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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Nurturing the unemployed spirit

By Joanne Collins
Special to The Sun


"What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such." -- Henry Miller


It goes without saying that being unemployed is a tumultuous and emotionally draining experience. Regardless of age, gender, culture or class, all job seekers share a common mixture of feelings including anxiety, loss of confidence and in many cases, a loss of overall self worth.

Society teaches us that we have no worth unless we are employed. In a sense, this is true. I'm sure most of us would agree that for the most part, we enjoy working. Humans are sophisticated creatures, and therefore we crave meaning and productivity in our lives. For most of us, work satisfies that craving.

Work is also essential for our ability to sustain a living. In the basic sense, we need to put food on the table, and, ideally, the income from working enables us to afford the little luxuries that make life enjoyable.

Employment downtime

These considerations pose an important question: with all the value placed on working, what value do we have when we are not working? Do we not serve any value to our friends, family and community beyond just what we "do" for a living?

I propose we re-examine our employment "downtime." After all, could it not be viewed as a time of renewal? Is it not a period of excitement? How do we know that something wonderful is not waiting around the corner?

I know that searching for work is a scary experience. Not only am I a career counsellor, but I've been unemployed myself. You wake up despondent, feeling as though the masses are descending upon a beautiful day rich with meaning, while you're at home trying to work up enough courage just to look at the classified ads. We miss not just the work itself, but also the sense of structure it brings to our days.

There are two sides of us that require attention during unemployment. One is the logical, industrious side that most of us focus on with total devotion. We work on the tangible, proactive activities that help us land a job. We perfect our resumes, cover letters and interview skills, and we make phone calls and do research. This grunt work is certainly required and eventually it will lead to a job.

However, there is another side that needs attention as well. What about nurturing the unemployed spirit? We must also focus on taking care of ourselves during the job search process. As painful as it may be, we must look at this time as a necessary rebirth. We should view it as a chance to explore who we truly are, and to create a better future.

So, in between the resumes and interviews, take the opportunity to do the following:

TAKE STOCK AND ASSESS -- While many unemployed people accept the first job offer they get to alleviate panic and discomfort, make sure you actually want to do that kind of work.

Ask yourself if you want to continue working in the same position and/or the same sector. If you've been dreaming of changing careers, you've found the golden opportunity.

DREAM -- Ask yourself that fairy-tale question: "What would I do even if I didn't get paid for it?" You'd be surprised how many people transform a deep passion into work.

CONSIDER RETRAINING -- School is a wonderful way to explore your options and expand your horizons. Don't dismiss going back to school because you may think you're too old. It's not uncommon to see many people aged 50-plus on campus today.

EXERCISE -- Use this time to get into shape and take better care of yourself. A daily walk can do wonders for the body and the spirit.

CONNECT WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY -- Don't be ashamed to reach out. Seek their warmth and support and share your feelings with them. Indulge in some fun activities that will give you a break from the monotony of the job search.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK -- Remember that even employed people take breaks. You deserve no less. Schedule breaks, evenings and weekends off as you would if you were employed.

TREAT YOURSELF -- Although it may feel unwarranted, treat yourself each time you send a resume or make a phone call. Reward the small steps. Take a walk in the sunshine, have a nibble of chocolate, or indulge in that magazine you love to read.

RESPECT YOURSELF -- Searching for work is tough on the ego. Don't take rejection personally. View each rejection as getting one step closer to landing your job. Focus on your strengths and assets and be proud of your resilience.

REMEMBER THAT YOU'RE NOT ALONE -- Seek advice and support from others who are unemployed. Consider joining a support group or a job finding club in your community. Your local YMCA or YWCA is a good place to start.

Finally, remember you are a spirit separate from any job or work you perform. Jobs and opportunities may come and go, but your spirit will always remain. Honour and nurture yourself, not just through the good, but also through the struggle. Remember that this is temporary, and look to the future with eager anticipation.

-- Joanne Collins is a career consultant and founder of Career Spark. www.careerspark.ca



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