When Things Aren’t Getting Better – What Do You Do?

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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Rebecca H. Bond, Ph.D.https://writelikeaphd.com/
Rebecca H. Bond earned her Ph.D. in US history from Louisiana State University, where she specialized in environmental history and policy. She’s published with professional journals and websites, and she also runs the writing blog, writelikeaphd.com. When she’s not binge-watching political or crime dramas on Netflix, she does freelance writing, content development, and editing. Her favorite topics of discussion include history, higher education, good writing practices, and personal development.
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Laura Staley

I know this upheaval all too well, Rebecca. In 2014 life as I knew it came to an end as I drove my daughter to college to begin her freshman year on the same day that the final straw broke open the crippled camel that was my marriage. I think sometimes the external life implodes to support us turning to the internal life to do massive clearing and purging of outdated beliefs and ways of being. Many hard challenges came at me fast and furious for several months after that fateful day including almost losing my son to death twice. I cried openly during many business networking one on one meetings. What I know for certain is it all became an opportunity for me to get 200 percent clear about what I valued the most about being alive. It became a chance to rise strong and to fully embrace my worth and dignity as a person from the inside that no one and nothing could shake. May you continue to unite with your core of strength and resilience from deep inside yourself. You matter and so do your gifts for our world. I really resonate with your journey of challenge. I believe in you. Keep moving in the direction that your heart guides you.

Norman Roth

WHEN THINGS ARE NOT GOING THE WAY I WOULD LIKE THEM TO . I STOP ASK MYSELF WHY, FIX IT AND MOVE FORWARD..I NEVER GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO BE UPSET..GETTING UPSET OR FRUSTRATED IS A WASTE OF TIME AND WE DON’T HAVE THAT MUCH TIME ON EARTH TO WSTE.

Malati Marlene Shinazy

Norman – I hope you take what I am about to tell you as constructive. I may have perceived your deep intentions wrongly. However, if there is a kernel of truth in what I felt when I read your comment, then kindly take that kernel and reflect on it as part of your growth in emotional intelligence.

Your commentary of what you do when things are going poorly may indeed work for you. However, by revealing your tactics now in, the context of Rebecca’s pain, is not only uncalled for, it is invalidating to Rebecca’s experience and not helpful — for Rebecca or for you.

You may have come from a time when the common response to falling down and getting hurt was, ” “Stop crying. Boys don’t cry. Don’t be a wimp!”

(source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201701/understanding-emotions-and-how-process-them)

We know however, by denying the human responses that we go through when life is pounding on us with the sledge hammer of rejection, near poverty and unexpected negative experiences, only ends up causing ourselves more pain, stress, and self-judgement, not less.

My heart opened to Rebecca. It is tremendously brave of her to tell her story with such raw honestly and candor.

I wish you well, Rebecca and you too, Norman.

May we all learn to be more compassionate and supportive to each other.

Rebecca H. Bond, Ph.D
Rebecca H. Bond, Ph.D

Your final words are brilliant, Malati! Yes, let’s be compassionate and supportive to each other!

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

This was a very honest and heartfelt article. The peace that comes for me in many ways when things are difficult and seem hopeless is my War Room, where it just me, God and communication. When I feel the emotions in public, in my circle of friends, or by myself driving, or with my husband I know I must persevere through it, and reflect on my blessings.

Aldo Delli Paoli

Life unfortunately is not just a bed of roses. Sometimes everything goes out, you get negative news one after the other and we start to see everything black! You enter a negative cycle where everything goes wrong. This is how life, relationships and even business work.
If one knows and acts calmly, nothing will happen. But if you are not aware, you can get into victimistic and depressive mechanisms. Feelings at times, especially in these situations, can distort reality. Then we must try to understand what is happening to us, understand reality as it is to improve it.
“Everything is going wrong” is not a good phrase, it is a generalization that does not help identify what is going wrong. Things do not stop working all at once although it is easy to believe so. There is always something before it has perhaps been neglected and that needs to be corrected, recovered to improve this situation.
That things do not work now does not mean that they have never worked or that they cannot work again. Forgetting what has been achieved and achieved is not a good strategy to recover energy and vitality. We must therefore face the situation, immediately stop pindaric mental flights and return to do something concrete to immediately change the negative trend!
So don’t let your feelings affect you. Feelings are not immutable. They are the result of thoughts that may not be correct. Analyze the real facts. Put your thoughts in front of your emotions and you will discover how bad things are ultimately not so catastrophic.

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