The Emotional Toll of a Long-Term Job Search

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How do you manage the emotional toll of a long term job search? How do you move past the emotions that naturally occur to bring focus and clarity to what you want to do? Read more about how I discovered how to pivot to my passion and focus less on the search.

The Emotional Toll of a Long-Term Job Search

I am an incredibly sentimental person. I’ve kept cards that people have given me, I put up snapshots of old co-workers on bulletin boards near my desk to remind me of my history. I do my best to recognize work student work anniversaries.

But I am not looking forward to the anniversary of the college closing. In fact, I’d like nothing more than to go about my day as if the anniversary hadn’t occurred.

This specific anniversary will mark the longest I have ever been without a job. And I am not looking forward to making that a primary memory, now or in the future.

Recently, many of my old coworkers marked the occasion of the college announcing its closure last year with a Facebook post. I spent most of the day feeling this weird pit in my stomach until I could name it. I didn’t want to remember that day, then or ever.

So I watched cable TV instead.

Thank You, Tom Hanks

In the late evening of that day, I took to Facebook and wrote:

From the Facebook page of Joseph Rios

“I have felt ambivalent about remarking on the Ida closure announcement. I’ve spent the last year thinking about it almost daily and today just felt like the end of that.

“I was watching Tom Hanks in Castaway and saw the ending in such a different way. He got his wish to be found and reunited with his girlfriend, and it didn’t bring him the closure he thought it would. And it clicked, that I have spent the last year trying to find closure and thinking that the college closing was the start of something rather than the end of something, and whatever was going to happen was going to bring me the happiness and satisfaction I wanted. I know that friends and colleagues try to frame the closure as the start of something instead of the end, as a way to keep hope alive.

“And for me that hasn’t worked. All I think about is how if something was supposed to start, why didn’t it start sooner? Why so much time and effort to start something? It’s honestly been emotionally exhausting to stay situated in a history in which many of my peers have moved on to new jobs and adventures and I’m still waiting for something to happen.

“So instead I need to treat that era as done and over. The start that was supposed to have started but never started is ended. I’ll remember it but otherwise in the future it will be unremarkable. I’m at the same crossroads as Tom Hanks character is standing at in the end of the movie.”

April 6, 2019, Posted on

It had not occurred to me until nearly 11 pm that evening that I had been counting the days, much like Tom Hanks had done in the movie Castaway. And much like his character, there wasn’t this great denouement or ending to this story that was bringing me satisfaction. All the marking of that day did was remind me of how long I have been holding my breath, waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Waiting Felt More Like Pausing

It took me some months of reflection to really look at what was going on with my professional goals. You see, right after the college closed I decided I wanted to create my own business that focused on professional coaching for people of color working in student affairs. I bought my website domain,, and began to do some blog writing, drafting workshops I could offer, putting together some short-term goals I thought would keep me busy while I was job searching.

And then I stopped.

You see, I had no background or experience starting my own business. All I knew was job searching and working for a college or university. So I put all my energy trying to apply for the one to two jobs that were being posted a month. And anyone who knows anything about student affairs searches, this meant essentially I was signing up for a three or four-month search for each application.

In my head, this meant I didn’t have time to invest in a new business. What if one of these job searches led to a new job? How would I balance the work? When I have time to pull any of this new effort together? Sure, I had plans but no idea how to pull them off.

It was safer to wait and hear back from these job searches. And wait. And wait.

But really all this waiting did was pause the clock on the work I had initially been very excited and passionate about. And that is a decision I have come to regret – waiting to follow my passion.

A Professional Emotional Toll Collector

In the past year, I have had to look at some of my choices regarding my job search. I could tell that the jobs I was applying for were boring and just weren’t sparking the same joy I used to have when I started out in the field two decades ago. In fact, I could hear myself lose interest in a job half-way through a phone interview!

