Do you ever have those days – or even weeks or months – when you feel like nothing is going your way, it’s all just a bit too hard and your dreams and aspirations for the future just seem to remain distant glimmers on the horizon?
Just over a year ago, I lost my job. I was actually made redundant in the previous October, but management made the decision to keep me on part-time on a casual basis until they no longer needed me… and at the end of January last year, I wasn’t called back.
It wasn’t my dream job by any means, and I was feeling pretty optimistic about getting a new job that I’d enjoy far more. I’d been in Australia just over a year at that point and felt a lot more informed about what was out there, what I wanted to do, and what I needed to do to get that job that I wanted.
Fast-forward six months, and I was still unemployed.
My initial optimism was long gone, and my confidence in myself and my abilities was lowering day by day. I felt like I’d explored countless avenues and each one had led to nothing. I’d dread the Skype chats where my parents would inevitably ask if I had a job yet. I was sick of being asked at events and parties what it was that I did. I’d look at my feet and mumble, or look to someone else to fill in the awkward silence.
At the time, I was beginning to feel like it was all a bit hopeless. And right then, when I just didn’t know where to turn next, I found a job. It wasn’t my absolute dream job, but it fitted with what I believed in and what I wanted to do, working with the community on a sustainability-related project. It was an possible opening to something better. I took it. And you know what? It was far more enjoyable than I expected. The team I got to work with were fantastic, the work was rewarding – and then an opportunity came up at the same place for work that was even more rewarding and even more along the lines of where I wanted to be. Right now, I’m loving what I do.
Reflecting on last year with the feeling of positivity that comes from doing a job I believe in, it’s much easier to look back in a positive light. Back then I felt like I’d wasted six months of my life. Now I can see that I learned some valuable lessons during that time. It may not have felt like much fun then, but now I realise that I learned a lot about myself during those six months, and I feel grateful that I had those experiences.
I wanted to share some of these lessons with you. You may not have the same experiences as me but I think the lessons are the same. Whatever crises we face in our lives, they are always opportunities to learn and grow stronger.
Lessons I’ve Learned
1. Don’t waste time on things you don’t believe in.
I wanted to work in the area of sustainability. I was interested in behaviour change, waste and education, working at a community level. Thing was, there weren’t a lot of those types of jobs around. So I decided to apply to all the low level admin jobs that I saw too, figuring that as I had experience in office management it would do for now.
So I applied for admin job after admin job, and did not get a single interview. Job applications in Australia can be incredibly laborious (no simple CV-sending with a hastily drafted cover letter here) so these took up a lot of my time, and it was very annoying to hear nothing back. I’m sure there were tears and tantrums. And then I caught myself saying “I’m pissed off that I didn’t get a job I didn’t even want.” I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with that sentence! Why was I applying for jobs I didn’t want, only to get upset when I didn’t get them? What a total waste of energy, emotions and effort. So I stopped that right away. It is so much better to focus on the things you do want to do. If your heart’s not in it, people see through you right away.
2. Make the most of the time you’ve been given.
Let’s face it, most of us spend our work days dreaming of holidays, what we’ll be doing at the weekend and the evenings when we’re not working and generally we feel like we don’t have enough time in our busy lives to do all the things we want.
So why is it, when we don’t have a job, we spend all our time trying to find a job and not taking advantage of the benefits that come with not being chained to a desk all day?
I know it’s not easy. Not having work makes us feel anxious, and the uncertainty of where the money is going to come from means we’re not always inclined to enjoy the free time we suddenly have. But I’m not talking about spending the time lunching or shopping. There’s so much we can do that will ultimately help us find work, through developing skills and gaining experience, volunteering or taking time to train in new areas, and this also gives us focus, a reason to leave the house and meet other people and generally stay sane. I had the chance to volunteer for some great organisations, to meet people doing fantastic things in the fields I am interested in and explore what I really wanted to do. Plus… I started this blog. I figured that if I wanted to educate people about sustainability and I couldn’t do that as a paid job, then I’d do it as a hobby and as a creative outlet.
3. We get new skills from everything we do.
Everything we do, every experience, is a lesson that we learn. Even when things seem pointless and frustrating, we will have gotten something from them. Even if the lesson was that this is something that we will never ever want to experience ever again! Everything we read, everything we hear, everyone we meet, helps to shape us into who will be in the future.
Each job application I sent off meant that the next one was that little bit better. Each rejection was a lesson in perseverance. Each new introduction to an organisation was an insight into the possibilities out there. This blog taught me the wonders of the internet, and connected me with like-minded people both in Perth and across the oceans. It gave me a creative outlet and a routine, and kept me focused.
4. If you need to push too hard, maybe it’s better to let it go.
There was an organisation that I really really wanted to volunteer for. I’d discussed it with them a few times; it was definitely on the agenda but a date was never set. They wouldn’t call, so I’d follow up… only for the same thing to happen again. That last time I called, I remember wondering if I should bother. But I did, and I did end up doing some work for them.
I quickly realised that the disorganisation of arranging the placement reflected a disorganisation that ran through the whole place. The work I did took a lot of my time, but I wondered whether it was actually going to be of any use to the organisation. There was too much chaos and disorder; too many ideas but no real structure. I finished what I’d been working on and chose not to continue with them.
They were grateful of the work I’d done…but I still wonder whether it was just shelved never to be seen again.
I did learn some valuable lessons, though. Including – if you have to push too hard at something, maybe it isn’t the right thing or the right time for you. Things should come naturally. Some things just aren’t meant to be.
5. Rejection means that the right thing hasn’t found you yet.
I find rejection hard. When I apply for a job I invest so much time and emotion into the application, and I really set my heart on it. I imagine what it will be like to have the job. So when I get the rejection letter (or deafening silence that follows the application), I feel disappointed. Initially it was difficult not to take it personally. That was something I had to learn to deal with. Now I’ve found the best way to look at it is to accept that it wasn’t the right thing for me, and a much better thing is right around the corner.
My six months of unemployment took this to extremes. I seemed to be waiting for that corner for an awfully long time. It was hard to keep thinking that something better was going to come along. But you know what? It did.
We can’t dwell on things that don’t happen for us. When I imagine how great it will be when I get all those jobs, those thoughts that I create aren’t real. I have no way of knowing what it would actually be like. Whilst it may seem devastating at the time to be rejected, when we look back with the benefit of time it’s much easier to see that the job wouldn’t have been perfect, that there were things that we didn’t really like about it – and that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t been for the benefit of not getting that very job we were dreaming about.
The benefit of hindsight
With the benefit of having a job that I’m loving, I can look back at my experiences of the last year and actually feel grateful for everything that happened. That initial redundancy was the trigger for my involvement with the Less is More Festival, which I have now organised for two successive years. I’ve met so many amazing people through the Festival, I love being able to give something back to my community, and the Festival even won an award as the result of my efforts. I got involved with Living Smart, I started writing this blog and found a whole online community out there that I never knew existed before. I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew, developed countless new skills and feel like I’ve really grown as a person.
My contract for my current position finishes in April, so then I’ll be back to job-hunting. I spent last week updating my CV and I realised that despite that period of unemployment my CV looks stronger than ever, thanks to all the opportunities I was able to take up. If I’d stayed in that old job, it’s unlikely most of this would have happened.
Every trial we face is an opportunity to learn and to grow, and every cloud has a silver lining.