I have a confession. I’m not much of a Swifty. Never tried to get tickets to her concert. Haven’t seen the movie. I do, however, have a T-Swift hoodie. (Mostly because I bought it for my 9-year-old and it came drastically oversized.) However, the song Anti-Hero did, as the kids would say “hit different.” (Disclaimer: I did not actually ask my 15-year-old if the kids say this.)
I could travel back in time to my former career as an English Professor and analyze the lyrics, but I’ll let American Songwriter do it for me. “Personal development, Swift seems to say, is as important (if not more so) than examining the lives and careers of others….Instead of taking shots of alcohol and puking up purple glitter (as Swift does in this humorous and poignant music video), maybe we need to look “in the mirror” a bit more….Don’t wallow in self-loathing masquerading as affection. Instead, love thyself.”
So how do you focus on “personal development” and “love thyself” when you’re job searching? When thinking about how you’ll stand out among the competition is on your daily to-do list? When you’re getting rejection emails for jobs you know you would have excelled at and – worst of all – completely ghosted by professionals who don’t even have the decency to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”
Feeling anxious just reading that last paragraph? Take a deep breath and focus on this next line: Your skills are unique and valuable, and there is a perfect position out there for you. If you let it, job searching – even when it’s challenging – can help you to celebrate the skills you love and develop the ones you want to make stronger.
So how can you do that when it feels just so STRESSFUL?
Three words: Focus. On. Yourself.
When You’re Focusing On Yourself, You’re Not Focusing on the Competition
You’re probably thinking, “But, Miranda, you’re constantly talking about developing a personal brand so that you will stand out. How can I ignore the competition if I’m trying to stand out – among my competition?”
While it’s a good idea to do research about your competition so that you can isolate industry standards and best practices, I’m not a big fan of using others as a barometer of your own success, growth, or accomplishment. I’m not even a big fan of seeing a job offer as an end goal. Instead, the end goal is personal success. What is personal success? Living a life you love as defined by YOUR standards.
In other words, you’ll likely feel that your inner life feels better – and your outer life shines brighter – when you view your current career pursuits like tending a garden rather than running a race. When you tend a garden, you plant a seed and then lovingly care for it as it grows, and that growth can take a long time. (Or so I’m told. I’ve never been much of a gardener, but one of my friends has kept a plant alive for around 25 years.) The plant is beautiful as a seedling. As it grows, it only becomes more beautiful and complex, as long as you keep caring for it. The plant – much like you – grows into itself. It’s not worried about what the other plants are doing – it’s focused on getting the nutrients it needs to thrive.
When you run a race, you place all your energy and focus on one specific competitive outcome. When you cross the finish line – whether you’re first or last – it’s over and done. Everything you’ve been training for is in the past. This is why many people feel negative feelings immediately after they’ve achieved their goals. According to Inc, “The brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. So when you plan and know you’re going to work for something, you’re in biological position to feel good. Each milestone gives you another dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep going with the job. But when you reach your goal, that release of dopamine drops. It’s harder for you biochemically to have joy.”
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set goals. In fact, my business partner Lee Watson and I are in the midst of creating a profit-sharing program where we help people set and achieve goals. More information on our new profit-sharing program can be found at https://morley-career.mykajabi.com/offers/QL9pxfGG.
What I’m saying is that if you look at your job search as a competitive race against others – something you have to do in the short run (pun intended) because you need to make money so you can keep scraping by and living a life by someone else’s terms, you are going to burn out really fast, BOTH because you keep setting goals, crossing the finish line, and needing a dopamine hit AND because you’re – well – planning a life on someone else’s terms.
That brings me to my next point.
When You’re Focusing On Yourself, You’re Living Life By Your Terms
None of this is required. I know that this is difficult to hear when you are in a challenging position – especially if that challenging position involves finances – but you don’t have to do any of this. You don’t have to stay in your industry. You don’t have to make the salary you’re used to. You don’t have to work a job. At any time, you can take a leap to align your life more closely with what excites you, with your dreams and preferences. It may be hard, but it’s possible.
Too often, the professionals I interact with are focused on someone other than themselves. They focus on their bosses, companies, professors, co-workers, industry leaders, etc. They’re spending at least 40 hours per week focused on making other people happy. (Which, if you’ve done even a little therapy, you’ll know is not possible. We’re in charge of our own happiness, and our bosses are in charge of theirs.)
What does this create? If you answered, “ a vicious cycle of ick,” you’re right! This is why the unhappy worker and disgruntled boss have become a troupe of sorts in American movies and TV. Think back to the Flintstones and Jetsons. In each of these shows, Fred and George are constantly complaining about jobs they hate while trying to please their short-tempered bosses who are subsequently trying to please their bosses. This leads to an ongoing joke in both series in which either Fred or George gets fired when the respective Mr. Slate or Mr. Spacely gets a little too angry, only to have their jobs restored by the end of the show. While more modern shows like The Office and the immortal The Simpsons explore these ideas in greater depth – often using satire to comment on problems associated with top-down leadership and pop organizational psychology – it’s all a variation on a theme. And that theme is – many professionals spend most of their working lives trying to please other people, hating every moment of it, but persisting anyway out of a sense of duty.
But – none of this is required, a fact that more and more people are starting to wake up to. Certainly, Disney seems to be. If you don’t have kids, it’s possible that – unlike me – you didn’t watch Turning Red 1,000 times, cry at the very end of Elemental, or stand in an hour-long line for a selfie with Joy from Inside Out. Even if you don’t feel the need to get borderline obsessed, I still recommend a viewing of each, because here you’ll find a different theme: Focus on yourself. And more specifically, follow your own gifts and talents, be who you are, and listen to your own emotions – even if they’re different from everyone around you.
(And, if you’ve ever worked customer service but not been good at customer service, you will find the – spoiler alert – scene in which Ember realizes that she’s losing her temper because she’s really not meant to be in customer service one of the most relatable scenes in your life.)
I’m not suggesting irresponsibility. We often have to do things we don’t like for a short time as we move into things that are more aligned with our purpose. However, focusing on others doesn’t make for a long-term career strategy, at least not a happy one.
So, if you’re in the midst of a job search, and it’s feeling heavy, remember to focus on yourself. Do some soul searching. Root for the anti-hero, but stop thinking of yourself as the anti-hero. Yes, hi, you’re the problem. It’s you. But, you’re also the solution. You’re only the problem if you’re comparing yourself to others and trying to live their dreams. Don’t “wallow in self-loathing,” but be true to yourself, and if your job search is causing stress, take some time to reflect and think about if you’re really focusing on yourself.
If you’d like to talk through some of these thoughts. Remember, you can book a free call here: https://morleycareersolutions.com/contact/