I was talking with a friend, let’s call him *Carl*, about the personal journey he has been on in recent years. Despite being a highly qualified and experienced senior manager, Carl had been unable to land any of the roles he’d applied for during that time. This situation is not uncommon.

Job hunting for people from their mid-forties can be tough. An ABC article reported findings by Justine Irving, University of South Australia, that:

“Almost a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work in the last 12 months — starting as early as 45 years of age ….”

The impact of not being able to get a job – whether through age discrimination or some other random reason – can be intense.

Carl had to temporarily swallow his pride and enter the gig economy. He picked up jobs here and there, contributing piecemeal to the family finances as best he can. But swallowing his pride was the least of his worries. As we talked, he laid out for me the impact his inability to find a job has had on his perception of himself, his confidence and his self-esteem. 

The biggest impact has been his own understanding of what his role in life is now. 

Carl comes from a culture where the male is expected to provide for the family and in his mind “maleness” is measured by how well you do that. That belief in his ability to provide for his family through his job has been challenged, which has been extremely humbling, and mortifying even.

But while Carl thought a lot about the impact of his joblessness on his ego and self-esteem, he has also taken some very wise action – asking himself 5 tough questions.

  1.   What’s the reason I’m going through this situation?
  2.   What can I do to help myself successfully get through it?
  3.   What does this situation mean for my perception(s) of myself?
  4.   What actions can I take to uncover the new me?
  5.   What will I do as the new me to re-imagine the future and find new opportunities?

I think these 5 questions are critical, and anyone who has been in a long-term unemployment situation would benefit from asking them because no matter what life hands us we all have a choice. We can roll over and play dead or we can participate in the act of becoming a newer version of ourselves!

The Art Of Becoming

I’ve been through my own version of being *Carl*, and I’ve spoken with many people who are now considered long-term unemployed. One thing seems to be clear – going through this journey changes you. You’re in the process of becoming a different person to who you thought you were. So you have a choice – let it run you over like a steamroller or take control of your situation.

If you mindfully take control of the process, you can have some say in how you end up. Based on my own experience and the discussions I’ve had with others, here are a few ideas on how to take control of how you turn out at the other end of the process.

These actions are about developing a mindset that will help you stay positive, survive the experience of being long-term unemployed and be open to opportunities to become a new you.

Take The Time To Discover More About Yourself

What do I mean by that? 

I’m not talking about dissecting your ego or persona into little bits and then trying to rebuild it so that you turn into someone completely different. That would be silly!

I’m talking about taking the time to mindfully assess your hidden and not so hidden assumptions you have as to the role(s) you play in the lives of your family and other people you come into regular contact with.

Are those role assumptions valid? Which roles are ones you’ve taken on (consciously or unconsciously) just because you’re trying to live up to someone else's expectation of who you should be? Most importantly, which roles are a fundamental part of who you are that no matter what happens, you’re not going to change them?

Take the time to write them down and if you can, share them with people who care about you. Ask for feedback about which of your roles (existing or emerging) matter to them. Once you’ve got some of the puzzle pieces, it’s time to reframe who you are to yourself.

Reframe Your Mental Picture Of You

Once you’ve got a handle on which roles are genuinely relevant and which ones you’d be willing to lose, it’s time to map out how to go about doing that. Take time to examine the new picture of you to see if there are any gaps or opportunities to add something else in.

Maybe it’s something you always secretly wanted to do. Or maybe it’s something you’ve done a bit of, but for whatever reason, you’ve not been able to fully explore that particular role or activity. It could be becoming more of a leader if you’ve always been a follower. It could be that you want to volunteer or mentor people who could really use your help.

Or it might even be letting your creative side out for a bit of fun when you’d normally be involved in serious, process-based thinking and work. Hobbies and under-utilised skills can help you answer these questions.

Once when my husband was looking for work over a period of several months, he used the time as an opportunity to completely renovate our house on a shoestring budget. 

Did it help Carl get a job? Indirectly, yes!

Because he was doing something he enjoyed, it helped keep his spirits up. And that helped him come across as confident and full of energy during his job interviews. More importantly, all that hard work he did ended up significantly increasing the value of our house, which made him feel even better about himself! 

Help Others Reframe Their View Of You

It’s hard to distinguish which is harder, reframing your own self-expectations or helping your family and friends reframe their expectations of you.

People don’t like change that they can’t control. And when one person in a relationship begins to change, it can really rock the boat for the other person or people who have to adjust to those changes.

Maybe you used to be able to hand out money or things whenever you could see a want or a need. Maybe you used money as a short-cut to solving other people’s problems. Maybe other people have to contribute more now than they did before (time, money, emotional support) and it’s affecting their view of themselves.

Change is hard, and it takes time.

Whatever it is, the only piece of advice I can offer is one I learned the hard way. You have to talk about it. Then talk about it some more. And again, some more. 

By talking openly about what you’re going through, the people around you don’t have to guess what’s going on in your head. It removes any excuse they might have to continue to assume that all will be as it once was, once things settle down, because it won’t be.

You'll be different. Even if you get the job you’ve been trying so hard for, you are not going to be the same person you were before you went on this journey. As you go through this act of becoming, a new picture of yourself will emerge. And as it does, you will have the option of gaining new insights and new ways of looking at the world.

More importantly, you’ll become more aware of and open to opportunities you might not have considered before. And as you go down your job-hunting path, you may find discouragement and disappointment finds you again, and that’s okay. But ask yourself this; who am I becoming and how can I open myself up to becoming a better version of me

You might just be surprised at the answer.

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