Are you facing a COVID-19 career crisis?
The global coronavirus pandemic has led to millions of people losing their jobs and livelihoods. In Australia and in many other places in the world, mental health has taken a beating as people experience a high degree of psychological distress, largely triggered by financial difficulties.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to keep your job, you may have found working in isolation to be challenging. Separation from other people does contribute to feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.
There’s no simple fix for this suffering. But there are measures you can take to bolster your mental health and design a new path forward.
Below are some of the questions I am seeing from clients in therapy who are struggling with a COVID-19 career crisis, job loss or coronavirus-related financial hardship.
Navigating a COVID-19 Career Crisis or Loss of Income
I have recently lost my job or part of my income. What is your best advice for navigating this type of loss?
Making Room for the Feelings
Loss can come with grief, whether we’ve lost a person, pet, object, pastime or occupation. Understand that losing a job can trigger your grieving process.
It is important to allow yourself time to feel whatever emotions come up for you following a job loss. You may experience anxiety, stress, sadness and/or anger.
These are all valid emotions. When we acknowledge how we feel and self-validate those feelings and normalise them, we are making room for those feelings to be with us, not trying to push them away (which doesn’t work and results in prolonged suffering).
Validate: It’s okay that I am angry that forces beyond my control have taken away my income.
Normalise: It is fine that I am sad. It is normal to feel this after a loss of a job.
Finding Renewed Career Motivation
With everything going on in the world, it can be hard to feel motivated. How do I get excited about my career again?
You may have been lucky enough to keep your job, but you’ve found you are losing motivation for the work you once enjoyed. When we lack motivation for our work, how can we get that drive back?
Often, when motivation is flagging, people take a holiday away from work. That hasn’t been possible recently due to travel restrictions, and for some, a holiday won’t be possible for some time due to financial constraints.
So what can we do?
Reconnecting with Values Around Work
Most people have experienced a drop in motivation at some point in their working lives. Often the enthusiasm and energy of colleagues or a new project is enough to lift it back up.
But when we’ve been at home in isolation, we need to rely on ourselves to keep our own morale lifted.
The best way to get your work energy back is to reconnect with your values around work.
What does work mean to you?
What does it represent in your life?
Asking these questions can help you to get to the WHY around work and gives purpose to your day.
For example, if you were working on a major project promoting an arts festival prior to COVID-19, and that festival has now been cancelled, it would be quite disheartening to see all that work thrown out the window.
Let’s say that to you, your job represents these values (therapy is a great way to identify your values):
- Team Work.
Now that you know the meaning that your work brings to your life, can you assist others at work with some administrative jobs that previously were not in your job description? (Professionalism, Team Work.)
Can you use your knowledge to guide a colleague or a client through a difficult problem? (Knowledge, Team Work.)
Turning up for work when you feel low on drive is being accountable – sometimes just going through the motions is helpful enough. (Accountability.)
Your peers may appreciate these gestures and they may help bring a strong sense of purpose to your day.
Rethinking Your COVID-19 Career Crisis
I have been steadily building my dream career up until now. When it all gets taken away, how can I start to imagine myself doing something else?
Allowing for Adjustment
If you feel that your career is going down the drain, go back to points one and two above.
Feel the feelings of grief and loss, then connect to the values that made this the career of choice for you.
Does your work represent Success? Honesty? Respect? Security? Identify the values that underpin your career choice.
How can you take those same values into a different realm? Or even, how can these values be imbued in your slightly pivoted career?
For example, if you worked in a call centre and lost your job, what aspects of that job really made you happy and what can you do without?
Perhaps you loved talking to people, but resented the hours?
Or maybe the product made you feel really proud, but you disliked the hours of cold calling?
How can you use this information to propel you toward a new role, a new path, or a new career?
Lack of Direction
How do I cope with feeling directionless without work at the moment?
Building Purpose in Every Day
If you don’t have a ready-made sense of purpose in the form of a job, start to look for a sense of purpose outside of work. This also applies if you have a job you don’t value.
When we go beyond our workday lives and gain purpose outside of those hours, our lives become more full.
Can you add in some extra time to connect to the people who matter to you most?
Would exercising more help you feel aligned to values you have around health and vitality?
Could you swap a take-away meal for a home-cooked one to connect with your value around self-nourishment?
Getting aligned with what matters to you means that you are living your life with conscious action. That alignment has a direct impact on your sense of contentment and self-esteem.
This doesn’t mean you need a complete life overhaul – in fact, don’t do that!
Instead, tweak your life to look more like you want it to. Piece by piece you will create the life that you want, that feels purposeful, conscious, and chosen (rather than chaotic, directionless, and haphazard).
Separating Work from Personal Identity
My job is a big part of my identity. How can I separate the two and consolidate who I am without my job?
Zooming Out to the Bigger Picture
Consider your other roles in life. You are not just the job you had.
What if you were the head waiter at a hatted restaurant. Sure, that’s impressive, but it is only part of the story.
Take your focus further out and appreciate your whole self. Are you someone’s supportive sibling? A kind neighbour? A great parent? The person who has the funniest work stories to tell at drinks? (Probably).
Look at these parts of yourself and see what you like in there. What are you proud of? Where are you value-aligned?
This is where our self-esteem lives – in our values and our ability to recognise them and live them.
Navigating Significant Career Setbacks
Any other advice on navigating an extremely challenging career setback?
Using the COVID-19 Crisis as a Catalyst for Career Change
We have all experienced setbacks in our lives, times of hardship.
How did you get through those times? When you reflect on difficult periods, what stands out as being the turning point for you?
Out of terrible crises arise positive changes. When the Black Saturday bushfires ravaged parts of Australia, we realised that people were complacent from seeing fire warning signs set to HIGH so often, and ignored the warnings. A new category of CATASTROPHIC was added and now this clearly signals to those living in fire danger areas that it is time to make serious decisions.
Can this global health crisis be a way for you to change careers? Or to alter your career so it’s more aligned with your values? Or to tweak it a little so it’s more protected from future events like this pandemic?
Is taking your work into the virtual realm a way forward? Or perhaps you’ve recognised an unmet market need and have an innovative way to deliver a service or product?
If you still have your job but are not especially happy in it, consider what you would like to be different. Is it something you can talk to your boss about, if there is room to move in your organisation? Maybe it requires further study – don’t necessarily jump into a degree but perhaps start exploring what might get you where you want to go. Now that you have had a chance to press pause, you might have a clearer idea of what that direction is.
Okay, we can’t all be game-changers and entrepreneurs. But you might be able to use this time to think about your occupation in a different way, turn it on its head and see what happens.