While I’d love to say otherwise, I’m no stranger to the feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and hopelessness that so often accompany a long-term job search. Though it’s been a few years since I’ve experienced the trials and tribulations of looking for a job, I hear about these struggles on a regular basis from the students and alumni I work with at Simon Fraser University. Though they often put a valiant effort forth to hide just how hard it is for them to still be looking for work, the emotional toll is there, just under the surface, plain to see for one who’s looking.
Rejection is a part of life, to be sure. There’s only so much a person can take, however, before their defenses start to wear down. And as anyone who’s been through a long-term job search knows, rejection as a daily experience is eroding indeed. It certainly doesn’t help – as clients of mine have told me on numerous occasions – when you look around and everyone else seems to have their life so nicely put together. Nobody else seems to be experiencing the same struggles as you. In fact, every time you log on to Facebook, there seems to be yet another person talking about their wonderful new job, or their new house, or their wonderful engagement photos, and all sorts of other happy news.
All it does is make you feel worse.
It’s for reasons like these that one of the messages I try to deliver to students is that hope, persistence, and optimism are key factors in the success of their job search. I’m not alone in this line of thinking, either – leading theorists and researchers in the field of career development have identified these traits as essential.
So, when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed the other day, and I saw an update from George Takei’s Facebook page, I couldn’t help but stop to reflect on some of my own experiences with insecurity.
The update is a quotation from one Steve Furtnick, and reads as follows: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Rewind a year or so. I’ve finished every requirement of my Masters degree except for my thesis, which is undergoing major delays, without a clear end in sight. My plan all along had been to finish the whole degree in two years so I could get along with my professional life. It’s now been three years since I started the program, and there’s no clear end in sight. People who started the program at the same time as me have been finishing and raving about their brave new exploits and new jobs and fantastic lives online for months. The deadline for graduation goes by – that means another year. I’m stuck! What did I do to deserve this? Why couldn’t I have chosen an easier thesis topic? Maybe I should just give up!
That degree would go on to take a total of four years to complete, and there were definitely some dark moments. Moments when I considered throwing the whole thesis away. Moments when I doubted my competence as a professional. Moments when I simply felt lost.
I wanted things to go differently. In the end, though, I realized a simple truth – one that I have shared with clients on many occasions: I was doing the best I could in all of those moments – the best I could muster in any of those scenarios, under those circumstances. It couldn’t have gone any other way.
But I got carried away in comparing my own struggles to my peers’ success, and this is where George Takei’s update really struck a chord with me. Life’s cruel joke is that everyone is just about as insecure as everyone else – but by displaying our successes, we project an image that is calm, cool, collected, and confident, as if that is how we actually think of ourselves all of the time.
I sure don’t know anyone like that (and when I say ‘know’ – I mean have a meaningful relationship with). In other words, everyone’s screwed up – and that’s a wonderful thing!
Eventually I was able to take the steps necessary to complete my thesis and my graduate degree. Comparing myself to others didn’t help in the slightest – but sharing my difficulties with those around me always made me feel better. And when I talked about it with those peers who I thought had everything all nicely put together, I soon learned that they had experienced similar struggles too. That comfort – of knowing I wasn’t alone – was liberating enough. But the odd sense of hope it provided was also fuel for me to take the actions necessary to move forward.
And that, I suppose, is the point. In an odd way, there’s hope in insecurity.
I suspect Alfred Adler would have agreed. To conclude, one of my favourite quotations of his: “The only normal people are the ones we don’t know very well.”
David Lindskoog is a career advisor at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, British Columbia. In addition to helping students grow their careers, he’s an avid writer, fantasy nerd, and lover of fine single malt scotch. Connect on twitter at @lindenforest and davidlindskoog.com.