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Job Hunting: A Mental Game

Job seekers are amazed to discover just how much of the job search is mental.

No matter how clear the path, or how much we know what we should do, until we get the emotional noise under control, we won’t make any headway.

Frequently clients arrive at my office angry, hurt and emotionally exhausted. They feel like they are treading water rather than making progress in their job search.

Sometimes their emotional state is the result of staying in a work situation long after they should have left. Sometimes they are emotionally drained by the rigors of the job. In either case, they try to convince themselves that things will miraculously get better. They tell themselves that others are coping so they must be the problem. They mistakenly believe that if they just try harder everything will work out.  Often, they wait too long to reach out for assistance.

Jeff came to me a year after leaving the military. He had no job prospects. He admitted that for the first nine months he had hardly been able to drag himself out of bed, let alone look for work.  His last year in the military had taken an emotional toll on him and he was burned out physically and emotionally.

Morgan was the only woman in a department traditionally staffed by men.  Shortly after being hired, her boss, a 25-year veteran of the organization began bullying her and undermining her authority. Morgan, convinced that she could win him over, stayed in the department for four years before filing a harassment claim and leaving the organization. Three years later she was finally ready to step back into the job market but didn’t know how to talk about her experience or where to begin to look for opportunities.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances here are some suggestions for preserving and regaining your emotional balance:

    1. Seek help before things escalate to a crisis point.  Enlist the support of a manager, mentor or human resources professional to determine if the situation can be changed.  Meet with a counselor or mental health professional to help you cope in the moment.
    1. As soon as you realize that the problem isn’t going away, downsize your life and build a rainy day fund.
    1. While you still have some emotional bandwidth, explore job and career option
      s. Update your résumé and activate your network. The longer you wait the harder it will be to muster the energy to do the things you need to do to change your situation.
    1. When you see the handwriting on the wall, leave. Don’t delude yourself into thinking things will change if you simply “try” harder. Your physical and mental health is at stake; no job is worth dying over.
    1. Join and attend a support group. Barbara Sher, author of “I Could Do Anything if only I Knew What it Was,” says, “Isolation is the dream-killer.” Set aside your discomfort or embarrassment and get connected.
    1. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for making mistakes.
    1. Get physical. Walk, swim, bike or otherwise exercise every day.
    1. Do something you love.  Read; devote time to a hobby, volunteer.
    1. Develop good boundaries so you can ward off naysayers.
    1. Take at least one step toward your goal every day.

Mary Jeanne Vincent is a career expert and strategist with a private coaching practice in Monterey. She may be reached at 831.657.9151 or