Career Transition: Recovering Self-Identity Amidst Long-Term Unemployment (Part II)

Dave GallisonDave 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.

Is there an alternative to the status quo for the long-term unemployed?  In my last post, I suggested that if I can help clients progressively address the deadening emotional, physical and even spiritual effects of job loss, then we can begin to reverse the spiral of self-doubt that undermines effective job-seeking behaviors.   In this blog post, I will sketch out a few ways to help accept the reality of job loss and its attendant disruption of lifestyle, family, relationships, etc.  Then we can get in touch with a shift in perspective, including some adjustments one can make totry on a new career and personal identity.

Change of perspective.  Often we are not aware of the values we operate under until our bubble bursts.  Job loss and the struggle of long-term unemployment can cause us to re-evaluate.  Instead of “Will I measure up to my neighbors and obtain the American Dream?” maybe we should ask why we even judge each other by material gain.  Why do we overly identify with what we do rather than who we are?  Can we possibly live fulfilled lives with less money?  Instead of overly identifying with our jobs, what about giving more to the other roles in our lives as human beings such as parent, family member, volunteer, etc?  As Elbert Hubbard reminds, “We work to become, not to acquire.” This is as an alternative approach that l, as well as my clients, am challenged to adopt in relation to the status quo and my life direction.

Activity adjustment.  Awareness of misguided values can begin to free up a consciousness that was formerly brainwashed by false aspects of our culture and possibly consumed with over-working.  How do you recover your self-worth, your zest for living, while still unemployed (or at least in the time not spent looking for work)?  In The Joy of Not Working, a whimsically titled and inspiring book, Ernie Zalinski suggests the loss of work makes apparent the need to replace three things:

  1. Structure
  2. Purpose
  3. Sense of Community

Since jobs inadvertently satisfy these needs, I find that my unemployed clients often need help filling the void.  For instance, losing the structure provided by workplace routines can be unsettling to those now unemployed.  As a result, clients may benefit from directed coaching about ways they can rebuild their own newly-rewarding routines:  daily exercise, working as a volunteer, and taking college courses as well as scheduling job search activities.

While having a purpose is subtler than structure needs, it is perhaps more essential to happiness and fulfillment.  If a client is not aware of their purpose in life, then I may direct the client to exercises like writing a mission statement or to various forms of contemplation or readings to explore the deeper self.  For many, meaning can be found in contribution, in living for something larger than self.

And finally, because work tends to provide ready friends and after-work activities—one’s sense of community–the period between jobs will require deliberate cultivation of friends and social relationships if balance is to be restored.  I have been surprised by how much support and validation my clients report after a referral to any of the numerous area job search support groups.  And, seeking involvement with a group—be it church, community-related, interest or sport, etc—reduces isolation and can add structure and reinforce one’s sense of purpose.

Let me bring this full circle: There is life after layoff and its personal, structure-altering and economic jolt.  The inner work of realizing you are more than your job and rebuilding self-worth is essential to getting back on the career track after long term unemployment.

Credit for some of the core ideas and references is given to Dina Bergren and Nicolle Skalski, whose presentation, Reinventing Career Identity After Job Loss, I attended at the NCDA Conference, Atlanta, GA, 6/22/12.

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2 Comments on “Career Transition: Recovering Self-Identity Amidst Long-Term Unemployment (Part II)”

  1. emc1124 Says:

    I have found this to be so true. Throughout my 14+ months of unemployment, I have created structure and community by keeping up with former co-workers and friends over coffee or lunch. I’ve also become a volunteer. I keep track of these on my calendar and I’ve had weeks where I’ve wondered just where I’d fit work in, if I had a job!. There were also those blank-calendar weeks, and those were tough. I walk every day, and I’ve been reading a lot – job-search related reading, spiritual and uplifting reading, and light, summer-time fiction. I also try to journal every day. This has helped tremendously with the inner work. Money/Income is certainly a necessity, but I have discovered that I am more than my job, and some days my purpose is simply to offer a smile.


    • dave gallison Says:


      I appreciate your response to my article, and as a first-time blog writer just realized today that I could reply (hence the delay). Your personal comments on your own life adjustments were very interesting to me and validating as well.

      It sounds like you have mined the experience of long-term unemployment for certain insights about what is truly important in life – any further suggestions you would care to share with readers? Titles of books that were particularly helpful? What would you say was the number one most helpful thing that you’ve done this year to maintain your sanity?

      Thanks again for writing, and I wish you well in maintaining those core life needs of structure, purpose and community and rebuilding your career.


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