As Michelle walked through the door at our university’s career center she had what appeared to be a pleasant smile on her face. Looking at her more closely, however, I sensed the tension she was fighting to keep in check.
It’s no wonder the tension was there. Michelle would be graduating in 5 weeks and she didn’t have a job lined up yet. All through college she had worked incredibly hard. Her internships were amazing, her grades equally impressive. The idea of “failing” now, when it mattered most, had her totally on edge.
What Michelle didn’t realize was that her stressed out mental state was hurting her on multiple levels. The energy she was expending on this state of worry about what “might” happen was, consciously and unconsciously, zapping her energy and perhaps even harming her health.
The WebMD.com article, “How worrying affects your body,” states that “emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when fight or flight is triggered daily by excessive worrying and anxiety. The fight or flight response causes the body to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can cause physical reactions such as: fatigue, inability to concentrate, irritability, and headaches.”
Being in a stressed state can rob us of the resources we need to job search effectively, as well as to move through our daily routines.
Furthermore, the scenarios that were running around Michelle’s head (of being unemployed and homeless) were not actually a very realistic view. However, when we are stressed we sometimes paint an extra terrible version of what might happen to us. Our mind can act like a runaway freight train.
To help her lessen this worry, and get hold of a more realistic way of thinking, we dove in to face her fears straight on.
The question that I asked Michelle was, “What’s your worst case scenario?” To help her come to an answer, we went through it step-by-step.
“I want you to imagine and describe for me your worst case scenario. Tell me what you most fear.”
“My worst case scenario and fear is that I do all this work, send in all these applications, push through all this networking and still end up without a job at graduation, as well as have no leads, and no hope.”
“Now, in this scenario, what would you do for housing? Would you have a roof over your head?”
“I’ve got an apartment here in Boston, and my lease is up soon. What I really want is to get a job in New York City. It’s so expensive there, so there’s no way I can afford rent without a job. It’s just impossible. But, I guess if I had to, I could move back to Washington, D.C. and live with my Mom. So, no, I probably wouldn’t be homeless.”
“Will you be able to eat?”
“Yes, I’m sure my Mom can help out in that area, at least for a bit.”
“If you can’t land the job you want in PR or advertising, is there any other job you could get for the short term?”
“I guess, if I had no other options, I could waitress again, but that seems really rough as a newly minted college grad.”
“How does all this feel? How would not getting a job affect how you feel about yourself?”
“I think that’s actually the hardest part. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I’d feel like I messed up, that I wasn’t good enough. It would feel really crappy to have that happen after working this hard in school. It would be like, why’d I bother pushing to maintain this 3.75 GPA.”
“Is there anything else? Are there any other thoughts, feelings or emotions that are connected to not landing a job right away?”
“It’s hard to say this out loud, but I think I’d feel embarrassed. I’d also feel like I let my parents down. But maybe I’m being too hard on myself? I know others who have been in the same position. And I do know, deep down, some how something is bound to turn up.”
What We Can Learn
By going into her fear, and running through her worst case scenario, Michelle was able to realize that she’d actually survive not getting a job before graduation. She wouldn’t be homeless and she was reminded that she could get some sort of basic job that would help her to get by for the short term.
When she spoke beyond the tangible, concrete fears, and also examined the feelings associated with her situation, she got an even deeper level of understanding. It wasn’t just the idea of not having a job, it was also her negative emotions about not being successful, that were doing her in. By looking at both the extrinsic factors (food/rent/basic survival), as well as the intrinsic (in this case thoughts and emotions), we can get a more realistic view of the complete picture, and then can move forward more readily.
Sometimes we don’t even realize it, but we sacrifice a tremendous amount of mind power as well as physical energy on worrying. Worry can feel like we are holding our breath. How productive are we when we are holding our breath? Not very, right? In fact, in its worst moments, worry can even paralyze us. But by facing our worst fears, and saying to ourselves that we can live with the worst case scenario, we’ll free up that energy to go into more productive activities.
How about you; are you still holding your breath? If yes, then, ask yourself, “What’s my worst case scenario?” Get out a piece of paper and write it all down. If you can face and accept your biggest fears, I bet your anxiety will come down several notches. Plus, doesn’t it feel good to finally exhale!
One More Tip
During the difficult challenges of doing a job search, it’s also helpful to acknowledge how far you’ve already come. Why not take a moment to appreciate all the things you have already accomplished. Have some compassion and recognition for yourself and a little faith. Just about everyone who has achieved success has also gone through many bumps in the road along the way.
So, when the going gets tough, take a step back, face your fear and free your energy.