Days of Waiting to Reach Shore


The term “unemployed” has always made me feel uncomfortable deep down. Paired with “unemployment” is the concept of “reaching shore.” We often joke about how we’re still floating in the sea, unsure of where our next step lies. Despite once saying that I wasn’t too worried about eventually not finding a job, the uncertainty of when exactly that will happen still leaves me feeling lost.

In such times of inner turmoil, I find myself leaning on ethereal powers. I visit temples and churches, and even though I know nothing about the religion of the latter, I try to be as devout as possible. I believe in a universal god above all, who will protect me. And if I’m a bit luckier, a bit kinder, maybe a god, no matter where, will secretly hint to me where the next chapter lies. But I also recognize that faith alone isn’t enough; it’s up to me to actively shape my destiny, using these moments of spiritual reflection as a catalyst for personal action and change.

Reset - Redefining My Career

This period has had a significant impact on me. When I was busy at work, I couldn’t quite grasp what direction I wanted to go in. I just followed the company’s goals, taking on tasks without properly planning my career or considering what I truly enjoy.

In reality, nothing offers a more profound chance to reflect than being unemployed. I often felt like life was invisibly propelled by some force, like the boats at Tokyo Disney Sea, seemingly guided by unseen tracks beneath the water’s surface, veering unexpectedly, spinning in place, then thrusting you forward towards turbulent currents or waterfalls.

In one of my previous jobs, I recruited an extremely capable team member. She was smart and could think outside the box, adept at handling demanding clients and streamlining workflows.

Her arrival was a relief. I felt like I had found another version of myself, someone who could handle the various challenges of in-house entrepreneurship. It felt like a phase was ending, and I could leave South Korea in her capable hands. However, about six months later, she decided to leave for a human resources position, feeling it suited her better. She wanted to establish a professional career early on.

I often reflect on this during my periods of introspection.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to solve every work challenge, learning new things to overcome obstacles. I seemed to do well wherever I was placed, but this ‘doing well’ eventually led to a deadlock. I hit a wall when it was time to climb higher.

I had a significant blind spot in my career planning. Without stopping to reflect, I would have continued aimlessly, still lost after five years.

——You cannot dream of something you’ve never seen.

It took me a long time to experience flying with business class. I didn’t realize until my first time that business class passengers elegantly bypass the winding queues at the counter, directly proceeding to check their luggage, free from the anxiety of potentially missing their flight. Of course, they don’t have to queue for boarding or scramble for overhead bin space. While others struggle with their luggage in the hot and humid boarding area, business class passengers are sipping welcome drinks in their cozy seats.

Before experiencing business class, I had many assumptions. I thought it was just a bigger seat and wondered about its value. Only after experiencing did I understand that time is the essence of it all, something I had never considered.

So, I started dreaming only of flying business class.

Isn’t that dream big and good enough?

Apparently not.

Later, at an airport, I was led through a VIP passage by a high-tier frequent flyer, and I realized how trivial my dream was. There are even more premium experiences in the world, like completing luggage check and immigration in just five minutes, with a lounge right next to the exit. Everything at the airport seemed centered around VIP services…

So why not dream of becoming a high-tier passenger from the start?

I realized that our dreams are limited to what we can see. If I hadn’t diligently explored various job descriptions (JDs) during my unemployment, I would never have understood where the market is or what my real goals are.

The experience of flying business class was more than a lesson in luxury; it was an eye-opener to the broader horizons of life. Previously, my definition of success was tightly bound to becoming a high-ranking executive in a corporation, aiming for a substantial annual income. Coming from a humble background in the countryside, I had believed that attaining even half of this goal would be a significant achievement. Yet, it was through experiences like the business class flight - moments that broadened my perspective - that I began to discover joys and excitements in life that weren’t necessarily linked to financial success.

Understanding that there were people passionately pursuing these diverse paths opened up a new world to me, softening the rigid focus on conventional success and enriching my understanding of what it truly means to be fulfilled.

Regaining Gravity — It’s All About Mindset

This post might seem light-hearted, but even now, having found the job I wanted and moving towards my next goal, the fear of not finding work still clenches a small beast in my heart.

It stubbornly resides there.

Just a few weeks ago, while touching the back of my head before sleep, I found a smooth patch and realized I had developed alopecia areata, a condition often linked to stress. I started therapy for depression, and during a video call with a counselor who had helped me significantly in the past, I couldn’t help but cry a whole box of tissues. I learned that this period had hurt me more than I realized. Despite appearing normal in social interactions, interviews, and resume submissions, part of me knew that I would eventually find something, but another stronger part pulled me back, telling me I was worthless to my family and the world, making me wish I could just sleep forever.

This all stems from a feeling of weightlessness and the pressure of knowing what to do next but not making progress. I felt powerless, like nothing I did could cause any ripples. But during these days, I was also doing things I enjoyed, not realizing that I could focus solely on my sphere of influence.

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, there’s a concept called the “Circle of Influence”:

“Dr. Martin Seligman, the famous director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has also long studied the benefits of focusing on one’s circle of influence. In his book ‘Authentic Happiness,’ he concludes that happiness depends on three things: genetics, environment, and things within personal control. However, his research found that genetics and environment have less correlation with happiness than the third element: things within personal control. So, Seligman advises focusing on what you can control if you want to be happy.”

More and more people mention not to worry about things we can’t control or change. Job hunting is just like that. We can only try our best with our resumes and interview preparations, but whether the other party will choose us or whether we are the most suitable candidate is beyond our control.

