The global pandemic has dramatically impacted the state of our workforce in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate for individuals 16 years of age and over is at 10.2%. This year, it has been as low as 3.5% and as high as 14.7%.
A recent economic news release reported that the youth (16 10 24 years old) unemployment rate spiked to 26.9% in April 2020 and declined to 18.5% in July and remains twice as high as in July of 2019.
There is an unprecedented amount of uncertainty as the National news reports on mass shootings, a rise in suicide rates, climate change and global warming, separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families, and widespread sexual harassment and assault charges. It causes a rise in stress and mental health issues in adults and, most significantly, among America’s youth.
Do you feel overwhelmed because of all the unknowns in your life?
As a certified career coach, trauma-informed career counselor, and licensed mental health professional specializing in working with recent grads and early career professionals, I hear how overwhelmed the younger generations are because of the unknowns in their lives. Most have no idea where they will work or where they will work in five years. They feel their future is on hold as they face the uncertainty of a promotion, or when they’ll be able to pay their bills.
Research shows that, rather than long for certainties that do not exist, the best way to adapt to uncertainty is to change how we think about it— and to find a way to keep moving forward.
You can’t steer a parked car. – Tim Elmore
Here are some ideas to get your car out of “park” and from sliding deeper into uncertainty while steering in the right direction.
AVOID SPINNING YOUR WHEELS
There’s a lot of worry and anxiety that grows out of uncertainty. Overthinking about a future that feels uncertain will only keep your wheels spinning. The best way to gain traction is to do something in the here-and-now that will help you make plans for the future and begin to build momentum towards those plans. Identify where you are now and get curious about where it is you want to go. Reach out to someone you look up to, someone who can inspire you to get where you want to go.
MOVE FROM THE TRUNK TO THE DRIVER’S SEAT
Have you ever felt lost or concerned because you didn’t know where you were going? You felt alone and in the dark about where to turn? If you’re hanging out in the trunk of the car, feeling small, isolated and in the dark, while being driven around by someone unknown force – it’s time to get out of the trunk and into the driver’s seat of your life.
In our young adult years, there are times when we make decisions based on what we think will be acceptable or to gain approval from others. We fall into the trap of doing what we think we “should” do and, in the process, lose touch with what we want and desire. It can feel like our life is operating from a dark confined space like the trunk of a car.
When we start to climb out of this space, we might move into the back seat for a while or perhaps chose to ride in the passenger’s seat. It feels better, there’s more space, and you have some light and a view. The problem is that you’re still being driven around by someone else to places that we don’t even want to go.
The best place to steer is from the driver’s seat. I encourage you to claim the lead by stepping into the power you have for paving the way towards a bright future. By getting into the driver’s seat of your life, you’ll feel empowered to travel down the path of possibility and explore new terrain and opportunities to grow. From the driver’s seat, you can make informed decisions that support who you are and where you want to go.
PACK UP YOUR ASSETS
You are in the driver’s seat, and you know how to take your car out of “park” and start moving. Before you get too far down the road, you need to be sure you’ve packed your assets. Your assets are the skills you’ve developed, the experiences you’ve had, and the character strengths that make you who you are.
Did you know that the average young worker has eight jobs by the age of 30? Allow your young adult years to be less about finding the one-and-only forever “dream job,” Instead, invest in yourself along the way. During these uncertain times, to keep moving forward, you will need to find a job, any job, and stay afloat financially.
Choose to do something that adds value to who you are. When I was in my 20’s, I moved to a remote area of Alaska and worked in the fishing industry. I developed critical life skills and had incredible experiences that most people never get to have in their lifetime. In this case, I chose to ditch the car altogether.
Even if you feel like your future is on hold due to unusual circumstances, do something that builds your character and that you can put on your resume. It might be an online course or certification, volunteering in your community, or learning a new language; good jobs aren’t the only way to launch you forward.
FOCUS ON WHAT’S WITHIN YOUR CONTROL
The most common way people get knocked off their path is when they focus too much on everything outside of their control, rather than on what’s within their control.
When we focus on what’s outside of our control, the uncertainty grows more prominent, leading to catastrophic thinking. That worst-case-scenario thinking that many of us fall into when we feel utter lack of power in our lives (we’re back in the trunk, riding around in the dark with no sense of where we’re going). We start to hum a tune to What-if. “What if I never find a job?” “What if I lose my job?” “What if my life does work out?” Rather than give time, attention, and energy to the things outside of your control, slow down, get out of the trunk, and back into the driver’s seat.
From this vantage point, you will see with clarity what is within your control and refocus. You gain back control of the steering wheel and begin to see that your situation is not so dire as you imagined. Facing our fears makes them less powerful. It shows us that we have more control than we realized and that even our most significant problems can be gotten through.
IDENTIFY AND USE YOUR RESOURCES
A resource is anything that supports, nurtures, stabilizes, and strengthens a person. Ask yourself the following questions: “You’ve been through a lot, and you’ve survived a lot, what gave you the strength to come through, to go on?”, “What gives you strength in your life?” and “What do you enjoy the most?”
When you’re able to identify and use your resources, you will become more self-assured in your decisions and be guided by your unique wants and desires, rather than continuously seeking others for reassurance and approval. Trust that you know best what you should do with your life. If you find yourself approaching friends, family, or boss for validation and guarantees that they cannot (or should not) give, strengthen your resources and self-assurance.
When you hit a bump in the road or find yourself forced to take a detour, you’ll have gained more confidence and begin to see yourself and other people as capable and strong.
DON’T EVER GIVE UP
Even though you’re in the driver’s seat and you know where you’re going, you’ll need healthy coping mechanisms to deal with uncertainties. You will run into challenges that feel like you have hit a dead end. It can lead to quitting, and this time in your life is not time to give up!
Just because the road you’re on gets steeper and you can’t see the top of the pass, don’t give up. Things that you want won’t always come easy for you. There will be times when you’ll want to stop trying because it feels like too much effort or you’re afraid to fail, or you start to have regrets and wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. These feelings are all a normal part of being on the path to success.
Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. A growth mindset is the belief that we develop our intelligence. Individuals with a growth mindset understand they can get smarter through hard work, effective strategies, and help from others when needed. It contrasts with a fixed mindset: the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait set in stone at birth. Therefore, when you put in extra time and effort to go the extra mile, it leads to higher achievement even if you fail forward along the way.
CHOOSE TO CLAIM THE LEAD
If you want to be happier and healthier, choose a better path forward and make sure that you’re driving. Whatever you want to change about yourself is possible by building good habits.
When we’re in the midst of uncertainty, the road is rough and fear, anxiety, depression, and addictions can become part of the journey. They don’t have to go along for the long-game, and with some effort, you can make improvements to make way for a smoother road ahead.
One of my clients is starting her day with meditation, and another is cycling to manage her mood. Another is looking at social media less and sleeping more, and another is taking this time to get sober.
If you’re not moving, you can’t course correct. Making small changes often will get you back on course and make a big difference in terms of where you end up. You’ll be happier when you make strides to improve your work-life, and your performance will improve if you are also happier and healthier outside of work.
Regardless of the uncertainty of the current times, you have a bright future ahead of you. Be proactive and you will gain traction and build momentum towards achieving your short-term and long-term career goals.