I was “invited to leave” the company. At least, that’s how it felt.

Sitting at my desk, I got an email from my department leader, asking to meet in an unfamiliar conference room at the end of the day.

Cue the ominous music.

But, still, I wasn’t quite sure. Maybe it wasn’t that my job, like others’, was being eliminated, though there’d been rumors whipping through the department for months. Maybe, instead, she was just going to let me know that I’d have a new reporting relationship.

But, as I walked into the conference room later that afternoon, I knew right away. That’s because sitting at the table were both my leader and someone from HR. As my head swam, I listened to the formal things that are typically said at a time like that. Then, the HR person walked through my benefits and other related items. All the while, of course, I was thinking, “How am I going to tell my wife? How will I explain it to my kids without them getting scared?”, and so on.

Later, after handing in my company badge and other items, and packing up a few things, I stood at my car, looking back at the building. Knowing I wouldn’t be going back in, and that I no longer belonged.

And, for me, that’s been the hardest part of the job search. The emotions.

Facing Our Greatest Doubts and Fears

Certainly, the more transactional elements of the job search demand our best efforts. Updating our resume and LinkedIn profile. Making lists of our contacts. Tracking jobs we’ve applied for and people we’ve talked to. Creating business cards and marketing brochures to take to networking meetings. Practicing our interview and negotiation skills. Really, everything that goes into learning how to brand and “sell” ourselves.

But, for me and many others, the toughest part of the job search is how it can bring us face-to-face with our greatest doubts and fears over and over again, like a rollercoaster repeatedly looping back on itself. Forcing us to deal with questions like, “Am I worthy?” even though, in most cases, losing our positions had nothing to do with what kind of worker we were. And even harder questions that cut right to the heart of the matter, like “Do I belong?”, “Do people care about me?”, and “Am I strong enough to make it through this?”

Of course, if we have any of those fears before looking for a job, and I believe many of us do, then the job search process is going to make darned sure we face them again, and this time, with the stakes much higher.

But, somewhere in the process, I’ve also learned that, if we can stay motivated, not give up or in, focus our energy, and help others along the way, that we’ll not only come out the other side of the job search in good shape, but we’ll come out better, stronger, braver and even more sure of who we are and what we’re capable of.

That’s because a job search can hold many gifts.

Seven Gifts of the Job Hunt

Yes, you heard me correctly, the job search holds gifts.

And I can hear what you’re thinking. That it often doesn’t feel that way, especially in the darker moments. But, if we are patient and don’t give in to panic, I believe we’ll find many treasures buried among its trials:

  1. Learning who is there for us. Though some we thought would be sadly aren’t, many others who we didn’t expect to be, or who we didn’t even know yet, will show up and go far beyond what we ever expected, even while dealing with their own “stuff.”
  2. Finding connection. Not isolating ourselves, withdrawing behind closed blinds to simply keep filling out online job applications all day. Instead, we’ll connect with others, in whatever way is most comfortable for us. And, hopefully, in ways that aren’t so comfortable, like going to networking meetings or volunteering, so we’ll grow.

  3. Having the chance to actually think about everything we’ve accomplished and already know. When we do, it can build our confidence back up. Plus, often, this will be an opportunity to get closer to doing the work we know we should be doing. More inclusive of our passion and purpose.

  4. Learning lots of new things quickly because, well, we have to. Like how to do interviews using the most current technology. About how to stand up in networking meetings and give an elevator speech, although our hands are shaking.

  5. Overcoming any hints of shame. Like learning not to drop our eyes at a party when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” After all, even while we’re looking for a job, we should be doing other things. Whether it’s volunteering, taking classes, teaching classes, writing, freelancing, consulting, whatever it is. So, we’ll always have an answer. And, even if we don’t, we’ll keep our eyes up, knowing we’re enough just as we are.

  6. Building up our resilience. Getting up day-after-day, facing the uphill climb over some of the most brutal terrain we’ll ever see. A terrain made up of rejection emails, not hearing back, and trying to put structure to a process that can feel so murky and lonely at times. Yes, facing that kind of disappointment, and still doing it over and over again. Oh, yeah, and throw in helping others get up the mountain, too.

  7. Leading and teaching by example. Having the chance to model for others, including our own children, how to handle tough experiences and still stay centered, kind and calm.

And, through all of this, if we stay present in the moment, we’re going to find that, like Dorothy, we already had the answer to our biggest questions, and a way home.

Getting Answers to Our Biggest Questions

“Are we worthy?” Yes, we always were. Not only because of what we have done and know, but most important because being worthy comes with the “being human” package. We always were and always will be. We just needed a reminder.

“Do we belong?” Yep, though we might not “belong” to our past company anymore, that doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected to the friends we had there. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t still belong to many other communities, like our family and friends, and, of course, the big new community of job seekers, which is made up of some of the bravest, most generous people we’ll ever meet.

“Do people care about me?” Another yes on this one. Though sometimes you’ll feel alone in the job search, that doesn’t mean people don’t care. It just means they’re probably focused on their own lives. And there will be many others who show they do care with a simple reachout message, meeting for lunch, sending a job lead your way, and so on.

“Am I strong enough to make it through this?” Yes, yes, yes, yes. As the facilitator of one of my networking groups always points out, “Each one of you has probably been through something or possibly many somethings that are worse than a job search, and yet, you’re all still here.” We have everything we need to get through this. We’re worthy, we belong and people care about us. So, the only thing we have to focus on is keepin’ on keepin’ on.

Then, years from now, looking back, the most important question we’ll ask ourselves is if we’re proud of how we handled this time in our lives.

Knowing you, even if we’ve never met, I already know the answer.