The loss of a job is one of the most difficult challenges we can experience and impacts all aspects of our lives. At this time across the world, so many people have lost work through no fault of their own due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever the circumstances of our job loss, we may blame ourselves or others, feel shock and nurse bruised self-confidence. The sense of loss encompasses our professional identity, the structures and routines that hold our lives together, meaningful activity and family/social connections.
This article was originally written by Elisabeth Shaw for The Carousel.
This is one major life challenge we can least afford to let break us. It comes with an imperative to pick ourselves up, get back in the saddle and start all over again. But it isn’t that easy. We need time to absorb what has happened. What can we do to keep perspective and get back some control? How do we manage our self-confidence at such a vulnerable time?
What is self-confidence?
We talk about self-confidence as if it is a tangible, solid entity, but what is it exactly? When we imagine a “self-confident person” we evoke images of someone who trusts their abilities, values their own judgement, has faith they can cope with life’s challenges, handles rejection through the job application process, and believes they deserve the good things in life. A self-confident person steps out of their comfort zone, writes the best resumes and cover letters, learns new skills, identifies lessons of failure and applies them with an unfailing determination to inform their future actions. Does such a person even exist?
Of course, this profile of a “self-confident person” is an ideal we can aspire to, rather than a reality we can always embody. The problem with ideals is that when we don’t match up to them, they can become oppressive and feed our despair. How many people don’t have some self-doubt, insecurities and wounded pride after a job loss?
Most of us experience self-confidence as an ebb and flow of feelings within us. Too much self-confidence can arise from narcissism and carries expectations that the world should meet our needs. In contrast, people with a little self-doubt, humility and capacity for self-reflection can be more likeable than those who seem to exude “self-confidence”. Self-confidence takes a different form for each of us and calls for a balanced approach where we navigate between a belief in ourselves and a gentle acceptance of our insecurities.
Well-meaning people often tell us to “think positively” in the face of adversity. But sometimes the energy we need to step out of our comfort zone and take on the hard work of achieving our goals can be driven just as usefully by our fears and anxieties as by any positive thoughts. There is a big difference between self-correction and self-criticism. What is often misunderstood about our inner critical voice is that, more often than not, without its help we would not recognize where we have gone wrong and what we need to do to make amends. On a good day, it can drive us to be better. On a bad day of course, it can be a stick to beat ourselves up with.
Maintaining self-confidence can often be about assuming a posture of “fake it ‘til you make it” — being able to hold ourselves together on the surface while our insecurities chatter away below. As we embrace the information that we did “make it”, it becomes a building block for our self-confidence, and from there we might take further steps.
Many feelings accompany the loss of a job—grief, shock, hurt, anger, shame, humiliation, depression, powerlessness and fears about the future. We don’t have to understand our feelings, but if we can acknowledge and experience them without fear or judgement we can “digest” our loss and move on with life. Beware the pull to wallow in self-pity or engage in destructive behaviours that in the short term might seem to help us get by, but quickly can become ways to make us feel worse.
How do we not take it personally?
One of the most difficult challenges is to not take job loss personally. Job loss can happen to any of us and may be driven by circumstances beyond our control such as economic realities, office politics or pandemics. It helps if we can accept the uncertainty of life and focus on the things we can control. If your company has given an explanation that seems to stack up about why your role has ended, let yourself accept that, rather than spend time suspecting other, more targeted messages about you.
Reach out to others, network and skill up
After the loss of a job we may want to withdraw out of shame or embarrassment. And yet, good company of others helps us to express our fears and feelings, get perspective and new opportunities might come our way. Online resources or community supports with a focus on job loss and unemployment stress show us that many of our experiences are shared by others in similar circumstances. Spend time doing some online courses to refresh your skills. Even if they repeat things you know, they will reassure you that your skill set is sound and contemporary. When applying for jobs you want to tell a productive story about your job search period.
Routine, structure and self-care
A regular daily routine and structure can help us to feel productive and prevent boredom and depression. Get up at the same time each day and set priorities and goals for your job search along with time for exercise, rest and networking. Being unemployed is no reason to let our heath go to rack and ruin. Exercise, diet, sleep and relaxation have a huge effect on our energy levels and mood. It is easier to preserve our self-confidence when we are in good physical shape. It also makes us more mentally alert and feel more in control of ourselves and our situation.
Given that job loss is so challenging, it may be that support outside your friendship and family network will be critical to getting through the experience. You can consider a career coach to talk through professional options, and an experienced counsellor to help with motivation, optimism, focus and resilience.
Elisabeth Shaw is CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counselling psychologist specialising in couple and family work.
For support RANSW is here to help, on 1300 364 277, or visit our website, www.relationshipsnsw.org.au