Even the most serene among us can get thrown by a job search. The dizzying highs of a promising interview and the staggering lows of a string of rejections can wear away a person’s resolve. But something that can help you stay focused and grounded is the practice of mindfulness.
I started practicing daily mindfulness meditation a little over six years ago. Like a lot of people, I came to the practice with a lot of stress. Much of this sense of anxiety was related to trying to figure out what I was doing with my life, a task I’d soon start to see as more of a fluid process than a specific goal. Mindfulness became such an important part of my daily routine that I eventually participated in a year-long teacher training program, and have since facilitated workshops at schools and non-profit organizations here in New York.
While mindfulness can mean a lot of different things depending on who is discussing it, I’ve been taught by instructors like Ethan Nichtern and Sharon Salzberg that mindfulness is the quality of being able to stay with the present moment on purpose and without judgment. A mindfulness practice is an exercise that helps one to cultivate this quality of attention.
You might consider mindfulness if you notice yourself getting distracted easily, procrastinating, or experiencing anxiety and fear surrounding the idea of finding a new job. Have you caught yourself falling into a wormhole of self-criticism or defeatism? Are you caught in a rut thinking about your next steps but unable to take action? Maybe you just feel unclear about how to proceed. You might be able to use a mindfulness practice to harness your attention more effectively.
The good thing is, the fact that you even noticed these things is an aspect of mindfulness.
The next step is to cultivate it further so that you can catch yourself in the process sooner and then come back to your intended purpose without judging yourself.
Learn how to stay in the present moment
In order to have a mindful job search, it’s important to stay in the present moment. This can be hard to do as a job search really plays into the mind’s tendency to dwell in the future and past. We need to project ourselves into the future to anticipate how we might grow in a certain position. We also need to learn from past career mistakes. But sometimes we go overboard and get hooked on these projections and we start to tell stories about could have been or what might be. Being able to come back to the present moment can allow us to take a breath and notice when we’re mistaking those stories for objective fact.
Practice: Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet planted evenly on the floor. Notice what it feels like to breathe. Bring your awareness to that sensation and make the intention to stick with it. When the mind wanders, and it will, just notice and acknowledge that it wandered, and gently guide your attention back to the physical sensation of breathing. Repeat this process of noticing and letting go for seven minutes.
Always remember your intention
It’s useful to have goals, but even better is a clearly articulated intention. While goals usually involve a desired future outcome, an intention is a guiding principle rooted in the present. Without a foundation of intention, a job search can leave you feeling like a balloon getting tossed around in the wind. You might jump at the first opportunity that comes along, forgetting what your original intentions were. With mindfulness, you don’t need to concoct anything too elaborate. The key is become aware of what already motivates you.
An intention could involve the type of position you’re looking for. “I intend to find a job in the nonprofit sector that will allow me to pay off my debt while developing new skills” is an example of an intention of this sort. If you’re clear about what you want, it will help you make decisions about whether a position is a good fit.
You can also have intentions related to how you go about searching for a job. One that I’ve used is the intention to apply for at least five positions that seem intimidating, as a way to challenge any preconceived notions I had about my ability to do a job. Even a simple intention of committing to a job search will allow you to begin to notice when you’ve drifted or started procrastinating. Maybe your intention for the day was to finish a couple of cover letters, but you just caught yourself refreshing Twitter for the past ten minutes. With a clear intention, you can just notice that you drifted and gently guide yourself back to finishing another cover letter.
Practice: Take some time out to sit quietly and notice what comes up for you when you think about what has been motivating your job search so far. What hopes, dreams, criticisms, and fears come up when you think about your job search? What underlies those hopes and fears? What feelings or thoughts might be guiding your search that you hadn’t noticed before?
Search without judgement
Part of the practice of mindfulness is to notice the judgmental inner voice and to let that go. You might notice that voice pop up when you look at a position you don’t feel qualified for. You’ll never get it, so why even apply? Mindfulness is about noticing that voice and asking yourself why you believe it. Some of our limitations are self-imposed. This ability to discern is important, and knowing what you want is necessary if you’re going to find a fulfilling opportunity. The goal is not to stop making decisions. You just want to start noticing when the judgments happen, because you might be unintentionally limiting yourself out of habit.
Practice: Building on the previous two practices, take a few minutes to sit and notice your thoughts. When you bring your awareness to your job search, what judgments come up? Make a point to notice that inner voice, and see if you can make some space around it. In what ways are these judgments limiting you? Is it possible to have a sense of humor about it?
Why mindfulness matters
Some of you are probably already feeling critical about your ability to ever cultivate a quality like the mindfulness, feeling like it’s just another task to add to your ever-growing list. However, mindfulness matters because by becoming aware of your mental habits, you can shift towards actively engaging with your choices.
This can have an incredible impact on you while job seeking. You might even be able to develop a sense of humor about certain things that inevitably come up in a job search like rejection and personal judgements. This can also help you move more quickly to effective and decisive action. In the long run, this makes you more resilient in the face of unexpected.
Taking a moment to remember that you are not your resume, and touching in with what really motivates you can give you the resolve to keep searching. If you look up from our computer screen, you might notice a number of ways you can connect with what excites you both inside and outside the realm of your career.
For a great video introduction to mindfulness practice, here is a video tutorial from teacher David Nichtern.
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About the Author | Caroline Contillo teaches mindfulness meditation at non-profits and community centers in NYC. Previously, she worked at Businessweek Online and The Interdependence Project, a secular Buddhist meditation center.