Four Ways to Dismantle Our Personal Clutter while Job Searching

What are you holding onto that is hurting your job search? What can you do differently to approach your search? How do you de-clutter your head to focus on the search, and let go of the past that has held you back in your head?

Four Ways to Dismantle Our Personal Clutter while Job Searching

For most of 2019, I tried to find a new job in my field in higher education administration. It felt incredibly stressful, but for whatever reason, I felt unprepared to manage. I had completed several cross-country searches before, but never one in just one city. Accustomed to the months-long processes, usually, a favorite job emerged; in this latest search, a favorite did not.

In the past, I felt a sense of confidence in the growing number of interview offers, whereas this time around the offers were few and far between. Plus I re-lived the trauma each time I had an interview because I was asked to speak about what I was doing before the college closed so suddenly, making it hard to move-on.

Feeling the Isolation

All of the re-lived trauma has put me in a very challenging head-space. I had to ask myself: Should I give up and start overlooking outside of my industry? Perhaps I should look at my filters and add jobs that I have done before that I know I can ace the interview? To be honest, these two choices have been the only one I could think of – I couldn’t even think of a third!

I noticed my colleagues, who also lost their jobs, find positions in our region and across the country and I was still at home watching Friends reruns most days, brooding about the reasons why nothing wasn’t working out. Isolating is the only way to describe this head-space. And as an extrovert, isolation feels very strange.

I found myself surrounded by these mental walls and the brain clutter that made me feel indifferent about my career searching goals and what I should continue to do.

I want to make it very clear that many things can impact our personal heads-space – family, issues, toxic relationships, past and current trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. The approach I am recommending has worked for me and I hope it will work for you.

However, if you need additional resources to manage everything that is going on in your head, reach out to a mental health provider in your area. I have relied on my personal network to find strength and clarity but would turn to a mental health provider if I needed one.

Taking a New Approach

I had the epiphany to my job searching approach and it was all sparked by Marie Kondo, of all people. Her concept of identifying things in our lives that ‘spark joy’ proved very useful as I looked at some of the interviews I had over the past year. In each scenario, I interviewed for a job that essentially I had done before.

While the jobs were unique to the institution, nearly all parts of the job were positions I had held previously at one of the many jobs I had held. Even recently, during a phone interview, I found myself using explicit examples of work I had done that would not have stretched my skills at that institution. And that left me bored and, honestly, devoid of joy.

I realized I figuratively held onto this past version of myself, hoping I could replicate the joy I had while doing those jobs. But it was just brain clutter at that point – a folly to bring me joy, but without challenging me to grow and learn new skills – and it seemed like something I needed to let go of.

I made a commitment to do the following:

Create a transition plan

Why limit myself to staying in student affairs? Can I pivot into a new industry that can use my skills? What skills translate well into other industries?

Over drinks the other day, my brother-in-law was talking to me about moving into diversity and inclusion work for media companies. I didn’t think this would help me spark joy, but why not try? Would my skills and advanced degree be of use to the world in this industry? I need to keep these doors open and dismantle the walls I have around staying in one industry.

Update my resume and interview responses

In the past year, I have switched my resume format but need to think about whether this format is best highlighting my accomplishments and my value to the institution. I also use the same stories to highlight my skills, which after months of interviewing has made me tell the same stories over and over again. I need to re-think my skills and how I choose to share them in an interview, and let go of these old go-to stories. With over 20 years of experience, I have a wealth of examples to share.

Aim high(er)

This latest round of interviews have included positions that, on paper, are a little bit of a stretch with my skills, Speaking in the interviews has been exciting and challenging, forcing me to re-think my skills to solve unique issues and move my skills forward. Holding onto my old jobs and the skills that make me comfortable and cozy are limiting me, and when I aim higher, I find pride and that elusive joy.

Acknowledge and Move On

Job searching after you have lost your job in a traumatic way can be challenging, having to relive it over and over in each interview, trying to find ways to move forward and feeling that joy again doing your job. And starting today, I am going to approach my skills differently, how I hold on to the work I have done differently, and look for new opportunities to fill my life with joy.

And in the spirit of Marie Kondo, I thank the things that I held onto, and feel blessed with the idea that I have learned all I can from holding on to these ideas for so long. I prepare myself to give these ideas away and share them with everyone. But no longer do I need to take up space in my head wondering why I am not who I used to be, but instead focus on who I will be, prepared to add new memories and skills to my life.


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