Career Corner: Taking a Mid-Summer Break

It is now mid-summer, and in much of the U.S. we are dealing with a heat wave.  In “normal” times, that would mean vacationing at the beach or scurrying off to the mountains.  But with the coronavirus crisis now five months long, past “normal” activities are not practical or even possible in many instances.  This has resulted in many literally stuck in their houses or apartments with little opportunity to physically engage with others outside those they may be quarantining with.  And many live on their own, so there might be considerable isolation that has come with the crisis.   We are in a time like no other.  What the world looks like a year from now is difficult to predict, but the lingering effects of the crisis will continue, even if a vaccine is found by then.   The ways in which  people work, socialize, network, and even greet one another will likely change significantly.

Taking a break from virtual networking, completing online courses, and tweaking your resume or LinkedIn might be a good thing right now.   Recharging and reflecting are important aspects of career exploration.   There are many “indirect” ways of working toward professional change that can be done in a relaxed and reflective way.   Here are a few suggestions on what you might consider doing right now that might not appear to be career exploration, but in fact help you professionally.

  1. Cozy up with a Good Book

Reading is a time-honored summer ritual.  When considering a  career change, we tend to focus on books on the “how-tos” of how to find work.  These can be helpful, but often can be overwhelming.  Though they provide useful tips, they can also lead to anxiety:  the reader often focuses on the things they aren’t doing, and then rather than reading, gets back into high gear job searching.

For that reason, I would stay away from career books.  If you like non-fiction, find a good fantasy or mystery that takes you somewhere else – and we  all need to be somewhere else right now.  Maybe a book can transport you to the vacation you can’t physically get to right now?  If you don’t read fiction, then look at history or current events (provided they don’t reinforce the uncertainty of the present).  I personally like historical biographies and stories of exploration and discovery.   I also alternate between reading and listening to a book (using Audible).  Both have advantages: reading provides more focus and allows you  to easily re-read something, while listening to a book is good when you are simultaneously mowing your lawn.  And finally, maybe joining a virtual book club might be an option?  Consider a group of individuals that you share interests with,  but also represent diversity in age, background, ethnicity, and education. I did that recently and have really enjoyed the camaraderie.

  1. Take on a Short-term Project or Hobby

The satisfaction of completing a project or success in a hobby is psychological and can be even be physical.   Taking a break from work and looking at things that need fixing around your home, neighborhood, or for other family members can bring about important positivity.  In thinking about a project, make sure it is not overwhelming and doesn’t take too much of your time.   Come the end of the summer, you might be back into job seeking mode and then the project is half completed (and looking at it reminds you of what you haven’t finished).  So make sure it’s something that you can get done in a reasonable period of time and something you can manage with  more limited resources (since you don’t want to be going back and back to the lumber store, or endless buying supplies on Amazon).  Is there a small painting job in your home?  How about cleaning out your books from school (and giving them away)? How about cooking, baking, or starting a small garden?

  1. Reconnect with Others

Even if you can’t experience the intimacy of  a vacation with others, you can still reach out to family, friends, and even colleagues virtually right now (and you can still use the phone!).  I try to reach out to one person per week that I’ve lost contact with to “check in” to see how they are doing.  Beyond the niceties of seeing how they are managing, steer the conversation to other things like reminiscing on past things you’ve done together, future plans (after the crisis), interests you both share, and projects they might be involved in.  Connecting in an informal and generous way will leave you with a sense of having made a small difference and a good feeling.

  1. Do Little or Nothing

It might seem odd that I have to list doing nothing as something you should be doing!  But those who are internationally focused and have engaged in experiences abroad tend to have  high energy and are driven.   They see a world of opportunities but also one of challenges that they want to help work on.   With the pandemic, many are looking to volunteer in healthcare and in COVID-19 tracing.  With social justice issues in the forefront, many are considering how to engage in activism.   But taking a step back  for reflecting and “chilling” is good too (and might recharge you to deal with the important issues yet to come).  Don’t feel guilty right now about taking long walks, binge watching on Netflix, and sleeping in.   Moderation is always the key of course.   Give yourself a break.  In doing so, you will create mental space for when you need to reengage more fully again.

Taking a break from the intensity of a job search is beneficial in the long run.   Looking back on this time, you might regret not taking a step back and enjoying the moment.

—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 davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

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