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It’s a scary time to lose your job. Whole sectors, from aviation to the arts, all but disappeared overnight at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and workers continue to be hit by redundancies across many other industries.
Unemployment in the UK has reached the highest level for more than four years, according to the latest figures from the Office for National statistics. And it remains unclear if the furlough scheme and self-employment grants will be extended beyond April.
It’s caused many workers across the country to step back and ask what’s next, with many confronting the uncomfortable question: who am I without my job?
Work can be all-consuming and for many people, it’s a key part of our identity.
On HuffPost UK’s weekly podcast Am I Making You Uncomfortable? we’ve been attempting to untangle the links between work and self-worth, looking at what happens when your job is suddenly taken away, and what you can do to feel like you’re getting back on track.
In this episode, we’re joined by career coach and founder of CultiVitae Emily Liou, alongside Ama Quashie, who was made redundant from her job in advertising and went on to launch a successful business. Quashie is now the owner of London nail salon, Ama, and has worked as a celebrity manicurist on shoots with the likes of Solange Knowles, Tilda Swinton and Edward Enninful.
Liou and Quashie have a wealth of tips for anyone feeling especially lost right now, particularly if you’ve recently lost work and don’t know what to do next. Read some of their advice below and listen to the full episode to hear more of their reflections on work and identity.
Stop blaming yourself
First and foremost, you need to give yourself room to heal, says Liou. Yes, you’ll probably feel the need to fire off applications at a rate of knots, but if you’ve lost your job, take a beat to process what’s happened and try to avoid the self-blame – your applications will be better for it.
“It really, in my opinion, starts with getting comfortable with understanding it’s okay to not have a title. It’s okay to have that status of unemployment,” she says. “A lot of job seekers feel like: ‘Well, I must’ve done something wrong. It must have been me because I was the one laid off from the company.’ But we have to understand the economic climate. And there are some things that are just beyond our control.”
Let go of your ego
Are there really “no jobs available” or is it more accurate to say there are “no jobs that you want available?” Liou points out that rigid, societal ideas of success sometimes stop us from applying for a “bridge job” – something that pays the bills and can take the pressure off, but isn’t the dream.
“I know a lot of people might feel: ‘I have a degree, I’m too good for this job.’ What I want to say to those of you who are in that situation is: it’s really important to listen to your inner self versus your ego, because your ego is always going to try to protect you from other people’s judgments,” she says. “It’s important to understand that there’s nothing wrong with a bridge job.”
To help shake off that ego, Liou recommends acquainting yourself with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow, which highlights five different types of human need.
The needs of feeling “achievement” and being “respected by others” are near the top of the pyramid. Before we can even think about those, we need to make sure the foundation layer – which represents our physiological needs, such as food and sleep – is established. If that means taking a job that simply puts food on the table, so be it.
“But I do want to emphasise it’s important that you never let go of the long term vision,” says Liou. “Because so many people also start to feel complacent. So really, just having that short term and that long term plan in place is key.”
Map out your interests
If you’re uncertain about what your long term dream is, don’t panic. One solution can be to look at a job site and print off all the jobs that excite you – without thinking about them too much. Then, you can look at the descriptions in more detail and figure out what they have in common, which may help you figure out what type of job you want, even if you’re still unsure of the exact title.
“You can find that golden thread between all of the different jobs that you are interested in,” says Liou. “On the right hand side, write why they’re exciting to you. What is that skill set that you’re going to be utilising? Or what about that career gets you really invigorated?”
Looking at jobs thematically can also help you to identify your transferable skills, she adds, whether that’s being a great communicator or a whizz at organisation.
Talk to people you admire
Once you’ve narrowed down your areas of interest a little, start talking to people currently working in those fields.
“Don’t be afraid to hit up someone who is already doing what you want to do and ask them for advice and ask them for steps,” says Quashie. “They might tell you to piss off. They might reject you. Ask more people. It’s scary, don’t get me wrong, but it’s necessary sometimes. And change is necessary.”
Liou agrees with this, saying the pandemic doesn’t mean an end to networking – use LinkedIn and email to connect with new people.
Consider a side hustle
Quashie did a nail course and started building up her client base before she was made redundant in advertising. If you’re thinking about taking a “bridge job” to tide you over, consider a side hustle to enable a transition into your dream role later down the line.
“Side hustles are a great way of dipping your toe into something to see how you feel about it with less commitment,” says Quashie. “You still have your full time job and you can gauge if it’s something you actually want to do. You can see if financially it’s viable. You can build your contacts, your portfolio, your skill set. You can build your speed.
“I’ve got friends that work full time, but have cake businesses on the side, or all sorts. I think building it on the side, slowly, is actually very key.”
Give yourself time
As cheesy as it sounds, only you know the answer about what you want to do next. Give yourself permission to ponder.
“It is crazy how few of us allow ourselves this time to just have independent thinking,” says Liou. “Even having a piece of paper out with just one question that you want to ask yourself and giving yourself that dedicated five to 10 minutes of just sitting there and brain dumping all of your stream of conscious and your thoughts on paper, it’s amazing how many insights you can get and how many answers you have within you when you just sit still enough to give yourself this space and the opportunity to listen.”