Lately I have been feeling abject frustration. As of about a month ago I got back into the grind that is job hunting. This is not a happy place. The search, the uncertainty, the rejections, the unresponsiveness and the general apathy of employers and recruiters – these are enough to threaten to drive away all the joy I had worked really hard to accumulate for the better part of this year.
The thing is, this is a first for me. Before this, I have either always had a job lined up before quitting or had not been fussy about taking up positions that came my way upon quitting. This time it is different. This time I left a place that was not right for me anymore, not because I had somewhere else to go or something else to do, but because it just was not right for me anymore and attempting to persevere in it was making me miserable. So I did myself and everyone around me a favour (I had turned into a veritable grouch) and quit. This was end of last year. So, what am I learning from this unanticipated turn of events?
(1) It is ok to quit without a plan if you have faith in yourself and believe that somehow you are going to figure it out along the way.
It is terrifying to carve a way out for yourself away from the norm. I read so many articles fresh after quitting that advocated against doing exactly that, i.e. quit without lining up another job. As you can imagine, those articles did nothing for my morale which had already rock-bottomed. It is downright nerve-wrecking to do something that you know does not fetch the popular vote. In all fairness, those articles were not inaccurately premised. Quitting without a plan is not for the faint-hearted. So I gave myself about a month to mope around and then decided to seriously pursue the New York Bar exams. There were 3 exams to get through, the major one was in February 2017 and the two other minor ones were in June and August 2017. It became very apparent to me soon after getting neck-deep into the preparation for the New York Bar exams that it was one of the bigger challenges I had undertaken in my life, especially since I was also raising my one-year old son whilst pursuing it. At this point, I need to make a special mention: I could not have done any of this without my wonderful and extremely supportive best friend, who also happens to be my husband. Thanks to his support and that of a few others who are very dear to me, I passed all the exams and right now I am getting all the paperwork in order to make my application to be admitted to the New York State Bar. It was during this time that I decided that instead of job hunting whilst undertaking the New York Bar, I will actually just take the year out to pursue the qualification, to spend some quality time with my family and close friends, to travel widely, to nurture a new hobby (lifestyle photography), to read voraciously, to write more and to heal from the mental and emotional burnout of the previous year (mostly stemming from the delivery of my baby).
So I learnt that it is okay to quit without a plan if you have faith in yourself and believe that somehow you are going to figure it out along the way. I want to emphasise here that this is not the same as having faith that everything is going to work out the way you want it to or in a manner you feel you can get on board with. It is having faith in your ability to handle whatever life may throw at you and accepting that you may not always know what is best for you, thereby always keeping an open mind.
(2) There are corporate angels around us.
In between jobs is a lonely and scary place to be. I am terrible at networking, and I think the best of us know that the only real way of getting a job that is meaningful to you would be through the network of supportive, inspiring and/or like-minded people that you build for yourself. Whilst I am a pro at doing this when it comes to my personal life, I didn’t quite know how or where to begin doing the same in my professional life. For those of you who feel the same way, here are some things I have learnt whilst endeavouring to build a professional network for myself:
(i) Put yourself out there. It could be through meeting people for coffee or drinks or a meal or even just engaging someone in a conversation when riding the elevator or dropping your child off at nursery. If you are an introvert like me or an INTP scorer in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you would understand my resistance when I realised that I needed to put myself through corporate blind dating to build a professional network. My ex-boss recently advised me at the end of one of my frustrated rants that it might serve me well to develop tricks to deal with things I do not want to deal with. He shared an amusing example of how he devised a scheme to handle the frustration that came with the defeats his favourite football team faced: “I came up with the idea of betting against them, so that at the end of the game I was either happy that they had won, or that I had won money!” In my case, it was rather simple. Every time I had to go on a corporate blind date, I would make a plan to have a fun night out with an adult friend of mine soon after (for those of you who have young children at home you will understand how rare it is to see or hear the words ‘fun’, ‘night’ and ‘adult’ in the same sentence). The thing is, whilst professional networking for me started out feeling like a monumental task, it has now fast become enjoyable as I am learning tremendously from these chats and meetings with people who are kind enough to take time out of their very busy schedules to provide me with professional guidance and moral support. I recently met someone who looked me in the eye and explained in no uncertain terms that I should not at all worry about the time I have taken out of the workplace to spend with my baby and how I am better off not being employed by an employer who feels differently. I needed to hear that.
