Don't Let Unemployment Crush Your Soul: A Guide To Staying Sane While Seeking A Job

I have learned some things about keeping one’s head screwed on straight while going through the extremely stressful purgatory of being underemployed in a horrendous job market.

Jan 14, 2013 at 4:30pm | Leave a comment

Like many people, I am in that weird category of being “underemployed.”

I’ve been churning out cover letters and resumes for full-time positions for over a year, and with this having been my “job” for the whole of my 26th year on this planet, I have learned some things about keeping one’s head screwed on straight while going through the extremely stressful purgatory of being underemployed in a horrendous job market.

This article isn’t going to cover things like “how to write a good cover letter” or “how to dress for an interview,” as there are bloggers (Alison Green of Ask a Manager, for example) who cover that stuff well.

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This has been me for a while. Read on, and you may learn from my mistakes.

I’m also not going to tell you what you’re doing wrong, simply because so many people are probably ALREADY telling you what you are doing wrong as an un(der)employed person. As I wrote a couple of months ago in a post about stupid shit that (employed) people say to under/unemployed people, “Those of us who can’t find work, or enough work, are always to blame somehow[...] We have the wrong outfit, wrong resume, wrong cover letter, wrong work experience, wrong attitude.”

In this market, loads of people are doing all the right things and still cannot find work. Here are a few of my tips on how not to break your brain while you’re looking for a job. 

UNDER- AND UNEMPLOYMENT SURVIVAL TIPS

Give yourself an actual weekend.

If you’re a type-A person, you might think that working every single day is a good idea when you’re looking for a job. I did this for the first few months of my job search -- believe me, it was (and is) a terrible idea. If you want to exhaust yourself extremely quickly (and maybe quicker than you thought you would!) this is a great way to do it, and not something that I would recommend.

It can also be much harder to separate your personal life from your life “on the job” if you work on applications and cover letters every single day. Remember: most people who work in jobs other than finding a job get weekends, and you deserve a weekend, too.

During a break, do something else for a bit.

Taking a break is not “slacking off”; I have made the mistake of working myself into burnout enough times, and am only starting to realize that breaks are PART OF working. Don’t just take breaks for meals and to use the restroom! If you have a dog (or want to pet-sit for a friend), take your dog on a walk, or give the dog a much-deserved belly scratch. If you like watching ridiculous reality shows, take a half hour to do that if you’ve been hard at work on a particularly confounding cover letter -- really, you won’t end up on the couch for the rest of the day watching TV.

Taking breaks to do things you like also has the added benefit of forcing you to think about things OTHER THAN your job search -- and who knows, you might even have a great idea for part of a cover letter while out for a walk.

Do you also have things you like to do when you aren’t looking for a job, like building replicas of historical sites of interest out of Legos, or reading, or playing a musical instrument? Keep doing those when you have downtime. You are not a robot that just cranks out cover letters and resumes, after all.

Take care of your physical and mental health.

This one is especially important if you have a chronic illness, disability, or mental health condition that requires ongoing care. In addition to fibromyalgia, I also have depression and anxiety; the depression is (mostly) taken care of with proper medication and regular therapy, but the anxiety has really been the one that’s been giving me issues during my year plus of un(der)employment hell.

It’s bloomed like the world’s most horrifying flower that also gets all up in your face at a bad time -- like, when you’re trying to get to sleep at night -- and screams, “YOU WILL NEVER FIND A JOB BECAUSE YOU SUCK AND ARE DUMB AND HERE’S WHY,” on repeat.

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An artistic rendering of my anxiety kicking into high gear at the worst possible moment.

Even if you don’t have chronic mental or physical health stuff to contend with, take care of yourself as best you can anyway. Ever tried to “just work through” a cold or a fever? Remember how much that sucked? Exactly.

Exercise, if you can.

I know -- this one is in EVERY SINGLE ARTICLE EVER WRITTEN about how to feel better during a rough time. Hell, I have an extremely difficult time with exercise because I tend to overdo it by doing too much and then crashing (I’m a type-A, can you tell?), which is not good for my health and especially for my chronic pain/fatigue issues. But if you can get some exercise -- and especially if you can find a type of exercise that you like doing -- it will help blow off some steam from working on job applications, cover letters, and targeted resumes all freaking day.

Get support, particularly from people who are also going through un(der)employment hell.

Bluntly put, being unemployed/underemployed in this job market is EXTREMELY HARD for people who have not experienced it firsthand to truly understand. Sure, we’ve all seen the statistics and news reports about unemployment, but it’s impossible to really imagine what it’s like -- and how all encompassing it can be -- if you haven’t gone through it yourself. If you are un(der)employed, it’s worth seeking out other people who are going through the same thing, because they will get it.

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Photo credit: Burt Lum.

I HAVE A JOB (LUCKY YOU)! SO WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

If you’ve gotten this far and are thinking, “But, Anna, I already have a job! How can I help people I know who are unemployed or underemployed?” -- fear not! I have some suggestions for you as well. You can do quite a few things to help the people in your life who are going through a rough time job-wise:

Ask them how you can help.

Few things are more annoying to someone who is unemployed in a horrible job market than people who bombard them constantly with “helpful” suggestions and tips, apropos of nothing. If you want to help, ask how you can be of assistance instead of just yammering advice at them and thinking you’re doing something.

If you have concrete ways that you can help, reach out with those.

It doesn’t take much time to email someone one of those “career tips for a bad economy” listicles, but it takes some effort to let your unemployed friend or relative know about a useful contact or actual opportunity that you’ve come across. Useful is the key word here -- if you’re going to help them “network” with your contacts, for example, there’s a difference between you giving them the info of some random person you met at the grocery store and that of someone in the same industry as your relative or friend.

Listen, but resist the urge to jump in with, “But have you done/tried x?”

Unemployment and underemployment may be common these days, but that doesn’t mean that people who aren’t in that predicament have suddenly gotten better at listening (see above). Sometimes, a good ear can be one of the best ways to help someone who is going through a bad time.

Obviously, the above tips are strategies that have worked for me -- your mileage will probably vary. Under- and unemployed readers, please comment if you have wisdom to share.