forced to drop the charade; I hope, that you will face it like she did and not turn away. A whole new world is waiting for you.
Rule Two: Know and Not Know Yourself
Had Emma known of her behavioural pattern could she have avoided months of anguish? Possibly, and possibly not. But there is no harm in learning your demons — the only harm comes from running away from them.
When the pain of loneliness comes upon you, confront it, look at it without any thought of running away. If you run away you will never understand it, and it will always be there waiting for you around the corner (What Has Happened to Mankind, J. Krishnamurti).
The maxim sitting above the doorway to the Oracle of Delphi, “know thyself”, is universally well known and not without its merits. But you will have to go one step further:
You will be required to free yourself from the “known”.
First, you have got to know your shit — do you suffer from imposter syndrome, or do you suffer from too much pride in your independence to get someone to take a second look at your C.V? A resistance to ask for help can be a deeply rooted pattern; from my own grounded experience, and from the works of D. Winnicott, if you feel like you can’t rely on a primary caregiver, you learn to rely on yourself. It’s this kind of personal behavior you need to know and then to transform it into something else. If you can’t face it by yourself, follow in Emma’s shoes and consult a therapist.
This leads to the second point: freeing yourself from the known. This means dropping any attachment to ego, at least in practice, to the parts that are holding you back.
Something like, “I’m too qualified for this position”, is something you are going to have to reconsider.
In order to make ends meet, Emma was offered a 3-month temp job, by a friend, which was not in the field of her choice and perceived as below her “status” and experience. Ultimately she took the job and was soon joined by an architect and a doctor of biology all of whom were in the same predicament. This job, not only gave us time, but it renewed her confidence and she soon found herself laughing again with a great team. The effect of feeling like you have a purpose, whatever that might be, is not to be given up lightly. It also takes the pressure off having to find the “right” job beneath a ticking clock, which ultimately frees your mental capacity.
This lesson is called humility, and if you can embrace it, it will reward you with more than just employment. It’s something you will have for life.
I mentioned before, that a period of unemployment can be looked at as a necessity. It breaks you down. But to be more precise it breaks down the illusions you have about yourself, the core of who you are remains — as long as you don’t give up. Transformation, metamorphosis, is the stuff of legend and riddled in our collective memory, but the requirement for its occurrence is to be prepared to drop preconceptions of who you think you are and open yourself up to what you may become. This begins first by knowing yourself and then letting “yourself” go.
Why is getting your C.V reviewed important?
My team posted a job opening, and within 24 hours, we had over 1000 applications. The rule of thumb my manager had to implement to have any hope in filtering through applications was that if a C.V had any grammar mistakes it got turfed without a second thought, no matter the experience level.
Any resistance you feel in asking others to review your work is not worth the anguish — so here are the steps we followed:
- Put on your white belt — unless you are an HR manager, assume you know nothing about C.V’s.
- Assume there are errors that you, and Microsoft Word, cannot see.
- Detach yourself and your pride from any comments you receive.
- Think outside the box; we went through many templates and found that a certain one had many more acceptances than others.
- Ask as many people as you can for their thoughts — once you have gathered a list of recommendations, choose the ones that feel most appropriate and reasonable.
Rule Three: Take Some, but not all, Measure of Responsibility
Emma applied for approximately three-hundred jobs over the course of six months. She had numerous final stage interviews, only to get the common soul-crushing reply, “we went with someone with more experience, but you were our next pick”.
Was it Emma’s fault for not having the experience? No. Although, a case could be made for certain life choices in the past that hindered her progress, a stark reminder of the benefit of weighing the risks and rewards of your aspirations. But looking at life in the rearview mirror will neither help your progress nor make you feel better about yourself.
Emma was faced with a harsh reality — in this era, there will always be applicants with more experience. You only have to look on LinkedIn to find folks with Ph.D.’s are gnawing at the bone for a junior position stocking inventory.
Unfortunately for Emma, she was being judged on her experience, and not on her ability to do the job or the potential she could offer the company; but she was also not providing a means of displaying her aptitude. So that’s when she took some measure of responsibility for the failed attempts and introduced the key to Rule Three:
Without taking initiative you must bear some, but not all, of the responsibility for not getting the contract.
Taking initiative is the only thing you have to beat the 100 other MBA’s from Harvard. Many of the roles that Emma applied for did not demand a task to display her skill or creative thinking, so, she finally decided to take it upon herself and provide a “task”, whether they asked for it or not. The figure below was what she came up with to prove her worth.
Emma taught herself how to do KPI reports in her own time, in order to get a step ahead. Taking responsibility, in this context, means taking account of your weaknesses and then taking action to improve them. Or, you can assign blame to the company for not taking you on, or that there are 100 other people with experience far greater than yours — the choice is up to you. Doing the former will leave you with something, whereas the latter will leave you with nothing except spite.
Taking responsibility for the outcomes of your life, even it feels like it is completely out of your control, will always keep you on a narrow path of continuous learning and fulfilment.
As Epictetus wrote, “we are responsible for some things, while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible.” Happiness, according to our philosopher, comes from understanding the boundary between the two. When unemployed, you walk a knife’s edge from feeling a great high when getting the opportunity to interview and then to utter dismal depths if you get that rejection. Therefore, it is in your best interests to know when to take responsibility and when not too — as becoming your own worst critique is just an inch away, and doing that only leads you to misery.
You must do your very best not to sink into that quagmire, the final cul-de-sac if the routes of blame and spite are taken. The fight to keep yourself moving, to remain hopeful, in the face of constant rejection, requires extraordinary courage and bravery. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Rule One: You Are Not Alone
Reach out and ask for help. Get your friends to offer you a referral, and banish imposter syndrome once and for all; desperation will usually force you into this anyway but better to face your fears head-on. If you need to ask friends or family for a loan, do it, you can pay them back with interest (or if sharia-compliant, a zero-coupon bond) once you land a job. Shooting yourself in the foot to secure your pride does no one any benefit.
Rule Two: Know and Not Know Yourself
Use this time to look in the mirror — in the darkest depths of your humanity is typically where you find that which you must face in order to mature. Unemployment is one of those life events that will take you there. I urge you not to run away from the feelings that inadequacy or anxiety well up within you but to truly look at them without illusion. Going to therapy is a wise decision during these troubling times. You will also be required to let go of your preconceptions or certain attachments to what makes up your ego. Take a job, whatever that may be, to keep some skin in the game; you are quite literally holding on by your fingertips, so this will buy you time and take some of the pressure off. Do the job to the best of your ability and you may find, like Emma, that you actually come to enjoy it and learn a thing or two.
Rule Three: Take Some, but not all, Measure of Responsibility
Know what is in your control and what is not. If you get rejected, “think how could I have done better?” rather than “I suck.” The former will eventually lead you to take initiative and rather than wait for a question or a task, you will take it upon yourself to make it happen. If Emma had not gone that one extra step, who knows where she might be. It also prevents you from assigning blame, which results in spite, neither of which is going to be productive for you.
I hope that this message reaches those who feel lost and are enduring these difficult times. We have been through it just like you and your time is just around the corner, you have just got to get up and try one more time, then try again.
Jack and Scarlett: who edited every single one of our C.V’s, reached out on our behalf, and frankly gave me, the author, a second chance at life.
Ross and Vitoria: who gave us feedback and provided us with a new C.V template that greatly increased Emma’s acceptance rate.
Sian and Fi: for going out of their way to secure us temporary employment and buying us just enough time.
The Brazilian Ju-Jitsu Crew: all of whom gave us their support and recommendations.
And to all the other countless friends and family that gave us a helping hand.