(ii) Speak your mind. Take the time and effort to achieve clarity in thinking as best as you can. For me that usually involves reading widely around a topic or an event in my life that I can’t quite wrap my head around and canvassing for opinions from those whose intellectual prowesses I have come to admire and trust. Achieving clarity in thinking involves a lot of soul searching and the courage to put your thoughts out there, even if they are not quite fully formed, inviting constructive criticism and well-deserved encouragement. Cultivate a deep sense of curiousity for the truth. It is so easy today with the ‘going viral’ phenomena, especially if you are still in your greener years, to be swayed by popular opinions and so-called accepted wisdom. Remember and believe that nothing ever is quite as it seems. Listen to alternative media and read obscure books. Practise keeping an open mind so that the truth knows that your mind is a safe place to enter. Be a truthist.
(iii) Make peace with rejections. When you are seeking to do any of the above, be it invite someone out for a chat or share your thoughts (in my case, mostly though my writing), you are bound to come across rejections or unresponsiveness. Do not be put off by these. People who reject you or choose not to respond to you are not doing it to hurt you. They may have a multitude of reasons for it or no reason at all and going into any of that is not a productive use of your time. It may sting, and if it does, let it, and then move on swiftly. Stay focused on your journey.
I recently had a surprising and inspiring experience. Soon after receiving a rejection on one of my job applications, I decided to invite the hiring manager to provide me with an explanation for the rejection via email. Frankly, I did not expect a response. I am not new to the widespread apathy that pervades the vicious recruitment market. In this case though, not only did the hiring manager respond, but he took the time out to explain to me that the rejection was due to the fact that he feels the position will not be one that I would find challenging from the impression that he had from reviewing my CV. This was a rather surreal experience for me as I think somewhere along the way I lost faith in humanity and genuine kindness when it comes to corporate dealings. I somehow forgot that the person on the other end is also human, doing the best he or she can despite all odds, trying to make a difference in the world, not unlike any one of us. The unexpectedly warm and encouraging phone conversation I had with a hiring manager I had never before met in my life but who made it clear that he wants me to find a position that is worthy of my experiences and qualifications, which will also make me happy, made my spirits soar and placed me in the fortuitous position to hope enough to fight another day. As oxymoronic as it may sound, there are corporate angels around us.
(3) Embrace the pain.
One of my favourite thought leaders, Brené Brown (author of ‘Daring Greatly’ and ‘Rising Strong’, among others), published a helpful article in Huffpost on ‘How To Live With Uncertainty’, which is the order of the day when you are job hunting. She writes that “[u]ncertainty makes us feel vulnerable, so we try to escape it any way we can” and “[s]ometimes we even settle for misinformation or bad news over not knowing.” In her books and in her talks she consistently champions the concept of embracing vulnerability. It is okay not to know. It is okay not to have all the answers or any answer at all. Being a control freak I admit that I do not do this gracefully at all. I am learning through this process to embrace my frustration. It is not a pretty sight sometimes, but if there is one thing I am sure of in life, it is that life does not care about my well-made plans. So I just need to learn to embrace the pain and tell myself, ‘it is supposed to suck right now Rani, pick up a book!’.
(4) Do the work and let it go.
Someone asked Oprah on SuperSoul Sunday about how we can find the balance between making things happen and letting things happen. In other words, how do we achieve the balance preached in the Serenity Prayer? I don’t know about you, but I have always grappled unsuccessfully with the concept embodied in the Serenity Prayer. It sounds really wise and all but it does not quite explain how one can go about knowing the difference between the things one can change and those that one cannot change. If you believe in the saying too liberally, then you risk not giving your best effort to a task, and if you believe in it too restrictively, then you risk burning out from constantly feeling defeated. I suppose Reinhold Neibuhr (the guy who came up with the Serenity Prayer) was lucky because he had utmost faith that a higher power would show him the way. This however is not very comforting if you, like me, are still figuring out your faith and have just begun dabbling in spirituality. Being a result-oriented person, I need a plan. Fortunately for the likes of me, there is Oprah:
“You do all that you can do. You do the work, you prepare, you get ready for the opportunity, to step in. Because that’s what luck really is, preparation meeting the moment of opportunity. And then you let go. You do the work. You do whatever is necessary to be prepared for whatever it is that you are trying to acquire, or attain or accomplish. And then, you let it go. You release it. You release all attachments to the outcome. Because you know that you have done everything that you possibly can do, and when you have done everything that you can do, that is the moment of surrender release. And then if it is supposed to be yours, it will come to you.“
So, do the work, and then let it go.