In the last six months, I’ve graduated from journalism school, abandoned my semi-successful emerging writing career for “other industries,” received literal hundreds of rejections, and moved onto my dad’s couch. Not quite the career moves I had in mind when applying to the best journalism program in the country.
Like any good reporter, I’ve been mainlining self-help books in an attempt to recover my career- and my self-esteem. The main theme that emerged? The importance of positive thinking, both in pursuing dreams and overcoming obstacles on the way there.
Makes sense, but it’s not like anyone wakes up and says,” I’m going to sabotage my professional development through some good old-fashioned negative thinking!”
No, we encounter professional setbacks, our minds perceive threat and then protect us by activating our amygdala, which produce those self-destructive thoughts that prevent us from taking additional risks. And since emotional stress also deactivates our prefrontal cortexes, the brain region that imposes reality on those irrational thoughts, sometimes our minds literally just can’t produce the positive thoughts we need to respond to our failures with actionable strategies, much less execute them.
Sometimes, action has to precede thought. So here’s some tried-and-true strategies for preserving (or creating) self-compassion during a professional crisis.
- Make a personal resume
Summing up our professional worth in one squished, bland page, our resumes bring a lot of baggage. And when you’re shopping it to a lot of reluctant buyers, or actively avoiding it for shame, our professional resumes encapsulates even more angst. One look at your resume ruins the rest of your day,
Depending on your situation, your resume might trigger shame, regret, self-loathing, pick your negative descriptor here. Obviously, a one-page list of bulletpoints can’t capture your value as a human being: your killer sense of humor, your selfless nature, your steadfast commitment to justice, all the things that’ll last before and after these employers. But in the face of failure, real or imagined, it’s easy to forget that. By reconnecting with- and embracing- your core personal values, you’ll better be able to separate your personal worth from your professional shortcomings, and respond to setbacks with resilience. From there, you’ll rekindle your self-compassion.
Through the personal resume, you’ll synthesize those traits into a document that you can turn into in any weak moment.
Instead of a professional objective: “I’m pursuing a marketing position at a fitness company,” state the broader impact you’d your work, service, or relationships to make on the world, i.e.,” I want my creativity, empathy, and expertise to inspire others to adopt healthy lifestyles.”
Then run through each of your experiences and, instead of reliving your nightmare internship or stressing over “quantifiable achievements,” think about the personal traits you forged through experiences. The empathy and composure that only a terrible customer service job creates. An innovative flair resulting from a lack of resources. Resilience forged from countless rejections. LinkedIn may not consider them marketable skills, but make no mistake, they’ll pay off in both your professional and personal recovery. So own them.
But if you struggle with self-confidence, you might be stuck for specific instances. In that case, search your email or LinkedIn for “thank yous” or kudos from coworkers. Consult family and friends. Think about the times you’ve made an impact on someone else, or overcame adversity.
The cheese level here is about Kraft Mac and Cheese, but this exercise is simple way to ungrease those self-compassion gears.
- Binge on #girlboss stories- and stop in the middle.
In my past internship, I had the ah-mazing opportunity to interview and write profiles of a lot of badass women entrepreneurs. Inspiring, until they invited the inevitable negative comparisons.
When Sophia Amoruso was 23, she started a vintage retail business out of her closet and here I am, 23 and spending more on coffee than my 401(k). What is wrong with me?
Simple solution: social media detox, But when we shun the stories of seemingly perfect successful women, we lose the opportunity to learn from their struggles. And inspirational quotes and productivity hacks be damned, they’ve struggled. Every entrepreneurial idea stems from some gap in the marketplace: some need that hasn’t been met. And that usually involves pain. Then there’s actually starting a business: throwing convention and your 401(k) to the wind, fielding skepticism from family and friends, slaving away at midnight over some idea that may never see an investor.
So instead of benchmarking yourself against the finished, fabulous women you see on screen, rewind to their rock-bottom moments and really investigate what they must have been thinking, feeling, and questioning in those moments. Sounds obvious, but after reading and writing way too many of these profiles, I know that the “rock-bottom” moments can fade into the details, indistinguishable from the daily routines, productivity tips, and fab photo spreads, making it easy to forget that a lot of women have experienced the same uncertainty, failure, and rejection that you have.
Once we remove the halos from everyone else’s heads, we reinforce our common humanity, the understanding that suffering and failure are natural parts of the human experience. And besides reassuring us that we’re not the only idiots out there, that common humanity is a core ingredient of self-compassion, according to Dr. Kristin Neff.
So next time you’re scrolling social media, remember that behind all those slaymaking women is a real person who at some point, was just trying to make their rent, too.
Don’t use self-care for self-criticism
Whether it’s Whole30, a marathon, or a yoga practice, you’ve heard that self-care will cure all of your workplace woe. And a marathoner and aspiring personal trainer, I prescribe movement, mindfulness, and nutrition as medicine for just about everything. But when you’re expending every calorie of energy toward job applications, networking, and/or paralyzing self-doubt, are you really in the mood for a major lifestyle changes like Whole30 or a marathon?
DIdn’t think so. Because #fitspo be damned, we have a finite amount of willpower, and that’s proven by science.
So you skip, adding another item to your laundry list of shame as you compare yourself to all the green smoothie guzzling, six-pack strapped girls posting about their next marathon. Or you spend more willpower on your spin class, but you binge on carbs once you’re home. In the face of such high stress, something has to give. And sometimes, it might be your gym sesh. So by all means, strive for healthy habits. But if you need to swap out a spin class for some Netflix time, recognize your biological need to recuperate from your professional distress and use that couch time to prepare your body and mind for the tasks ahead tomorrow.
Because if you’re revealing your vulnerability, reckoning with your weaknesses, and rising above rejection, over and over, in pursuit of your dreams? You deserve it.