The Unbearable Slowness of Time During a Job Search

Job Seeker time is different from the rest of the world’s time.

A friend of mine had a house fire – a total down-to-the-ground house fire.  All the people were safe, but they lost every thing they had owned.

Living in temporary housing was a godsend, but it was also disorienting.  Certainly they lost things that mattered. But what made it disorienting was what wasn’t there, a loss of the sense of time –

·        Familiar coffee mugs

·        That mug  in the front right corner of the cupboard

·        The pillow that gets scrunched between the cushions of the sofa when you watch TV

·        A pile of mail

·        Dust

 It’s amazing how important dust is to our sense of time.  If there is no dust, did any time pass?  If there is no mail, what day is it? If there’s no scrunched pillow, did I watch TV or only dream about it?  If I don’t take a mug from the coffee maker to the table, if nothing moves, there’s no evidence I was here.

Routines for getting up in the morning, for navigating through a day and week, happen with things at certain predictable times of the day, week and year. Often these routines and times are in our control and give us a sense of time, like, “It must have been after 9:00 because I’d already had my second cup of coffee.”

One of the things that makes job loss so hard is that the things we are familiar with vanish. The things our sense of time are built on are no longer in place, are not happening. What’s meaningful is missing -

·        Coffee, and the conversations that go with it

·        Reports

·        Spreadsheets

·        Friday morning staff meetings, sitting around a table with familiar faces, someone’s cell phone invariably going off no matter how many times we’re told to turn them to stun

In job search time

·        Phones don’t ring

·        Emails don’t ping

·        There are no staff meetings, reports or spreadsheets

·        The car doesn’t move out of the garage

·        We don’t move out of the garage in the car

Job searching is invisible and largely intangible. It used to be that we’d type and print and snail mail our resumes. We could see the stack of envelopes we were taking to the mail box at the end of the day.  At a job search center where I used to work, people would take home their stack of outgoing resumes before mailing them to show their families how much they had done, building confidence in their families that they were doing their routine.  

One of the reasons we turn to job boards now is that they are visible on our computer screens. They change or don’t change, but we can look to see if they changed. We’re aware of time. Then we fill out a form online and whoosh!  Invisible again!

The lack of response to that submitted application makes it seem even more invisible! To get some sense of balance, then, we often turn to our homes and the things in them. We weed the garden, clean out the garage, re-organize closets… (Gentlemen! I beg you! Don’t touch the kitchen!)

Frustrating our sense of time and our place in the world as job seekers, is our lack of things that have meaningful routines attached to them. And here is a key to the way back: Make things standard. Set the alarm for the same time every day, get up and get dressed. Make the bed. Make a spreadsheet of your activities and a database of your contacts.  Keep a written log  – in your own handwriting is good, you can see “you” were there -  so you can see what you have accomplished. You can even show it to your family. Those who depend on you will feel comforted by these things.

Feel yourself moving through space – exist!  Make a pot of coffee in the morning and share it with somebody – even the homeless guy on the way to your favorite library. Go to the library or coffee shop. Sit in your familiar chair. Say hello and comment to the librarian or another patron about something you see.

Get out in the community. Do the grocery shopping. Talk with people in line about how they are, what they need and what you’re looking for. Really. (I should write a blog post about this.) Go to job search groups, association meetings, houses of worship. Groups for sharing interests are amazing for what they bring you. Things change in groups and keep changing. This is a need, to see the changing.

Here’s a tip: Cleaning cupboards and shelves and garages is a really good job search activity.  At the beginning of your transition, or when you’re stuck, try this: decide that the clearing activity is working on multiple levels. Ask your mind to use the metaphor of cleaning, clearing, sorting, storing and removing to organize your thinking about your past, your strengths, your feelings. This gets you in touch with your internal guidance.

·        Pack up clothes that no longer suit or fit you and put them back into circulation through resale or donation.  Throw away what is not good enough to pass on. (I know this goes to the landfill, but if it’s not suitable for anyone, don’t give it; it’s dumping trash on someone else instead of just dumping trash.)

·        Give away or donate things that are no longer part of your life. Throw away or recycle what you are clinging to. Air out your rooms. Give back the things you borrowed. Ask for things back that you’re still waiting for, if you want them. Put your straw, your clean straw, back in your shirt.

·        Give away things that are meaningful; maybe a magnet you had on a file cabinet that your former colleague, Jerry, made fun of every day. Give it to Jerry to remember you by.

·        Clear space around you to breathe in. Wash windows, let light in.

·        Weed. Prune the bushes. Deadhead the flowers. Re-pot the root-bound plants.

All of these have layers of meaning. It’s amazing how anxiety, regret and resentment go out the door with the bags to Goodwill. Clean out the car, you’re going places. Go back to work in the laundry room and ask for your new self to emerge from the dryer all shiny and new (Just the metaphor, please!) Clothes represent identity and belonging. Don’t hang on to old, worn out clothes! 


Time in between jobs is like summer. It stretches out in front of you with lots of possibilities. Anything can happen. There are slow, lazy days and exciting happy days, and hard, laborious ones. And at the end, time is going too fast. You can’t fit  everything in that you wanted to do, to accomplish. It’s alright. You’ll have time next summer.  In the meantime, enjoy your brand new job!