In Her Words: Thriving in the Employment Gap
THE GAP IS RAMPANT: YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Oh, the gap. The gap between here and there. Between the old job and the next gig. Between the old you and the new you. I have a pin on my desk that says “f#*!k,” and that just about sums up the employment gap. But alas – there is a way through this, a way to THRIVE in the chasm. To embrace it, to love it and to fully live in it – for in the grand scheme of life, in time, the gap will be but a sliver, a blip on the screen that will be part of the pixels that make up your life. And the gap could very well be one of the experiences in your life that brings you closer to yourself.
Before diving into the “how” of thriving in the gap – let’s just talk a bit about why this is happening, because, my friend, you are not alone. Gone are the days of 30-year tenures and pensions. Disruption has hit (or will hit) just about every industry. Restructures, layoffs, emerging skills, and jobs going overseas are part of the current career landscape. As a result, layoffs have become almost a rite of passage. On top of this, job descriptions are changing, because needs are changing. Truth be told, many companies don’t know what they need or what they will need in the near future. The icing on the cake? Even with all the shifts, recruiters and hiring managers are still using the outdated paradigm of trying to put round pegs in round holes.
And yet, through the rubble and chaos comes the rising phoenix – the reinvention. And THIS is the beauty of the gap. For the gap is a temporary place between where you have been, and where you will be. It’s the place between who you have been and who you want to be. To embrace this place, it’s critical to own your truth.
YOUR PATH IS YOURS: OWN IT & TALK ABOUT IT
In our society, so much of our identities get wrapped up in our job titles and careers. The sooner you can own the answer to “what do you do” or shift the conversation to answer the question “who are you becoming” – the more comfortable you will be in social situations.
Owning your story is one of the first steps towards living in the gap authentically and unapologetically. Owning it might mean allowing yourself to grieve the relationships and the activities you are leaving behind. Owning it might mean allowing yourself to feel the fear of not knowing what’s next versus giving in to the fear and being stuck.
Owning it is taking your power back by not letting shame hide any longer, by telling the story that YOU want to tell. As a marketer for over 15 years, trust me – I know a little something about storytelling. And you get to tell the one that’s in your heart and that gets you excited. You are the shero in your own story. What do you want people to know about your gap that feels authentic for how you want to tell it?
To get started, think of your story as an experiment – because your story has so many ways it can be told. Test it out on everyone who will listen and know that the more people you talk to, the more comfortable you will get. Being in the gap is so much easier with support and a team. So for those of you who like to crawl into a hole until you “figure it all out,” pay close attention to this next section.
PUT YOUR TEAM TOGETHER: YOU FIRST
So you finally owned your damn truth…CONGRATULATIONS! Now it will be much easier to own that you have some real work to do. The work of reinvention. In my humble opinion, this has two components. First and foremost is getting back in touch with your #1 contact, the one with all the answers, the one who matters most…YOU!! This whole opportunity that I am speaking of for truly reinventing your life, means you have to get in touch with yourself in a way that you perhaps never have before.
If you are with me on this, then I offer you two pieces of advice for dialing into your own inner wisdom. The first is to sit with yourself with no distractions and listen to what arises. Listen to your own guidance on what you need. The answers often come in the form of a whisper, so you have to really get quiet and truly listen.
The second piece of advice came up time and time again when hearing stories of people who learned how to thrive in the gap – is to work with a coach. For full disclosure, I am a coach – so I clearly have a point of view on this. But as someone who has been in the gap twice, I wholeheartedly believe, and my interviews have confirmed, that having a coach can help you see the forest through the trees. A good coach can help you rediscover yourself, offer you new ways of looking at your situation, and support you in believing that anything is possible. They are not a friend who has a plethora of opinions to share, but a partner in helping you determine where it is you are wanting to go. A coach helps you get aligned with yourself, and not with the opinions of others, or society. When you find the right fit for you and what kind of coach you need, the investment in yourself during a time of transition and doubt can mean the difference between just surviving the gap versus being transformed by truly embracing the gap.
This brings me to my next point, which is that as you embark upon this big project of figuring out “what’s next,” then PLEASE for the love of all things chocolate, put your team together. Don’t go on this trip alone. Who do you ask? Who should you have on this team? It might look different for everyone but start by asking yourself what you need.
Some of the things you may need include a shoulder to lean on, inspiration or the need to feel healthy and strong. You may need insight into a new industry you are investigating or an unbiased perspective on your approach to figuring out what’s next. You may need to feel needed and to get inspired. All of these things are perfectly normal.
