Following Your Bliss
A Career Advice Column
by Sarah E. Murphy
writer, photoartist, entrepreneur and seasoned job-seeker
The Waiting Game
Cheer up…we’ve all been there. Hanging around the house in your pajamas hoping the phone will ring. Obsessively checking your email and constantly hitting the refresh button. Pacing the floors of your house waiting for the familiar sound of the mailman’s truck. Calling your phone from your cell phone just to make sure it works.
Only to be dejected.
Are you suffering from a broken heart and attempting to “get back out there”? Well, in a way, yes.
Once there was a time you had a place to go every morning and responsibilities and deadlines. You had a business card and an office with pictures on the wall, and the next thing you know, you are Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom wearing sweatpants every day, while normal people continue to go to a mysterious place called “work.” You are now the roommate who is always home and can no longer afford to buy toilet paper. You turn on the TV and are comforted by the fact that Luke, after all these years, still loves Laura. You rediscover the taste of Lipton soup.
Job-hunting is a lot like dating, which is probably what makes it so masochistic. It is all about selling yourself, and sometimes involves forfeiting your self-esteem in an effort to be chosen. You are unable to be yourself during this time, as you are in limbo waiting for the other person to decide if they "like you."
For instance, the interview or "first date" is often awkward and uncomfortable, something you dread but must endure. You are eager to please, so you put on your "other" face for the interviewer. The one you wear when wanting to appear the ultimate catch to someone. The one that has no bad moods. Your resume reads like a personal ad, for you are fun loving, intelligent, and outdoorsy. You are even-tempered and handle stress well. You are a team player.
During this time, like attempting to maintain conversation over a painfully long dinner, you talk nervously to fill in the gaps while your "date" stares through you, nodding absently, making little notes on your resume. Or perhaps it’s the other extreme and you stumble over your words, criticizing them in your own head, while your date is sitting there wondering if you really do have a degree in English.
As in romance, throughout the interview and job search, we analyze everything we say and do and wonder how it will appear to this new suitor. "What did he mean by that?" "Did that sound stupid?" "Why did I say that?" "I hope I don’t have anything in my teeth."
For some of us it is hard enough to even get to the first date, let alone pursue a "relationship" or new job. When I was laid off after working almost two years at a technology startup, I was devastated, much like the way I felt after the person I thought was "the one" decided he needed to "downsize." I was lonely and depressed and thought I would never get over it. Losing my job only reinforced the rejection and hurt I felt after that relationship ended.
I figured there must surely be something wrong with me, and I found no comfort from my boss’ cliché "it’s not you it’s us" breakup speech. It didn’t matter that I was one of forty people. I was still getting dumped. It was impossible not to take it personally, and the experience made me as gun shy about jobs as I had been about dating.
Probably because it was the first job I ever had that had been everything a "real" job is supposed to be: challenging, creative, rewarding, and even fun. Suddenly I was surrounded by wonderful coworkers and was constantly learning new things. I finally felt I had achieved what you’re supposed to do after college. I had a place to go that I was proud to be a part of, and I no longer felt as though my degree was going to waste. And while I continued to get over that painful breakup, my job quickly replaced my old boyfriend and reinstated my self-esteem.
So when I lost my job, I was forced to "get back out there", even though my heart still belonged to my ex-employer. After that stability was suddenly eradicated, I was forced back into the sometimes cruel and unforgiving world of the jobseeker.
The reality in interviewing, as in dating, is you are more desirable to another when you are taken, in keeping with the idea of forbidden fruit. When you go into an interview already employed, as when you walk into a bar with someone at your side, it automatically makes you a more attractive commodity.
So when it’s been awhile since the first date/interview, and you haven’t heard anything, you begin with the justifications. Maybe the HR person is sick. Maybe something’s wrong with the phones. Maybe the computers are down and they can’t get their email.
After a guy I briefly dated said "I’ll call you tomorrow" and two months passed, I decided to make that one last phone call. The one that if he doesn’t return will definitely be the last one. "Surely, there must be something wrong with his phone," I figured. "I’ll just leave one last message." Needless to say it’s been over three years and his phone still isn't working.
Initially after the layoff, I couldn’t imagine there being anyone else for me. My job had felt like Mr. Right for so long, that I never considered there being other options or pursuing untapped talents. And when it was unexpectedly taken from me, I was given the opportunity to ask myself what I really wanted to do. Suddenly I was able to think up a new description for Prince Charming, he being the ideal job for me.
The proverbial sun finally broke through the clouds when I started seeing the hidden blessings in my situation, beginning with my mother’s suggestion that maybe I should start to think about my passion for photography as something more than just a hobby.
Therefore it is important to concentrate on the possibility of experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity this summer, something you never would have had the chance to do if you were still gainfully employed, safe within the confines of your cubicle. Maybe it’s working as a youth counselor at a camp for kids in Pennsylvania or spending the summer working on a cruise ship sailing around the world. The options are limitless, and now that you’re no longer tied down by the ball and chain of employment, you can explore all sorts of avenues that before you might never have even considered.
So while you’re on the job search, don’t get discouraged. Focus on the positives. Think of your next job as a summer romance, something that perhaps will last just a couple of months, or something that, when Fall rears its ugly head, you might find you just can’t leave behind. Anything is possible.
Recently one of many companies I had virtually stalked called me after sitting on my resume for four months, after I had finally found a job. Receiving the message was like getting an unexpected call from some guy you were nuts about when at last you’ve met someone else. Suddenly he doesn’t seem so exciting anymore, and you find yourself actually deleting the message. Like the scene in Swingers when Michelle finally calls him, and he’s on the other line with Lorraine.
I remember checking their website obsessively to see if "my" job was still posted, and making that "one last call" to the contact person yet again, thinking this time he just might answer his phone.
But these things go with the territory, for the reality of the job search, and in dating, is that in order to gain something, you have to put yourself out there. As The Psychedelic Furs so wisely stated back in the eighties, "You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race."
- Sarah E. Murphy