Career Corner – What to do with your time: Invest in Yourself

We live in a time like no other.   Looking back, we will reflect on the surrealness of it all.   Scientists and researchers will study this period for broader understandings of human behavior.  There will be much to ponder.

But right now many might be feeling some internal dissonance.  Some may feel lost and disoriented, with the sense of much time on their hands.  Others may feel they have much more than ever before to do but are having difficulty focusing.  And many are experiencing both – bouncing daily between idleness and panic.

Job seekers might feel a sense of dread.  There is the appearance that the entire hiring world – except maybe food service, first responders, and healthcare —  is at a  standstill.  Given that,  there are steps that can be taken now, and ways of setting your thinking that can benefit you in the future.  These six steps can provide you with something meaningful to do and remain in control,  which provides not only psychological reassurance, but also invests in yourself so that when “normal” returns, you will be in much better shape than others.

Make Connections

Now is the time to make connections.  We should all, of course, be reaching out to our family and friends, and even folks we are only acquainted with who might be on their own and need our encouragement.  From  a career exploration standpoint, reaching out to possible mentors, peers, and even professionals you don’t know right now is a good investment of time.  Because many are now working from home, their daily routine has been recreated, possibly allowing for more time to connect. They might be seeking the chance to take a break during the workday.    Use LinkedIn or other means to schedule informational interviews and pursue other ways of connecting.

Confirm Before You Apply

Hiring is still taking place, especially in areas that are on the front lines of dealing with the pandemic.  In fields that are insulated from budgetary fluctuation, hiring committees are still meeting, albeit virtually, and starting dates continuing, but likely delayed.  Make sure that before you apply for a position, that you confirm that it is still available.  In government, there has been some move to freeze all hiring.  If you can, make every effort to reach out to the hiring manager before applying.  You might find a position listed as active on an aggregate site, like Indeed, only to learn upon contacting the hiring manager that the position has been pulled for the time being.

Work on Skills and Aptitudes Online

We have all gaps in our experience and training.  And we all have said “If I had the time, I’d take a course in ________ (fill in the blank).” Online learning can assist you in building a range of skills and knowledge:  from YouTube videos to asynchronistic and synchronistic formal courses at community colleges, options abound.   Language courses, tech and social media training, and certification offerings, all can be found online.   Consider taking courses that better position you to deal with financial issues like budget management or grant writing.

Good Habits and Routines: Now is the Time to Make Them Stick

It takes on average 66 days to create a habit.   What good habits dealing with not only career strategies, but with a healthy lifestyle can be started now?   If you are taking more walks, or engaging in yoga online, could you continue that once the crisis is over?  If you are making a practice now of reading journals or attending webinars in your field, then once things are back to the way they were (or almost were), you might have “hardwired” these as professional routines.

Manage Day to Day, But Create a Vision for Six Months Out

There is obviously a high degree of uncertainly right now.   Day-to-day might be devolve into a tedious routine. The conditions for looking for work will be uncertain for a while.  Make plans on a weekly basis.  What should you be doing? Set goals for the week: review your resume or LinkedIn or set up informational interviews or attend professional webinars.   But also think six months out on what you might doing. Create a vision for the future.  What kind of work would you want to do?  Maybe go back to school? (A number of universities including Tulane University are offering special enrollment and tuition discounts for returning Fulbrighters and recently Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).  A common vision among those similarly situated, fosters camaraderie and inspires collaboration.  Share your ideas (consider the implications for your field) and plans with your friends and colleagues and explore what your situation might look like in six months.  This is will give you hope and set goals to focus on.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Take Care of Yourself and Others

Taking care of yourself should be the first priority, but sometimes is the one thing that gets left off the list. This can mean different things to different people.  For some it is physical exercise, but for others, it might be an emotional need.   How are you feeling?  Are you dealing with stress, isolation, or feelings of distress?  Don’t let it settle in but take proactive steps to prevent a deeper sense of despair or unhealthy living.  And of course, check in with others: family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  That sense of offering yourself to others provides you with a sense of meaning, and as a result helps your own emotional state.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

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2 Responses

  1. Racquel

    These are some great tips. I’m one of the Fulbright grantees that had to come back early. In your article, you mentioned that Tulane and other universities are offering special scholarship for grantred affected by COVID-19. What are the other universities?

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