2020 has thrown up a torrent of curve balls to say the least, and as we emerge from the chaos of a summer we will never forget, we enter into an autumn of uncertainty; will we feel the effects of the elusive second coronavirus wave? And perhaps most persistent for many of us – what the hell is going to happen to our careers? As always, I speak from my own experiences surrounding this subject: furloughed since March from a job in the museums and heritage sector, which even before the Covid crisis hit was cripplingly underfunded, and still no idea if I will have a job going forward. On top of my museum job, I am also about to enter my final year at university studying artefact conservation, yet another field famously “difficult” to crack. But now, it genuinely feels bloody well impossible that I will ever feasibly make a living in what I am currently throwing everything into (mentally and financially). Mix that with being faced with a daily barrage of social media posts and news reels highlighting the scores of redundancies occurring, the long standing professionals in my field giving it all up and the swathes of warnings telling everyone even considering a heritage career to “turn back while they still can”; it is safe to say my overall feelings at present have been “what the hell is the point?”.
Of course, these feelings and issues are not only specific to my field of work; retail, hospitality, education, entertainment, independent business owners, farmers… the list is endless, leaving practically everyone with a sense of unknown anxiety about the future of their jobs. So, how do we stay motivated? How do we stop ourselves succumbing to the feelings of hopelessness, giving up on dreams that Covid seems to shatter at every turn? How do students and apprentices keep their motivation of working hard to achieve their goals when they’re being told there is no longer a goal to attain? There is no question, it is devastatingly hard and at times my “what’s the point?” feelings are almost too much to bear. However, I have found some small areas of reprieve; lights at the end of the tunnel spurring me on to not fully give up on the dream quite yet. That this current disaster will only make achieving my career goals all the more victorious when I finally get there (and I have to tell myself “when” and not “if” – it’s the little things that help shift the mindset). Like all of you, I have no idea what the future holds and like everything there will be hurdles and curveballs, but here are a few small and simple ways that have helped me stay a little more positive about the current state of my job sector:
It can be easy when things are seemingly going wrong in our work life to either bury our head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, or bottle our feelings up regarding our worries in an attempt to deal with everything alone. Neither option has a particularly positive outcome, often adding to the stress and anxiety in the long run. The main thing which has helped me through my worries surrounding my job and future career, is reaching out and connecting with other people in a similar situation. And this doesn’t necessarily need to be direct colleagues. Social media is a brilliant way to connect with people from across your job sector, in various parts of the country (or even the world). I have found some wonderful support groups which have been set up specifically for museums and heritage workers facing difficulty whilst furloughed or worrying about their future prospects. Speaking to individuals experiencing similar situations can be comforting, gaining advice and knowledge is invaluable and hearing different outcomes can be reassuring – believe it or not, not all outcomes are negative ones. Engaging with others who know exactly what you are going through helps to gain perspective on your own personal situation and can also provide you with different paths that you may not have considered. I would suggest researching online what support there is for your specific field and engage with it as much as you can.
Now this may seem contradictory to the first point, but the need for balance in these trying circumstances is of paramount importance. Sometimes it all gets too much, and we need to recognise our limits. While social media can be a worthy tool in creating socially distanced support networks and seeking solace in familiar feeds, it can also be the devil for your wellbeing. I welcome everyone airing their grievances and frustrations surrounding the current jobs crisis in whatever form feels right (so long as it is respectful) – heck, I do it all the time. But some days it feels a little too much. Some days I find it hard to see the silver lining in the stories of hardship and grief. Whilst at my strongest I will be the first to reach out with advice, on my harder days I can’t focus on anything else but the worst-case scenarios. That’s when I know I need to take a step back and switch off. Our jobs play such a huge part in many of our lives, it is understandable that we obsess over them when things are uncertain or feel like they’re crumbling around us. However, putting ourselves in a constant state of obsession and stress is toxic. We all need a time to switch off and recharge if we are going to keep a clear and concise mind should big or difficult decisions need to be made. Because my own situation feels so out of my control, I have done my fair share of long, hard obsessing over the past few months, and one thing I can say is that I absolutely do not feel any better for doing it. Whilst it can be extremely difficult I must prise myself away from that mindset, especially when I feel the stress and anxiety kick in. Some days that is easier to do than others, but I have found a few positive distractions which help:
· Taking a break from social media.
· Going for a walk, even if it’s just to the local shop and back.
· Having a conversation with my friends and family – usually about something completely unrelated to work.
· Throwing myself into hobbies, such as writing or cooking.
· Taking a nap when the mental exhaustion is too much.
These are small tasks and are by no means miracle cures. But if you find a few activities which allow you to detract from the stress of the current job climate, you will find a more positive mindset easier to attain in the long run.
Remind Yourself of Your Abilities and Your Worth
This always seems like it should be such a simple task, however it is something that many of us (myself included) struggle to do for ourselves. I am the first person to build up someone who is struggling to see their worth or help them to change their perspective to a more positive and constructive one. However I have lost sight in doing anything like that for myself in the current climate; the longer I feel in limbo the longer my mind starts to become scarily convincing that I am somehow to blame for my current precarious position. I already struggle with Imposter Syndrome, so I find it incredibly easy to slip into a mindset that puts me to blame for any wrong doings in my work. Of course, the current state of the job market is nothing to do with me personally, yet the longer I give myself time to dwell on things, the more realistic that notion seems to me. It might sound silly, but I do have to actively remind myself that the circumstances I have come to find myself in are in no way a reflection of my own abilities. That regardless what happens it does not take away my achievements in my line of work or my experience. Yes, there is a possibility that my job may be in trouble or when I graduate, I may struggle for a while – but that is a product of circumstance, not ability. My expertise are going nowhere, and neither are yours so it is worth taking a moment to remind yourself of this when things get overwhelming. It’s another small and simple task that can effectively quieten difficult and anxiety inducing thoughts, paving the way for a more positive and motivated mindset to take hold.