Grad school graduation was a day of excitement, pride over my accomplishments and hope for a bright future. I was 22 and had two degrees, a ‘can do’ attitude, and a lifetime of debt. I was ready to go… but I wasn’t prepared for the dismal economy that waited to welcome me into the professional world.
I was a highly educated, goal-driven all-American over achiever who was using a Master’s degree to baby sit and clean homes. But I knew I wasn’t alone. Millions of young, bright and talented Americans were struggling to find work.
Unemployment, or underemployment, brings with it a lot of ills besides the lack of a paycheck. Healthy self-esteem can be elusive when you have nowhere to go day after day. With grad school loans to pay back and a strong desire not to have to move back in with mom and dad, recent grads can be even more vulnerable to the potential slide into a negative self-image and depression.
So, what can you do when you’re master plan is slowed down by a lousy economy and a non-existent job market?
Here are 10 strategies for staying positive:
1) Redefine your value. You are not what you eat and you are not what you do. Your food, clothing and job do not define or dictate who you are or who you want to be. Take a minute each morning to remind yourself that your innate value as a person is not based on having a job (or having money in your pocket, for that matter) and use the time to focus on building respect for yourself. You are worth it.
2) Clean that mess up. If your lack of professional success has left you discouraged, don’t take it out on your apartment. Losing your keys in the mess on your kitchen table and then wading through the pile of dirty dishes and take-out containers until you find one that’s clean enough to drink out of is the last thing you need.. This isn’t college. You’re not living in a frat house. You’ll feel better about yourself and your space if you can keep it clean and organized.
3) Get up and get dressed. Sleeping in can be nice for a few days or even a week or two. But it gets old fast and it will not help you snap out of your unemployment funk. I know… I’ve been there.
Instead of starting your day late in the afternoon, try getting up early, getting dressed before 9 am and using your time well. Getting out of pajamas is one of the first steps to boosting your self-esteem. Networking in fuzzy slippers and an oversized t-shirt is way less effective than casual business attire and matching socks.
4) Explore your creativity. You finally have time for that project you always wished you could get to. Start painting – your walls or an artist’s canvas. Fung shui your living room. Start visiting the colorful alleys and stalls of local flea markets and see if you can find any treasures that inspire your own creative juices. Do something concrete that you can point to and say, “I did that and I’m proud of it.”
5) Volunteer. Just because you can’t find a job that pays doesn’t mean you can’t find work. Take all of your skills and eager desire to do, and get busy. Being a giver feels great. Being able to meet the needs of others guarantees you a healthy shot of self-esteem. Plus you may meet new, like-minded people all working towards the goal of making this world a better place.
6) Exercise. It’s time to get up off the couch, pop in those ear buds and go for a walk or jog around the neighborhood. Regular exercise has been scientifically proven to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression through the release of endorphins. Endorphins trigger positive feelings in your mind and in your body. So grab your favorite tunes or a favorite friend and set aside some time each day to get together and exercise.
7) Say thank you. Okay, so maybe you’re not exactly thrilled with life right now. But stop and take a second to rewind... Is it all bad? Don’t let your unemployment cloud rain on all the good stuff coming your way. Did you get a smile from the cashier? Did a friendly neighbor take the time to ask how you’re doing? Are your employed friends inviting you to events and trying to help you network?
If you take a second to notice and be thankful each time some positive energy comes your way, all those good vibes get stored in your mental piggy bank. Then you can draw on all your positive experiences when you need a little pick-me-up. And when you’re ready, you can start sending your own good vibes out into the world and encouraging others as well. Start by acknowledging one experience each day that you are grateful for – even if it’s as simple as a cool breeze on a hot day. Experiencing gratitude will make you a happier, more self-confident person – which also makes you more employable.
8) The social network. Just because you have 500 friends on Facebook does not mean you don’t have to get out there and socialize. You’re not working, but that doesn’t mean you should be cooped up, depressed and not having any fun. If money is what’s worrying you – don’t sweat it. Summer is coming, which means plenty of free outdoor fun for you to take advantage of. Go for a bike ride with a friend or plan a potluck barbeque in the park or at the beach (you gotta eat, right?). Re-connect with old acquaintances and ask them to bring new friends along so you can network with potential new co-workers.
9) Educate yourself. Read the newspaper. Pick up a book off the best-seller stand. Take a class or follow online forums on your favorite subjects. Do things that will stimulate your mind and keep you in the loop of what’s going on in the world. You will feel good about yourself for being an informed, worldly person and your self-education might even open up new doors for employment opportunities.
10) The reward system. You may be out of work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibilities. There are resumes to be sent out, groceries to be bought, laundry to get done, and a whole slew of other chores you know you have to do…but just haven’t gotten around to in your unemployment funk. Combat your inner laziness by giving yourself small rewards for accomplishing tasks you dislike and ticking off everything on that day’s “To Do” list. Be sure to set realistic goals for yourself and then take a second to congratulate yourself upon accomplishing them. You will feel more productive, self-confident and employable if you know you can set goals and meet them.
Healthy self-esteem is one of the most important things to focus on during this difficult time. If you have ideas for staying positive while being out of work, share them below!