So who can help you with these things? Gather the troops, whoever they may be, and don’t forget about those whom you don’t know yet. The more you can connect with the folks on the outermost circle of your network, the broader your thinking will be. And your potential for meeting people with very different experiences than yourself will grow exponentially.
I think it’s important to note that it might be a good time to evaluate if a therapist should be on your team. Karen Carlucci, a licensed therapist, and certified professional coach suggests considering the emotional impact of landing in the gap. “For some folks, suddenly not having a traditional job can create self-doubt, shame and a lost sense of identity. It may trigger past experiences that are unresolved around self-esteem and worthiness for instance. Therapy can help with understanding these triggered responses and offer ways to work through the current experience in a supportive setting.”
So, who are you going to recruit for your team?
HANDLE THE TRUTH: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL
There is no magic bullet. Life is not linear. There is no set path. And no, Google Maps does not have directions for you. You may be in the driver’s seat, but you really have no control over when your gap ends, or where it will lead. The sooner you can surrender to the process, the sooner it will be possible to enjoy being in whatever moment you are in.
Thriving in the gap is more possible when you allow yourself to live in the moment. And just to clarify – I mean YOUR moment. People around you may be getting job offers and accepting jobs, they may even appear happy and un-phased by the gap. Fight the urge to play the comparison game; this will not serve you because everyone will have a very different path.
Every baby step you take is movement in a forward direction. You can’t possibly go backward. Every action propels you forward.
So how can you handle the truth?
- Truly accept that whatever led you to the gap happened FOR you, not TO you.
- Take nothing personally.
- Keep on putting one foot in front of the other – following what feels aligned to your truth.
- Surrender – because the outcomes are not in your control.
- Celebrate all your small wins – let the light shine on them so the feeling can grow and invite more wins into your life. That’s the secret to building momentum!
JOIN THE CLUB, GET SOCIAL
The experience of the GAP reminds me over and over to never underestimate the kindness of others. I have been astounded at how many strangers have accepted my request to connect. Put aside the inner critic in your head that is shaming you for not keeping in touch with people. It’s bullshit. Reach out because you don’t know what you will discover, and I’d bet that they will want to hear what’s up with you. And if they don’t – on to the next!!
Give it a try. Go be amongst your peers or the peers that you WANT to be yours. It’s a learning curve to figure out what makes sense to attend and where you will find value, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Part of this strategy involves setting realistic expectations about what success looks like. In fact, I suggest setting goals that you have control over. For example, rather than set a goal of finding five job leads, instead set a goal around how you want to be and feel when you walk out of that event. Thinking about this process as a marathon and not a sprint and keeping in mind that finding meaningful connections takes time will help you think differently about how you are measuring success when it comes to re-igniting or building your network.
Bottom line? The home office can be a lonely, lonely place, so get off your butt and meet someone new!
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
I would be remised if I didn’t acknowledge that your financial situation, as well as other kinds of privilege implications, can play a big part in embracing the gap as an opportunity. I invite all of those realities to be a part of your process and also invite you to focus even more on the mindset that will best serve you in staying positive, hopeful and being your best self. As my good friend Vishwas reflected to me about his career shift from Marketer to Actor; “happiness is in the doing, not the outcome.”
Dig deep in yourself and understand what truly makes you happy, what excites you, where you add value and figure out how to be still. Travel, see friends, visit family, and eat food that brings joy. Investigate ideas that are bigger than your career and that are bigger than you. Gain a different perspective so you can look at your journey in a way that allows you to enjoy as much of it as you possibly can.
This isn’t the complete guide to thriving in the employment gap, but it is a start. Being in the employment gap IS hard. But it can also be one of the most reinvigorating and rewarding times of your life if you open your heart and mind and surrender to not knowing.
Tosca DiMatteo is the Founder and CEO of T.L.C. Tosca Liana Consulting, which she created to help inspire and support individuals and organizations in discovering / re-discovering the heart of their brand, so they can live it authentically from the inside out. Previous to this, Tosca spent 20 years honing her badass marketing and collaboration skills in the Consumer Goods, Media and Retail industries. You can follow her on Instagram @toscadimatteo.
For more on charting your own course and navigating challenges, check out:
15 Inspirational Quotes from Top Leaders on Creating Change
How to Get Past the Messy Middle to the Top
Equal Pay Day: What the Wage Gap Costs You & How to Know Your Worth