Looking for a Job? Do the Work That Needs Doing.


By Marilyn Heywood Paige

How I overcame job-search depression and discovered the work I really want to do.

Three months into my job search, I felt frustrated and discouraged. I networked with colleagues, visited job sites daily, and applied for a hundred positions, but was still jobless. Because of the Great Resignation, it seemed everyone was hiring, yet no one wanted to hire me. I felt awful.


Debilitating Job Seeker Anxiety

I had days of debilitating anxiety. As I repeated a litany of shoulds to myself, I became unable to do the very things I was telling myself to do. “I should go to more networking groups. I should hire a coach, read job seeker advice, contact executive recruiters, reach out to HR people on LinkedIn, apply to every job available.” The tyranny of shoulds was on repeat all day, every day. Sometimes, I focused and did those things. Other days, panic overcame me and I was too overwhelmed to do anything. The more I panicked, the less I did. The less I did, the more I panicked. It was a vicious cycle.
I blamed myself for being in this terrible situation. Having to lay myself off from the company I co-founded made me question my worth and the entire last four years of my career. I thought, maybe I’m kidding myself that anyone wants what I do. Maybe I just suck at this. Nevermind that there was a global pandemic, my joblessness must be all my fault.
Try going on job interviews when those are the things rattling around in your head. It won’t go well. One might as well show up and say, “I’m only interviewing cause you invited me. I don’t think I have anything to offer.” My self-esteem was at an all-time low.


Self-Esteem Is Too Difficult to Change

One afternoon I was listening to an Audible book and the author said something about self-compassion being more important than self-esteem and that chasing self-esteem was a bit of a rabbit hole. Wait a minute. Say what? Self-esteem isn’t the holy grail of self-realization? I grew up during the heyday of self-esteem psychology, an ethos that promised better health, jobs, and relationships if I improve my self-esteem. This was big news to me. And since my self-perceptions were currently so negative, I researched and discovered an expert on self-compassion, Dr. Kristen Neff and her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Her thesis that self-compassion was the route to more productivity was a revelation. As a Gen X-er, my answer to almost every life challenge is to work harder and, by extension, be harder on myself. The logic goes, if I am hard on myself, I will accomplish more and move closer to my goals. By the end of Dr. Neff’s book, however, she convinced me that self-criticism doesn’t facilitate accomplishment. Quite the opposite. It demotivates me. In the last couple of months, I’d experienced it to the extreme. I criticized myself so much that it debilitated me. I could hardly get out of bed some days.


Self-Compassion Gave Me Clarity

Following Dr. Neff’s advice, I became kinder to myself, viewing my situation through the lens of self-compassion. The clouds of self-defeat parted and I could think more clearly. Instead of worrying about what I was or wasn’t doing correctly in my job search, I began asking myself what work can I do? I stopped thinking about job descriptions, resumes, and interviews and started thinking about work that needs doing.

Do The Work That Needs Doing

Shifting my thinking seemed to open up new doors. Someone I met in a networking group asked me to go to coffee. She told me about how she started an LLC but that she was struggling to market her business. Well, that is something I know how to do backward and forwards. It wasn’t a job, but it was work that needed doing and I could do it, so I said, “Let me help you.”
Doing a project in my wheelhouse helped me feel better about my skills and abilities. She loved the work I did for her and referred me to a developer who is building a new mixed-use building in Longmont, Colorado. The developer needed to market the commercial and residential spaces in her building to a Hispanic audience and tell the story of the inspiration behind the project so I offered to help.
Through this developer's project, I met someone who told me about a construction company that needed help writing marketing proposals. It’s not the type of gig I would ever look for, but I said yes anyway. It lead me to a dream project I'm super excited to do.

Out of Chaos And Into Clarity 

Searching for a job felt like chaos. Bringing my skills to where they were needed brought me clarity. And the process helped me discover what I really want to do. I want to solve complex communication challenges for small to mid-sized businesses experiencing pain in hiring, growing revenue, or scaling. It doesn't matter if solving communication challenges comes in a job or in projects. I'll keep doing the work that needs doing in whatever form in which it comes.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of looking for a job, I understand your pain. Instead of looking for a job, try doing the work that needs doing and see where you land.

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