After a decade of declining unemployment and a booming economy, the Coronavirus pandemic is turning out to be the root cause of massive unemployment. Last month 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, when in the months prior a mere 200,000 applied for the same benefits.
Besides the obvious consequences of not being able to secure a steady paycheck and the ability to provide for you and your family, unemployment has other significant disadvantages. These become more pronounced over time:
– Lack of self-esteem
– Lack of worthiness
– Lack of relevancy
All of these are factors related to increased stress from isolation.
On top of that, everyone in the world has been asked to physically distance themselves from others in one form or another to prevent further spreading of the disease. Chronic loneliness is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to the former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy.
Not only is unemployment a financial burden, it exasperates the social need for human connection. And it makes us sick!
So, how can we look at unemployment a different way? How can we shift our thinking? Our mindset?
In my work I have learned that people identify themselves with their jobs. We often ask others, so what do you do? And naturally the response is a description of the job they inhabit 9 – 5 every work day. Often this description starts with the title. That’s why it is so difficult for mothers (and now fathers) to be in parental leave. That’s also the reason why it is so challenging for some people to retire from one day to the next. If they don’t hold that particular title, who are they? If they aren’t the founder of the business, who are they? What makes them relevant? And who will care about their contribution to society? The job and title give a societal standing along with status and belonging.
I am here to tell you that it’s high time for us to uncouple our identity from our jobs.
We are NOT our jobs!
Instead we are socially connected human beings that are uniquely qualified to contribute to humankind and life on earth.
Too many see themselves as separate, almost robotic, and even common in what they do. Are you one of them?
Who are you?
Recently I was interviewing candidates for a Head of School search and I was struck by a response I received from most of them. I had received their resumes and cover letters and conducted a verbal interaction with each candidate. I checked if we had received every document that we were supposed to receive. But then I immediately asked the following questions: Apart from all of the documents, I am curious as to who you are. What is your story? How did you get here? What prompts you to apply for this position? Truly I wanted to know who they were, not what they had done. Big difference!
I wasn’t interested in their current title or the titles they had held in the past. I wasn’t interested in what jobs they had worked. I was interested in who they are and what they considered to be their life’s work until then.
Many commented that they had never been asked that question before in a job interview.
Unemployed doesn’t mean out of work
I believe we need to focus way more on the question of who we are. Unemployed means you are out of a job. But it doesn’t mean you are out of work. What do I mean by that?
I believe we need to shift our focus from doing work to be gainfully employed to focusing on what work we are uniquely qualified to do, because of who we are. It takes soul searching and reflection.
Let me give you an example: When people ask me what I do, I might say “I’m an executive coach.” But that’s not my work. My work is solely on supporting leaders to be even better leaders. I do believe we have a leadership crisis. And if my perspective, my experience and my daily activities can align to provide this so needed service, then that’s hugely meaningful to me. I don’t do my work because I am getting paid. I do my work because it is needed and because I am uniquely qualified to provide this service at this moment in time.
So, what is your work?
You might find yourself out of work, but actually you are out of a job. What is your work? And why does it matter? Here are five questions to ask yourself that might get you closer to the answer:
1. What’s your name?
2. What’s your work?
3. Who do you do it for?
4. What do they need?
5. How do they change as a result?
Don’t despair about being out of a job, focus instead on not being out of work. There is plenty of work that needs doing.
Stop. Observe. Listen.
And if you are stuck, feel free to reach out. I am here to help you be a better leader for yourself, your family, your community.