As an English major from UC Santa Cruz, I’m no stranger to looks of pity. Creative writing isn’t exactly a major known for its promise of job security and despite my best efforts to prove everyone wrong, my job hunt post college wasn’t doing much to help my case. As in, I wasn’t exactly drowning in job offers. When I mentioned the challenges I faced, I usually received one of two responses:
That’s what happens when you choose humanities.
Do what you love – you’ll get there.
It seemed like it always came down to two extremes – excessive pessimism or excessive optimism. The feedback was conflicting, to say the least, and rarely did I find the kind of balanced guidance I was hoping for. But eventually, I realized that was part of the problem. I was waiting and hoping for someone to tell me what to do instead of actually doing it myself. Realizing that fact was a game changer. If I was to make any headway I had to take action on any advice I received rather than just waiting patiently for the secret sauce.
Ultimately, I did finally hit my stride but that’s not to say it was easy. The process itself was full of trial and error and there were plenty of downs along with the ups. But with hard work and focus, I managed to transform the job hunt into something that left me feeling excited by opportunity rather than defeated by the challenges.
Here are some of the most useful lessons I took away and how they helped me to refocus (and rock) the job hunt:
I listened to advice, but I wasn’t dictated by tradition
When I first started pushing towards a writing career, I felt like a complete fraud. And the truth is… I kind of was. The thing is, as beginners, we’re all kind of frauds. Even experts don’t know everything when they first set out. Unfortunately, society often communicates that we’re supposed to act as if we do.
It took me several months to refer to myself as a freelance writer, even after I started picking up writing gigs for legitimate websites. Something about writing one-off articles didn’t seem like making a living, it felt like scraping by. But my definition of success was one of the things that was holding me back. I wasn’t on a traditional career path – and I was letting that bum me out and fill me with doubt. It was only once I dropped the expectation that I needed to follow a certain trajectory that I finally appreciated the unique path I was one. In other words, I embraced being the expert of my own life!
I treated my unemployment like a full-time job (with boundaries and all)
Had you asked me at the beginning of my career search, right after college and before the tumultuous year(s) of unemployment following, I’d have told you that I was working hard to find a job. Looking back now… I’d give you a different answer. Though I did put forth a great deal of effort on the job hunt front, I also expended a great deal of energy feeling sorry for myself. Way too much energy. This caused me to burnout regularly which led to some majorly unproductive hours out of each day. Eventually, I came to a decision-making impasse – get focused on figuring out how to catch the wind in my sails or continue drifting. I chose the former and hunkered down on putting in the kind of time and attention I would put into any other job.
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As with any other job, I took breaks
The above being said, I also took breaks from my job hunt. Not just an hour for lunch but days (usually weekends) off from the search. When I first began seriously applying for jobs, I went full force with the application process. Back to back days staring at the computer, refreshing my e-mail to see if I had any responses. Not only did it kill my creativity it was incredibly discouraging. Then when I did take a break, I would feel guilty about taking a break. So I made the simple commitment: be fully at rest when at rest, be fully in motion when in motion. This single promise kept me sane.
I narrowed my search
I initially thought that sending as many applications as possible would increase my odds of scoring a job… kind of like throwing a bunch of darts and counting on at least one to stick. But I fared FAR better when I took a more targeted approach. I became very choosy about where I spent my time applying.
After noticing what kind of jobs naturally perked up my interest, I began to notice the words that had me excited:
Collaboration, creativity, community.
There they were in all their awesome simplicity. After defining my big three, I put each job opportunity through my own check-list of requirements… if it didn’t hit two out of the three then I didn’t apply. The ones that hit all three were sorted into the “high priority” pile.
Each cover letter was written from a blank page
That’s right. I started from scratch each and every time. No copy/pasting. No reusing old cover letters and changing the company name. It sounds a exhausting and at times it was. But I truly realized the value of going at it fresh once I realized that the very nature of the copy/paste route immediately communicated something about my work ethic. I was trying to impress people with my originality, not with the ability to use CTRL C/CTRL V. I wanted to work someplace that appreciated what I had to offer and I truly wanted to showcase what I had to offer. Thus, I set the precedence of originality from the get go – cover letter by cover letter. Even after spending days and days on the computer combing through job searches, I wrote a fresh CV every. single. time.
Optimism became a necessary tool
This one’s difficult to explain. Complete and utter optimism doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of thing you want to place all your bets on. But hear me out: the value lies in perspective. When you restructure negative thoughts and focus on the good, you frame your search around the ideal of success. And isn’t that what you want?
Personally, I couldn’t remain motivated and continue showing up each day as the best version of myself without believing that I’d actually achieve what I set out to do. Sometimes, it really is about the way that we frames our circumstances that pushes us forward.
Dory from Finding Nemo said it best: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
All advice aside, I know that it’s rough out there on the job front. Especially when you’re months in or feeling financial strain. But if there’s any mantra that kept me moving forward it was a simple one from a blue cartoon fish. Sometimes inspiration comes in the most unexpected places. So just keep swimming, fellow fish. We’re all in the same ocean but I sure like the waves that I’m seeing from all these bright innovators and creators.
Image Credit: Thomas