Hitting the Wall: Managing Job Search Burnout

There comes a time in your job campaign when you find yourself saying, “I thought I’d have landed by now.” Physically and emotionally exhausted from the long-term stress of job search, you find yourself burned-out and unmotivated to perform daily tasks. You’ve hit “The Wall.”

I’ve helped many clients scale “The Wall,” and I’ve learned the most effective remedy isn’t to stoically work harder or longer on daily job search activities. Those who continue while burned-out may find their health, motivation and relationships adversely affected.

Taking care of burn-out at its onset ensures a speedy recovery and a steady supply of energy and motivation. While counter-intuitive, taking a break to rest and rejuvenate may be the fastest way to regain momentum in your search. Adding meaningful, joyful activities to your day and reframing your transition to a “big picture” perspective are also critical in healing burn-out.

The Truth of Job Search

It will take longer than you think. 

Most job seekers assume they will land within 90 days. While impossible to predict, most take 3 to 9 months to find a job. When I ask landed clients what they’d do over if they knew the length of their campaign, nearly all say they would have spent more time in activities providing satisfaction and joy.  

Daily job search activity is disheartening. With little to no results on a daily basis, it becomes a “Sisyphean task.” That term comes from the Greek myth of the difficult and futile endeavor of Sisyphus rolling a boulder to the top of a hill every day, only to have it roll back down again just as he reaches the summit.

Sustaining this on a long-term basis is discouraging and depressing.

You Need a Break

Step away from job search for a short time. 

Change the scenery – a brief visit to the cabin, train ride to another city, or a road trip to someplace you’ve never been can be geographical stress relief. Or intentionally allow yourself an entire weekend of refraining from job search, and spend time only in activities that rejuvenate you.

Tom (not his real name), an executive recently released from a 70 to 80-hour work week with global travel, was discouraged. A “type A” personality, he conducted a frenzied campaign for about 80 days, when he suddenly hit “The Wall.” We met, and he appeared tired and sad.

He said he was depressed and discouraged from a lack of results. As a professional accustomed to calling the shots and making things happen, he was baffled his efforts hadn’t yielded any opportunity. I asked what he needed. “A rest,” he said, “but I feel selfish taking time off, and don’t want to disappoint my family. And I can’t afford to miss any opportunities.”

I asked if he needed permission to do so; he thought about it a moment, and quietly said, “Yes.” 

The family had a cabin in the northern woods, and he’d been thinking about spending some time in solitude. I suggested it may be a good idea, and he appeared relieved. He returned several weeks later, refreshed and energized. “Just what the doctor ordered,” he said.

Extreme Self Care and Meaningful Activity

Getting enough sleep, exercise and eating healthy foods are the most common self-care activities. Relaxation is also important, with good sources of healing stress like meditation, prayer, yoga and journaling. Consider adding hobbies, interests and giving to others as self-care best practices.

Hobbies and personal interests are activities that provide meaning and satisfaction. Most working professionals neglect hobbies and interests when working. Pick up the paint brush you haven’t used in years, open a recipe book and cook something new, or teach yourself a home repair skill.  

Some activities have high value, regardless of your skill level. Did you know that when you sing every cell in your body vibrates? It’s a great way to quickly banish the blues, as is dancing of any kind.

One of the greatest sources of satisfaction is to give to others. Since you have a flexible schedule; offer to help an elderly neighbor, provide pro-bono skills to a nonprofit, or work in a food pantry. Find a cause you care about and share your resources.

“This was time well spent.”

After you land, you’ll want to be able to say, “This was time well-spent.”

Reframe this time of transition. Compared to your entire career, this time period is just a short “blip” in your life; reframe it as an opportunity to reinvent and recreate yourself.

Unemployment is not a state of being.

Give yourself permission to enjoy life. Do something every day that brings joy, such as spending time with an ageing parent, a good friend, or playing 18 holes of golf on a beautiful day. Try to live each day with no regrets.

Your job search is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. Extreme self-care, joyful activities and big-picture thinking are essential to achieve your goal when the stakes are high. Once employed, you’re still at risk for burn-out; continue your new habits and enjoy the benefits of actively managing the stress of daily life.