During my career counseling clients’ follow-up sessions, I usually ask them to share what job search activities they have engaged in and the results if any. Many of these individuals lost jobs involuntarily, and all too often they apologize and report little accomplished with mixed results.
This can be viewed two ways: the career coach in me knows that the amount of focused, evidence-based job search activity is directly correlated with the incidence and quality of job offers. So, if a client is not dedicating sufficient time each week to job search activities like researching targeted employers and making a certain number of face-to-face employer contacts every week, searching for and landing a job will likely be drawn-out.
From a counselor’s view as well as someone who has been “between jobs” more than once, I know that in the challenging quest to get from last employer to that elusive new employer, all too many distractions take us away from productive search activity. And in most cases those distractions aren’t just disrupters to be managed (watching TV, doing the laundry, surfing the internet) but often they function to protect us from having to look at our present state (unemployed), feeling what we feel (depression, shame), and not having to see what we see (I’m at home during the day).
The word “distraction” means to be pulled away. When you are distracted, it is as if something outside of you has captured your attention. Nothing is wrong with the distractions per se. We all suffer lapses in concentration that keep us from getting things done. However, some distractions from productive job search activity are charged with emotion and function to pull us away from the pain of our unemployed circumstances and a hurt ego. Can you relate? You may notice that once you actually settle on what is bugging you, sometimes the world and its bevy of distractions seems to slow down.
Mastering the discipline of effective job search. Clients may begin their job search with the romantic idea of finding and pursuing a long-neglected ideal job. But as they start the practice of calling strangers for informational interviews or begin to learn an awkward new skill to improve employability, romanticism fades away. They are left with the nitty-gritty of a time-consuming, unsettling, open-ended career transition process. Not surprisingly, this letdown can fuel an increase of distractions.
The emotional factors in a job search can be compounded as the length of the search grows, say beyond three or four months. Our minds can be endlessly creative to keep us from facing troubling feelings like disappointment, anger, frustration, or fear about engaging in new job-seeking behaviors. In this way, releasing the hold that major distractions may have on us entails having courage and internal space to accept the pain of what we are being distracted from. The first step to developing viable strategies to deal with distraction in healthy ways is to recognize the underlying emotions arising in this uncomfortable and shifting state. Often the process of emotional coping is best accomplished by talking with an experienced counselor, confiding in a close friend, journaling, or attending a support group.
One technique to keep littler, less consequential distractions at bay, is have a pad of paper or sticky notes handy, and when a distraction arises—did I pay the electric bill?—simply capture it by jotting it down for later. It may be shocking to realize how much of the time we are distracted during a day, perhaps daydreaming—probably more than when we were employed. Try the “distraction catcher” and see if it helps you get better at taming the little distractions.
Above all, as you notice that you are needlessly checking your smartphone notifications or whatever, STOP, and re-focus your mind on the moment at hand: what is the highest priority search activity on which I can next focus my attention? This is the “job” for the near-future, you are essentially self-employed, and it is critical that you be productive by structuring your weekdays with activities known to give the highest payoff. The workday is for working on your job search; the rest of your life is for enjoyment and taking care of yourself and your family.
To summarize, there are best practices to pursue in job search, distractions can get in the way as with all endeavors, and often it is not merely a matter of managing the distractions, but of coming to terms with what distractions are keeping you from facing about yourself. We have established that the first step in minding distractions is seeing them for what they are. And there is an additional upside: A growing awareness of distractions and learning not to get trapped in them might also open us to a larger experience of life and reality. For further understanding and insight, you might look into the growing body of literature on mindfulness from authors like Jon Kabat-Zinn (Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life) and Thich Nhat Hanh (The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation) among others, as well as try body-mind practices like yoga.
Dave Gallison, MS, LPC
Dave specializes in a short term, action-oriented approach to providing career management solutions to clients seeking to choose, change or advance their careers and reach their professional and personal potential. His unique strength as a career counselor is preparing you for informational interviews and directly assisting you in gaining access to employed contacts within desired organizations.