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10 Ways to Stay Positive When You Can’t Find a Job

10 Ways to Stay Positive When You Can’t Find a Job

How to boost your self esteem when you're getting kicked around in the job market.


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!

May 21, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 31

(28) lisa smith, July 25, 2017 7:30 PM

all is well

The answer is not simple, since we are each under different levels of stress and we all have different financial conditions. It’s also very complex since the anxiety associated with financial pressure is very real and emotionally distressing – and we all respond differently to that pressure. Finally, the answer can also be difficult since it requires some work, honest introspection, and sacrifice. But for most people, it’s worth the effort.

(27) Maddy, April 11, 2015 6:09 AM

Wow! I am 22 years old with a Master's degree and currently can't find a job. This post was so helpful and so relevant. Thank you, you gave me hope.

(26) Maureen de Vries, December 31, 2013 11:50 AM

Self-Esteem Job Hunting

I have not given up yet. This article is timely and it's given me a nudge to get going and not give up!

(25) cleri, May 16, 2013 5:43 AM

I'm about four months away from getting my bachelor's degree in art history, and I've been very nervous and a bit pessimistic about life after college. It scares me that I'll have to live at home because it's a place where I tend to get depressed --- but I think we do need to stay positive. I've been having trouble finding a retail job. It's frustrating because I know I am capable of performing in a basic retail job, but I still can't seem to get any offers. I have to say, sometimes I do feel like I'm not "worth" getting paid. Most of the jobs on my resume are unpaid or volunteer work.

Anyway, I get my positivity by having a creative outlet of some sort. I decided that I'm going to spend most of my free time crocheting. Hopefully, I'll be able to sell products some day, but right now, I'm doing it to relieve stress. It doesn't hurt to have selling as a backup plan. I guess it's a "crochet for survival" kind of thing. :)

If this kind of anxiety/low self esteem turns into severe depression, I think a bigger life change must be done. I've gone through depression, and I've got out of it by going away to school and even studying abroad for a year. I don't think we should let our jobs define who we are. Maybe, if I fail at finding a job, I will have the freedom to take advantage of other opportunities -- like fellowships or some kind of travel programs that provide stipends. To me, having a variety of experiences could be more valuable than having an impressive job title. Although a job gives you "self-worth" and acceptance from others, those things could maybe be achieved through different means.

Naturally, we have to feel encouraged by others, so I agree that we should surround ourselves with positive people. This may sound silly, but starting a blog could help you attract positive attention from others, even if they are complete strangers. I think we all need social acceptance especially at our low points.

(24) Lisa, May 10, 2013 4:38 PM

There is something very wrong with my self-esteem. Even though I have two degrees, I have only been applying to entry level jobs that don't require degrees. When those jobs reject me, it makes me feel like I don't deserve to be happy. You always hear the saying, "You are paid what you are worth." Well, if you aren't paid enough to live off of then does that mean your life isn't worth living? I know the kind of jobs I would like and would be good at. It's depressing when those jobs don't give me a chance. Everything on this list is easier said than done. It's very hard to clean, be creative or even want to go out in public when you are so depressed.

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