Many of us have experienced the anxiety of unemployment, myself included. My experience was one of panic. Feelings of insecurity, failure, and unworthiness washed over me in waves and I just couldn’t shake the unbearable realisation that someone had measured me professionally and found me wanting.
My panic was centred on questions about my future – what was I going to do and how was I going to move forward when my confidence had been so completely shattered? As life often does, it threw me a curve ball and I went from the absolute panic of unemployment to my dream job of being a recruitment co-ordinator. I also had the pleasure of being asked back by the company who had let me go because they had gone through three more replacements in three months and they realised I actually hadn’t done a bad job at all – it was their expectations that were skewed.
This move into recruitment marked the beginnings of my foray into employment support and I absolutely loved it. However, now, as a careers practitioner, I regularly work with people who are experiencing unemployment and I so often see the same feelings that I felt all those years ago myself.
‘I don’t know who I am anymore’ – this is a phrase that I hear every week. People from all walks of life sit opposite me and don’t know how to introduce themselves anymore now that they are unemployed. This impacts their mental health, as their willingness to go out, to meet new people, to network, and even to just go out into the community diminishes. This is because they just don’t know what to say when they are approached by a stranger with an out-stretched hand, knowing that the question about their name and job is about to come spinning to the surface with record velocity. Feeling like we have lost our identity has a huge impact on our mental sense of self. How does someone who is experiencing unemployment handle these situations?
The first thing to realise is that our employment doesn’t define us. If you were an administration officer, for example, who has lost their job, do you suddenly forget to file?
Your skills, your experience, and your qualifications are not erased with the loss of a job. You are still an administration professional – you are just looking for the next place to apply your skills. This is where the concept of being a Company of One comes from. There are a number of books that have been written about this very concept and all of them boil down to the idea of treating yourself like a start-up and branding yourself accordingly. This involves sitting down and thinking about what your strengths really are, what your niche is – how can you stand out from the crowd in order to win that one contract you need to be self-sustaining?
Suddenly, your employment isn’t about a company choosing to hire you, but about you winning a contract to be the sole-provider of your services to that company.
You bring your skills with you, you aren’t assigned skills on the job. You bring your work ethic with you, you aren’t moulded into the business structure on day one. You own your qualifications, the company doesn’t take credit for your knowledge. Your capabilities and your presentation are your brand and it’s your job to market that brand effectively.
But always, always remember, you decide who you are.
Job titles come and go, but your lifelong career path is forged by only one person: you.
This article was first published by the Border Mail on March 10, 2017. The Border Mail is a Fairfax publication, with a regional focus on the Albury/Wodonga and Riverina area.