by Claire Schmieder, Head Editor, INALJ New Jersey
Second Time Around: Staying Positive during My Job Search, or I’m a Recovering Debbie Downer
Last month, a lively thread began on the INALJ LinkedIn group’s discussion board. It started when our intrepid leader Naomi House shared an article and some insights about job seekers who are public Debbie Downers (or complainers). Member comments, for the most part, were thoughtful – even though the topic can be a sensitive one. Many members agreed that being privately disheartened, frustrated, or even angry is very different from expressing those feelings publicly, especially at networking events. I would like to go another step further – a consistent negative attitude toward a difficult job search (even if it’s only private) isn’t a good idea. I know this because I, kind audience, was a private Debbie Downer not so long ago. My story follows…
In 2007, I completed an MA in public history from Rutgers. I had excelled in the program and, on top of that, I had networked, I had two amazing (paid) internships, I went to conferences, I used Career Services at Rutgers, I had two professors who were helping me get interviews and part-time freelancing work, and I had a wonderful support system. I had enthusiasm. I had smarts. I was READY. And then reality set in. We all know that the recession hit the non-profit sector hard. The economy was something I had absolutely no control over, and that I had neither anticipated nor prepared for. I applied to jobs. And applied. And applied. I got one interview, was verbally offered a position starting “as soon as we have our budget meeting next month,” and, then, after that budget meeting, was ultimately told that the position had been eliminated due to a lack of funding for it. I applied to more jobs. And more jobs. And still more. I registered with a few temp agencies for good measure. Not a peep. Not an interview. Nothing. I had my resume critiqued by professionals, just to make sure there wasn’t something terribly wrong with it that I had somehow completely missed. Nope, they said, this looks really good. People I trusted told me they “couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening for me.”
Panic began to set in. My husband and I had assumed I’d find a full-time job within a year of graduating. I needed a paycheck. Out of desperation, I applied for, and got, a job with the United States Postal Service as a Rural Carrier Associate (aka, part-time mail carrier). Even though I was paid well, had a decent boss, and worked with nice people, that job was a huge blow to my ego (which was probably slightly over-inflated). That’s when the complaining began. But only to my family and friends. I found I was really, really good at complaining. “What is going to happen with my life?” “If I don’t start working soon, this MA will become less and less meaningful.” “I did everything right, why can’t I find a job?” “This isn’t fair.”
THIS. ISN’T. FAIR. Yes, folks, it’s true. I actually let one of the most annoying phrases in the English language out of my mouth. Life isn’t always fair, I knew that. But it didn’t stop me from complaining about it. Even though I never gave voice to these feelings publicly, all that negativity seeped into every aspect of my life. I stopped applying for jobs for a while because, I thought, “What’s the point?” I started picking fights with my husband. I stopped pursuing my hobbies in my free time. I became (ominous music here) a serious Debbie Downer.
I reached a breaking point in late 2009. I didn’t like the person I had become and I knew I had to do something about it. After consulting with a few professors from my MA program, I decided to apply to the MLIS program at Rutgers. Still stuck in a negative cycle, I assumed I wouldn’t get in. The arrival of my acceptance letter in the spring was the first step toward ending my negative cycle. Being at school, being surrounded by professors and fellow students, and feeling like I was working toward something meaningful again provided the ladder I needed to climb out of the hole I had dug myself.
This time around, I’m determined to avoid falling into the same patterns because it’s really, really easy to become a Debbie Downer, but it’s really, really hard to stop being one. Here’s what I’ve been doing to combat the occasional urges to complain:
● I’ve stopped agonizing over every single job application after I’ve sent it out. To be sure, I keep track of applications on a spreadsheet, and if I haven’t heard anything within a few weeks of applying, I call and ask politely if the position has been filled. If it has, then I delete it from the sheet and move on. I don’t wait by the phone. I don’t check my email every five seconds. I don’t start imagining myself working somewhere before I get offered the job.
● I celebrate the small victories. I interviewed with Pro Libra in early March! Yay! Did it lead to a job? Not yet, but who cares? I got to speak with someone very kind and supportive who told me that I’m doing everything I should be to find work. Hearing that felt AMAZING – I win! I got a new follower on my professional Twitter account – I win! A few people liked my comment on a discussion thread – I win! All those little wins add up to more confidence and a better overall attitude.
● I keep busy. Very busy. And I stay on a schedule. I volunteer for INALJ, I volunteer at an archive, and I volunteer an hour a week at my kids’ school. I’m also a (paid!) Instructional Assistant for an ITI class at Rutgers. I schedule days to apply for jobs – when I find an opening, I add it to my Monday/Wednesday list. This way, finding a job becomes more, well, like a job. I also make sure I schedule time to take care of myself – I read, I go for walks, I play Tomb Raider. Whatever takes my mind of the job search. This leads me to my last strategy:
● I try not to think about my job search 24/7. I have a life that doesn’t revolve around work. I have a husband, kids, pets, friends, hobbies. I have travel plans, upcoming celebrations, and concerts to go to. If I can’t find pleasure in the smaller things, then I know I won’t be happy with the bigger things.
I know that the library job market is extremely competitive and I’m nervous about it. Not being nervous would be naive. I know I’ll have downbeat moments, days, maybe even a week or two. But, this time around, I’m refusing to let a bad attitude affect my job search.
If you’re worried that you may be suffering from a similar malady, here are a few resources that could prove helpful and/or interesting:
The Atlantic – There’s More to Life Than Being Happy
USA Today – Be Positive and Get a Job Faster
LIScareer – Job Hunting Bibliography
republished from 3/21/13