A couple of months ago, I applied to a writing position with a digital publication and content company. They were looking for people who had experience with academic essays and online or archival research. I’m not always confident about the positions I apply to, but I felt extremely comfortable saying I met or exceeded all the qualifications they were looking for in a writer.
✅ Two advanced degrees in history? Check.
✅ Academic publications and presentations? Check.
✅ In-person and online curriculum design and instruction? Check.
✅ Extensive grading experience for academic writing? Check.
So. When I got an email a few weeks later saying they were pursuing candidates who better matched the job posting’s criteria, I was perplexed. They didn’t even want a phone interview with me? And if they wanted candidates who better matched the criteria, who in the world had applied? Harvard’s entire humanities faculty?
I had no idea if the presentation of my credentials was the reason for this company’s lack of interest or if a cadre of Ivy League professors had decided to take up essay consulting in their spare time. I probably wasn’t ever going to find out either; if you’ve been job hunting long enough, you know getting any response—even a rejection—is just as likely as never hearing anything at all. As I moved the application update into my “Job Search” folder on Outlook, I tried not to feel too discouraged by the “no thanks” email. I may have simply gotten their version of “We’ve decided to pursue other candidates,” and the rejection was not personalized to me. Plus, I told myself, you’re going to hear “no” more than “yes” when looking for a job, so I had little reason to dwell too much or for too long. I’d find something eventually, and as I kept hearing from family and friends, things would get better.
When Things Aren’t Going So Well
Job hunting is a difficult and often confusing process, even under the best of circumstances. When you’re trying to find your next career opportunity in the middle of massive upheaval, the search becomes that much more fraught with stress and fear.
And that’s been the story of my life for the last 10 months. The dreams and future I had hoped for in my personal life came to a sudden, brutal end last summer; worse, I didn’t have much say in the matter as I had to relocate…then relocate again…and attempt to rebuild my life into something that was at least functional. I’ve had a little more success professionally. I’ve published my research findings with reputable organizations, got a great part-time job as a content writer for a company I love, and started my own writing blog. But I have yet to secure a full-time employment offer, and despite my best efforts to forge my own path, the lack of direction I feel sometimes is overwhelming. I want to work, and I want to contribute something meaningful.
Figuring out where things have gone or are going wrong is a constant struggle; there are some days I’m so discouraged, getting dressed feels like a major victory. I’ve sought professional help for my mental health and for my job search, but the sense that things just aren’t coming together is pervasive and exhausting.
It’s also heartbreaking.
Sometimes You Just Can’t Shake The Feeling It’s You
When you earn a Ph.D., you learn to not take rejection or criticism personally. Being passed over for research and publication opportunities or having your ideas critiqued into oblivion is just part of the game. Eventually, you develop the ability to take in what helps and discard what doesn’t. Much to my dismay, this particular skill I cultivated in the crucible that is a doctoral program has faltered, again and again, over the last year. If my circumstances keep going poorly and I’m not making substantive progress toward any of my goals, what’s the common denominator? Well. It’s me.
I’m doing something (or many things) wrong. It’s my skill set. It’s my attitude. It’s a million different things that all lead to the same conclusion:
It. Has. To. Be. Me.
I know, I know. Defeatist thinking doesn’t help, and it’s not something most people—myself included—particularly enjoy.
My family and friends have reassured me I’m not some broken, unemployable disappointment and that life will get better and I will find a job and I will feel happy—even joyful—again. They’ve all promised me I will begin to thrive rather than simply survive. And I try to listen to them, as much as possible. After all, they’re not just relaying sappy, Hallmark movie sentiments to me.
Scientific studies have shown learning to shift negative thinking patterns can have substantial benefits. Heck, that’s basically the entire premise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is one of the most demonstrably effective types of psychotherapy we have.
Religious faiths like Buddhism have similar perspectives—the mind becomes preoccupied with negativity or attaches to specific but non-likely outcomes, thus resulting in unnecessary suffering. Once you learn to let go of your insistence about how things should be, you’re better able to accept (and appreciate) how things actually are.
Sounds great, huh? I thought so too when I added meditation to my daily routine back in December, and the practice genuinely seemed to help. For a while anyway.
And The Hits Just Keep On Coming…
Despite the roller coaster of despair, hope, and apathy I’ve been on for the better part of a year now, I don’t know how to quit trying. Some days, though, the idea that my persistence will lead to nothing but survival can leave me crying in public. Like yesterday, for example. I very, very carefully plan all my expenses every month and take great care to avoid buying anything I don’t really need. Of course, life is nothing if not full of the unforeseen. A fact I was reminded of when I received an unexpected bill for $150 at the vet.
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