How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.
Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.
Finola Billings is a freelance writer.
How I Cope
I always knew establishing a career in a creative industry would be a challenge. People always told me to be prepared for fierce competition, so prepare I did! I strove to increase my chances through studying abroad, unpaid work experience, internships, freelancing, networking – the list goes on.
In 2018, I won an award to study a professional qualification in print editing, was invited to a prestigious networking event for young people looking to break into the print industry and achieved a first-class bachelors in English and Creative Writing. Yet, I recently found myself stuck in an unemployment trap.
In the beginning I didn’t mind the job hunt. I was told to treat it like a full-time role. Wake up before nine, research, apply, and repeat until the clock strikes five. I felt productive and confident with considerable work experience for someone my age.
But rejections kept coming, most of which contained barely the slightest nod of human acknowledgement. Mainly, employers just never got back to me. Occasionally, I successfully climbed through a few more recruitment stages – sometimes an online test, other times a video interview, and a handful of times I secured an in-person interview.
After each rejection I would politely ask what I can do better. I rarely received feedback, but whenever I did it was always, “You were one of our strongest candidates, but the other candidate just had slightly more experience in this particular field.”
Failing at the final hurdle was sometimes so upsetting, I found myself not even wanting the interviews anymore. I became despondent, discouraged and, eventually, severely depressed.
Mental health and employment
This is not surprising. A study conducted by the University of Zürich found a strong association between suicidality, lack of job security and unemployment after analysing data from 63 different countries between the years of 2000 and 2011.
Despite the UK’s creative industry’s recent employment boom, this study should still be a major concern for the industry. Why? Because the NHS reports that an important finding in the study is that the years analysed involved both “economic stability as well as the 2008 global economic recession and its aftermath”. This suggests no matter what the state of the world or industry around you, there is likely a direct link between problematic mental health issues and unemployment itself. And with so many young people seeking jobs in the creative industry through months of unsecure, unpaid work experience, this should be a shocking figure to read.
I believe that unemployment causes you to question your worth as a human being in a society that celebrates materialism. I would ask myself daily: What was the point in my hard work so far? Was my degree worth it? Am I worth it? Each rejection only added fuel to this self-destructive fire.
Thankfully, I dragged myself out of that vicious cycle and I have now secured a six– month copywriting internship with a company based abroad. While I’m more positive and excited than ever about my future now, I still don’t have a secure long-term employment contract to rejoice over.
Considering this and considering the statistics, I want to share five coping mechanisms I developed during this challenging time.
Challenge the way you think.
Our work should not define us. After spending my entire life in an education system focusing on bettering exam grades and building career prospects, it is not surprising I found unemployment so distressing. As humans we are a lot more than our work and our productivity. We can also offer love, compassion, friendship, laughter to name just a few.
There is also a huge stigma surrounding unemployment and the benefits system. Ignore it. Again, whatever your situation, you are only human.
Easier said than done. During my job search, many of my university friends had already landed top graduate jobs, and I didn’t much feel like calling them up to say I was jobless.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a friend who scheduled a phone call with me each morning during my most difficult days. This was my lifeline. Whether or not we spoke about my job search was unimportant; the point was that I was not in this situation alone.
So, find yourself someone to talk to. Family, friends, counsellors – it doesn’t matter which, just pick one.
When you’re unemployed, you are accountable to nobody – committing to a routine and sticking to deadlines is more difficult. It can be helpful to have somebody to keep you on track.
My friend and I set up a shared Google Docs spreadsheet to report our daily achievements to each other? It made me feel productive and kept me on a positive track.
Read self-development books.
As a literature geek, the first thing I do in a crisis is turn to books. Through reading these self-development books during unemployment, I have learnt many useful techniques I can now use in the work place and in my day-to-day routine; from Tony Robbins’ priming technique to Francesco Cirillo’s pomodoro technique.
If you are not a big reader, try audiobooks. Taking a short walk and listening to a self-help audiobook is an excellent way to both relax and achieve a sense of growth.
Develop other goals.
You have a lot of free time on your hands. Why not learn something new or refresh your memory of your other skills? Not only will this increase your employability and provide you with things to discuss in interviews, it will also remind you of your worth and ability to move forward.
Of course, it’s also great to eat well, sleep well, and exercise. And go outside – talk to humans, sit in a café. Try meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, even if you aren’t usually the yogi type. And at some point, just stop! Stop refreshing your email inbox and walk away from your laptop. Breaks are important. Oh, and write lists – lots of lists. If you simply write things on paper, you don’t have to keep flipping it over in your mind. The thought will still be there for you to review later.
And how did I jump out of unemployment? Perseverance and luck. Nothing more, nothing less. As long as you are always working towards your goals, as well as practicing self-care and self-love, then you are on the right track. Even if it might not feel like it.
So, good luck, take care of yourself, and remember you will get there in the end.
If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.| Published:2019