And still, I kept applying for jobs because it was what I knew how to do. My percentage for on-campus interviews is pretty high, because I know how to craft a good cover letter and resume. I have run so many searches I know what questions will be asked, so I know how to answer them. In short, I was a good candidate – most of the time.

What I have discovered about myself in the last year is that passion and personality is what drives me. I wrote earlier this year about wanting to explore my values more and I am beginning to understand that passion as a value drives my best efforts. When I am passionate about something, I do the work to do it the best I can. Also, my personality was flexible, friendly, easy-going. Or at least it used to be.

But until I figured this out, all this job search was doing for me was taking an emotional toll on my personal and professional life. I would dread looking through the job listings on, because it would force me to think about what I could and should apply for without regard to passion. I was very good at applying for the jobs I didn’t want to do, which made me feel even worse about the search process.

So I decided to pivot to my passion.

Ross had the right idea.

New Beginnings Beg for New Anniversaries

Looking back at the closure announcement anniversary last month was the last straw. I realized that I had been holding my breath, waiting for a job that would help me reconnect to my passion. But in that moment, all that the year had taught me is that my joy laid elsewhere. And all I had done was collect those emotional tolls in return, without looking for passion in something else.

I now look at what excites me in what I can do now. What excited me was talking to new professionals about how to prepare for job interviews better. Or talking to mid-level managers about what would help them better manage their staff teams. Or connecting current research with what we know about student development and social justice. Above all, what was exciting to me was writing.

In February of this past year, I began to put myself on a five-hour a day writing schedule. I began to treat what I had treated as a side hustle as a full-time job, which now meant I needed to work on it full-time. By the time the announcement anniversary had rolled around, I realized that if nearly all my old coworkers hadn’t recalled the anniversary, I prepared myself to move swiftly past it.

Job Vacancy: Emotional Toll Collecter

I will remember February 19 from now. It’s the day my LLC was issued for this adventure. While I still have almost no idea of what I am supposed to do next, I decided that my passion is louder than the voices that say I don’t know what I’m doing. I decided that I am done collecting emotional tolls for a future I have no control over. And I need to become comfortable with how these changes have affected my personality.

I am still going to apply for jobs in higher education. But now I am going to use a filter of passion – is this job going to fulfill my passion? If the job doesn’t, then I can pass it by without regret.

As a two-time USC Trojan, I like to look at the USC Creed found on the Tommy Trojan for personal inspiration when I can’t get past my own fear. The Creed identifies five traits in a Trojan: Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous, Ambitious. Right now, what I need is courage.

USC Tommy Trojan at the University of Southern California. The USC Seal is in the center with the five traits of the Trojan listed below: Faithful, Scholarly, Skill, Courageous, Ambitious
The USC Trojan Creed: Faithful, Scholarly, Skill, Courageous, Ambitious

…But I’ll do it anyway

I recently heard that courage isn’t the opposite of have fear. It’s having fear but doing it anyway. And that is how I am approaching this long-term job search.

I have been so afraid of being unemployed and telling people I haven’t been successful with my long-term job search. I felt like I was to blame and that I should feel shame in the situation I didn’t cause but have perpetuated.

But what I really was afraid of admitting is that I just was afraid to do something on my own. And I was afraid to admit that my version of Professional Joseph was going to sound different because he changed against his own wishes. And all of this was okay.

I know now that I am going to continue to be afraid of this unknown future, but I am going to do it anyway.  And I know that talking about the closing of the college has given me an edge that I didn’t have before, but I still have things I want and need to say.  Plus I know I am a bit rusty in presenting to students and colleagues, but I still need to do it, and get over the negative feedback that will likely come up the first time I try to do something.

If I am going to move on from these emotional tolls, I am at least going to redeem them for something valuable, like experience and passion. And from now on, I will let them move me to do something that will make February 19 a day worth remembering, among any other noteworthy days associated with the college closure.

And I can’t wait to be sentimental about that day when it comes around next spring. And I know now that I’m going to be alright.

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About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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