I’m certainly in good company when it comes to jobseekers: There are 7.2 million Americans who don't have a job and are looking for one. I am fortunate in that I did not get furloughed or laid off (it was a choice I made), and I know millions of others are suffering far more substantially, trying to figure out how to make rent and/or buy groceries. While we are not all in the same boat, we all do need support because we are not in the driver’s seat during a time packed with uncertainty. What's the best way to support us? Certainly it depends on our personalities and, even then, our needs might fluctuate. But I thought it might be helpful to create a list of some of the best and worst things I’m hearing from loved ones, all who have good intentions, to get the conversation started.
Note: I'd love to hear from others what you find helpful and not helpful so please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
4 things NOT to say to someone looking for a job:
4 things to say to someone looking for a job:
For us jobhunters: It is up to us to stay in touch with our feelings and needs, and make sure we’re expressing them to our friends and loved ones. They are not mind readers. It doesn’t mean you’re committing to only one type of conversation; we can always tell our family/friends, “So today, I could use _______” or “I’d love to talk about anything except jobhunting right now,” or whatever else feels right. Like all the emotional biggies—pregnancy, illness, divorce, pandemics, etc.—we should not test people on whether they guess correctly how to show up for us. What matters is that when we relay our hopes and needs, they do their best to listen and meet us where we are. We are for the most part all doing our best!
I remember several years ago having a discussion with my Israeli neighbor. She had just moved to the United States and told me she didn’t understand why we Americans are "so fake." She said she found it weird that when asked how we are doing, we always say, “I’m fine, how are you?” I’d never really thought about it, and I inquired how things were different in Israel. “Oh,” she said, “we’re honest with each other. If someone is having a terrible day, you hear about it."
It was the first time I realized that saying “I’m pretty good” is an automatic response, like breathing, for myself and so many of us.
One of the silver linings I’m seeing all around me is that people are being more vulnerable and candid with one another since the pandemic started. Some friends now answer “how are you?” with a straightforward, “not well” or “this is hard.” Others admit they’re not sure how they’re doing. Still others declare, “I’m good,” then pause, and confess “actually, that’s not true.” One friend called me back several minutes after we hung up the phone to say, “You know how I told you I’m fine? I’m kind of not.”
It’s absurd to think the majority of us would be doing “just fine” during this most unstable, confusing (crazy making?), and emotionally souped-up time of our lives. A pandemic we can’t get a handle on? The country finally waking up in a widespread way to the racial and class inequities we managed to normalize? An election that, no matter what, will leave half the country scared?
I don’t even ask “How are you?” anymore. I’ve adjusted it to, “How are you doing in this moment?” That’s about all I myself can answer. Even in this very moment, I can tell you that I’m scared and hopeful and freaked out and optimistic and peaceful and anxious and sad and delighted. I don’t know how those feelings can all coexist, but they just do.
While all the structures and systems are crumbling beneath us, maybe we can learn to open up to each other a little more and show our humanity. If we’re doing well, we should certainly feel free to share. But maybe we can stop making it an autopilot experience. Perhaps we can put aside our egos and habits to show up with authenticity.
Another gift we can give each other is how we respond when others share they’re not doing well. We can stop trying to fix it by giving advice, which basically no one wants to hear anyway. What we all mostly want is to be seen and heard. The best gift is helping someone hold their feelings so they can be less alone. It's enough usually to offer a listening ear and, “that sounds hard.” It will be heaven when we can get back to the power of hugs.
All around us, the foundation is breaking, and many are imagining ways to rebuild that are sustainable, smarter, and more humane. We will need energy, inspiration and connection. It will help deeply to allow people to show up as we are, be real, and give one another a soft place to land.
Michelle Cove is a journalist, filmmaker, author, and founder of the nonprofit MEDIAGIRLS. She uses storytelling and media to encourage, challenge, empower and inspire others and is seeking a job that allows her to put these skills to use; check out her resume if you may know the right fit. Michelle's favorite stories involve resilience, a blend of soft humility and sharp humor, and a belief that the universe is conspiring to help us all grow. Find her at LinkedIn.
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