While waiting to reach shore, I can’t change the wind, its direction, or the weather, but I can try to control the direction of the rudder, decide what to eat each day to conserve energy, and choose what to do on the boat to pass the time. Thinking this way helps me focus more on preparation and learning.

Mindset Shift Exercise 1 — Changing the Narrative

“Not having the job I want is just NOT HAVING THE JOB I WANT,” rather than “NO COMPANY WANTS ME.” I want to distinguish this narrative and emphasize that it’s not about self-pity.

During job hunting, there will be times when you think, “Wow! This job is amazing, I really want it!” only to find it’s unattainable after knocking on the door. Or when someone says, “This job might have some problems, but with the salary and requirements, it matches you well,” but after thinking it over all night, you just can’t reconcile it in your heart.

Or… when you’ve been scrolling through job sites for weeks and still don’t see a job you like.

In these moments, I often subconsciously tell myself “No company wants me” — which is clearly a false narrative.

The same book, “The 7 Habits,” mentions an experience of the Jewish psychologist Frankl in a concentration camp: ‘The Last of Human Freedoms’ — he was physically controlled by others but maintained independence in his consciousness, which transcended physical constraints. He could decide how much external stimuli affected him. The book also mentions that in seemingly forced situations, there’s always an element of personal will, and it’s best to take responsibility for that will.

For example, in my case:

I may appear to be jobless now, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that I refuse to look for jobs outside Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Greater Randstad area. I haven’t even tried applying to other regions. I also avoid looking for non-product manager roles. By making this choice, I accept that it may take more time and effort to land my ideal job, and that’s normal.

By slipping from “no progress in job hunting” to “no company wants me,” I’m actually avoiding responsibility. I’m trying to shift the burden to companies that don’t even know the target, which doesn’t help move things forward. More strictly speaking, I set the direction and made a decision, but I’m not yet prepared to bear the consequences of that decision.

In reality, when I step out of this mindset, the playing field changes. I find more ways to improve my CV and identify the real battlefield. Later, when recruiting for the company, I realized I hadn’t put in much effort back then. Instead of lamenting that no company wanted me, I could have spent that time developing a portfolio.

Mindset Shift Exercise 2 — “Every Step is For a Better Future.”

In the final stretch of this journey, I almost accepted a job that seemed easy to me and came with an attractive package. I could utilize my language skills, and my experience with similar projects and cultural familiarity would have been an asset. But it fell short because it wasn’t the product manager position I was striving for. I could see that accepting this job might have sent me back to the same boat without knowing future direction.

If I had continued to believe that “no company wants me,” I might have settled for temporary comfort and returned to my old patterns. That’s why changing the narrative is so important. I remind myself that the current struggles are for a better future; it’s not just about finding a job.

Mindset Shift Exercise 3 — “You Are Already Productive Enough!”

Beyond the negative narrative, my irrational self-criticism reached exaggerated levels. I would berate myself before sleeping, saying, “Ah, I’m a waste again today with no progress in job hunting.” But the reality might be that I had mustered the courage to reach out to a few company contacts unlikely to respond, attended a PM event, and even did some freelance translation – the only thing missing was sending out resumes.

Only job seekers might truly understand this feeling. Eventually, receiving rejection letters became numbing. I even fell into a strange mindset where I expected them, knowing the patterns of certain companies and anticipating their thank-you-for-applying notes every Monday.

This bizarre state forced me to apply for jobs carelessly and draft cover letters half-heartedly, pretending to love a company or a job. But in the end, it was all an act – your birth, your achievements, your stability, your irreplaceability… under an impeccable performance, everything seemed lovely, but in reality, I had just swiped right on you on LinkedIn.

I’m not that into you (the company).

Then, the thought that I needed to apply to a minimum number of jobs to receive rejection letters made me indifferent to learning more about the companies, and it robbed me of the time I could have spent studying or writing.

Eventually, I couldn’t stand this insincere version of myself and decided to slow down, no longer chasing meaningless productivity, especially in job hunting.

Defusing the Unexploded Bomb

I rarely look back at my own writings; once past, they’re past for me. But that rejection email article has been quietly garnering some reactions from audience. Later, when I saw others writing about their failed job hunting experiences, I was grateful to those who left traces of such painful experiences, as there aren’t many who are willing to share such raw emotions online.

Ah, it was indeed an uncomfortable experience.

But when I revisited that period while writing this post, I remembered feeling utterly dejected, but my muscles have since relaxed a lot. The senior consultant who didn’t offer me a job back then, we’re still in touch. And the case study that broke me then…

Guess what?

I later graduated with an MBA, and now Case Studies have become a thing of the past for me. Currently, I’m delving into how to set KPIs and understanding “How to Measure Everything” (an interesting book!). The Case Study itself is no longer the focus. I know how to do it, I have done several project with it. Now I’m more interested in understanding the ‘why’ – why we do certain things, why we look at specific indicators. So, I’m no longer afraid of case studies, but more afraid of not asking the right questions.

Looking back at that article, I’m surprised at how, in just a year or two, I’ve overcome that challenge.

And yeah, the impact of being rejected has lessened a bit, and my resilience has deepened.

The important thing is, I dug out the unexploded bomb of anxiety and defused it properly. Now, I look forward to the day I revisit these “Days of Waiting to Reach Shore,” and I imagine the feelings will be similar to how I feel now about the “rejection email”.

After all, things aren’t as hopeless as they seem.

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