It haunts some of us.
Things we did in our youth. Things people said to us. Stuff we shouldn’t have said but can’t take back.
I’ll admit that some nights I can’t shut off the video loop in my head.
Buddhists preach that living in the present is the best way to live meaningfully and without anxiety. Because after all, the past is dead, and the future is pure speculation.
Since we entered the COVID-19 pandemic almost three years ago, there has been a growing emphasis on living in the moment. Millions of people stuck in their homes for months have been trying escape from the insides of their heads and move forward.
Psychologists have become the front line in dealing with this.
As a profession, the field has become front-and-center in ways that are unprecedented. This year, the American Psychological Association shared that research parameters are becoming more inclusive and extending into new areas, such as the effects of gratitude and the role of parenting in addressing social issues.
Psychologists are getting involved in the workplace, too, tackling leadership issues, such as managing conflict and addressing worker well-being.
One trend is the study of anxiety’s impacts on intelligence. Researchers are studying ways to help people transcend their feelings about negative past events.
Some of this stuff comes up when you’re in a job transition.
I have had many conversations with clients about past employment experiences. As they explain why they are looking for a new job, many people will recite the circumstances of their mistreatment in the workplace, or the feelings of defeat they experienced upon realizing that a job was a bad fit.
I want to reassure them: We don’t have to talk about that. But I can’t, entirely.
It is because reviewing the past is necessary to make your case as the ideal candidate for your next role. As you determine how to talk to an employer about why you’re the best fit for the job, you necessarily have to think back about the different roles you’ve held and what you accomplished in each one.
It brings up a lot of painful stuff.
This is because one of the pathways to unearthing past accomplishments is to remember the challenges that led you there. Those challenges include coping with mismanaged processes, collaborating under the watchful eye of a micromanaging supervisor, negotiating with intractable teammates, and watching others take credit for your ideas.
Coupled with the urgency to keep paying your bills, it’s no wonder that a job search becomes a form of mental torture. It’s not surprising that so many of us start to melt down and shut down when we approach a job search.
As a career coach, I have come up with a few tips that might help you think about your career history with a little less anxiety and move past the emotional blocks to find the work you are meant to do.
1. Take a break from the situation. This can mean taking some time off between jobs before starting a search, or stepping back from a search when it becomes overwhelming. Relax your mind and your body and then return to the process. Exercise in particular can help you “exorcise” painful emotions from your body—which tends to hold onto them longer than our minds.
2. Review your goals. Frequently, writing down your career goal, reminding yourself of why you chose your field, can be reinvigorating. It can remind you that external events (such as getting stuck in a less-than-ideal job situation) have nothing to do with your personal mission. You might also list ways that you have grown your skills as you have progressed in your career.
3. Reframe your focus to deemphasize upsetting aspects. If you had a bad relationship with your boss, shift your focus from those painful 1:1 meetings to the work itself. For instance, rather than recall how your boss stonewalled your efforts, picture yourself in those moments when you came up with great ideas. Picture how you and your teammates enjoyed working together on those ideas. Researchers have discovered that this shift of focus decreases the negative impact of a bad memory.
4. Get some perspective from a friend. Talk through the memories with someone you trust and ask for support reframing them. Often, our friends can help us by validating our feelings and our needs and affirming our value. Another avenue: therapy. A counselor can help you with additional strategies to transcend your anxiety.
5. Allow yourself to dream of what’s possible. Recall to yourself what you wanted to do with your life when you were younger. Was it a different type of job? A job in a different city? Make a list of the things that would make you happy in your career (the place? Type of boss? Type of work?), and then next to each, indicate how that could be possible. Because it is possible. There’s always a way. And your past doesn’t determine that.
And that’s the whole point. Things happen to us every day. Some of them feel great; others are completing debilitating. But you can get to a place where you view them as merely circumstances you become involved in, and then make a new plan.