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I recently made a post on LinkedIn that highlighted the stress that is intricately woven into each step of the job search process. As I penned the post, I was reflecting on how stressful job searches can be, especially for those who are finishing a Ph.D. The sensation was palpable and visceral for me, even though I am now three years removed from ringing the proverbial bell and in a satisfying career at the Clinical and Translational Science Center at the University of California, Davis.

It was rather easy (maybe too easy) to tap into the stress I felt in those last few months of grad school, furiously writing my dissertation, expecting a baby, finding housing and looking for work to bridge the gap financially and to keep health insurance for me and my growing family. Let us just dwell on that for a moment. Any one of those items on the list is enough to cause stress and uncertainty. When taken together, the compounding effect felt plain overwhelming. I am certain that this topic is regularly on my mind as I work closely and diligently with current Ph.D. students and postdocs who are in the process of taking the leap from academe to something beyond.

Contextually, it is important to note that we are in a Groundhog’s Day-like pandemic, racial inequality is on center stage and climate change brings an ever-present sense of uncertainty. The compounding effect can easily overwhelm us.

Before I continue with some thoughts on how to counteract the stress, I share the LinkedIn post here:

Why self-care is so important:

  • Finishing a Ph.D. →stressful
  • Starting a job search →stressful
  • Applying for jobs →stressful
  • Getting rejections →stressful
  • Getting interviews! →stressful
  • Interviewing →stressful
  • Waiting for a job offer →stressful
  • Not getting a job →stressful
  • Getting a job! →stressful
  • Starting a new job?! →super stressful

People were happy to chime in with more places of stress. Not having enough money while doing the job search, looking for a job while navigating visas and work permits, looking for a job in a pandemic, having to move/relocate -- these were some of the additions they made to the comments section. No doubt we can collectively dig up and find more sources of stress.

The purpose of the post was not to be a downer but rather an attempt to normalize that stress is going to be a part of the process. I offer this article as a corollary to the above-mentioned LinkedIn post: consider infusing positivity into your job search.

Three Concepts

We could all use a dose of positivity in our lives right now, no matter where we might be in our education, job search or career. I do not wish to mask or cover up the challenges inherent in a job search. I do, however, wish to invite you to think about the ways in which a positive mind-set might be supportive and help you get through the tough spots.

We can learn plenty from concepts and models from the field of positive psychology and apply those concepts to the job search. I’ll present three concepts and then provide some concrete actions you can take to infuse positivity into your job search.

Concept No. 1: Positive emotions are much more nuanced than just happiness. Some additional positive emotions include:

  • Love
  • Serenity
  • Gratitude
  • Awe
  • Joy
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration

I’m not opposed to happiness, far from it. But I believe the sole focus on happiness does not paint an accurate picture of how we can cultivate a relationship with positivity. Positive psychology teaches us that we feel and remember positive emotions less vividly than negative ones. Negative emotions can take a strong hold on us, causing us to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Positive emotions, in contrast, stimulate our nervous system in a way that enhances our well-being. Bring on the nuanced positivity!

Concept No. 2: Welcoming more positive emotions and dwelling on them will have positive physiological impacts. A positivity ratio can measure the frequency and degree of positive emotions compared to negative ones. While people have debated what the exact ratio of positive to negative emotions should be to create human flourishing, the concept itself is a useful one to contemplate. Are you primarily stuck in negative emotions around the job search? You can find out by taking the positivity ratio self-test. If you are able to infuse positivity into the job search with more frequency and intensity, you’ll be more likely to ride the waves of uncertainty onto the shore of a new career.

Concept No. 3: A broaden-and-build model can help you recognize a positive emotion and then take appropriate and corresponding actions. If I feel a sense of inspiration, I can ask myself how I want to explore and immerse myself in that feeling. I want to bathe and dwell in the inspiration and take actions that are buoyed by it. Maybe that would be, for example, picking up a pen or a paintbrush and going from there. By broadening and building positive emotions, we can savor and benefit from the positive emotions that arise.

Now on to the good stuff. Here are some concrete examples of how you can infuse positivity into your job search. If you have more ideas or examples, please feel free to comment in this article or reach out to me directly, and I’ll joyfully share on my social media accounts.

Making affirmations. Affirmations are a great way to introduce positivity into your job search. For example, you might start each morning or each time you sit down to work on your job search with an affirmation or two. Here are some you can use, or you can create your own: "My skills and training are valuable and needed." "I am progressing toward my goal of finding a meaning career."

Finding your community. Sharing your experiences with other people is key to staying engaged with the job search process. Even sharing negative experiences with someone can generate feelings of hope or serenity.

Paying attention to the (not so) little things. What does it feel like to find a job posting that resonates? What is the feeling of finding out you got an interview? Dwell on the positive moments in your job search as they arise.

Making space for gratitude. Who supported you to get to where you are now? Sending a quick email to a mentor or someone who supports us can helps remind us that we exist in an intricately woven network.

Connecting with your resilient spirit. Appreciate small wins. Reward yourself. And keep getting up after you fall down.

Keeping a list of positive emotions nearby. This is a good reminder to look for positive emotions beyond happiness.

Writing in a journal. Writing in a journal helps externalize your inner experience, bringing clarity and insight.

Having an embodiment practice. Yoga, meditation and staying active are all good ways to help ease stress.

Yes, the process of finishing the Ph.D. and starting a job search (often at the same time) is stressful. There’s no doubt about that. How could it not be? So much is on the line. But by infusing your job search with positivity, you may be able to create some ease around the stress. What do you do to bring positivity into your job search?

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