The adage, “You can achieve anything you set your mind to,” is a cruel lie.
You most likely heard this phrase when you were young, your future was wide open, and your world was filled with possibilities. Due to your youthful, hopeful, and irrational perspective, you likely interpreted this phrase as referring to karmic or cosmic rewards, thus creating the false belief that if you wish for something, work hard enough, and want it badly enough, it’ll somehow materialize.
That’s not how the world works.
Wishing, wanting, and working towards will increase your chances of success, but they don’t guarantee it. Searching for a job emphasizes “not a guarantee” while humbling you.
Many job seekers cling too tightly to their definition of career success, likely shaped by their environment. During our youth, many things we wished for were long shots, such as becoming an actor, filmmaker, writer, rockstar, or CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
It’s common for a high school student to dream of becoming a professional athlete and devote enormous physical and mental energy to trying to achieve their dream without considering their odds of success; after all, they’re young. Maybe you were such a student.
Less than 0.1% of players—one out of every 1,000—participating in organized hockey in North America make it to the NHL. Statistically, only 3 in 10,000, .03 percent, male high school basketball players will join an NBA Roster.
Having experienced high school, you know how much the captain of the football team identity derives from being “the captain of the football team.” When he doesn’t make it to the NFL, what becomes of his identity?
As adults, we identify with our job title and employer. “You’re a Senior Technical Program Manager at Google… impressive.” Then, when you’re part of a layoff, your identity is shattered.
A job search not going as “hoped”—rarely does a job search go “as hoped”—hurts. You know what’s even worse? Putting all your blood, sweat, tears and time into trying to obtain a job, career, or position at your dream company that isn’t meant to be. Even positions you feel should be within your reach—you believe you have the skills, experience, and qualifications—may be a long shot, especially in today’s hyper-competitive job market.
As I age, I’m mindful that there’s always someone younger and hungrier who wants my position. Then there’s AI, advancing exponentially daily, and low-cost overseas labour nipping at my heels. Never underestimate whom and what you’re competing against. Your qualifications and skills aren’t as unique as you think.
Moreover, success is influenced by a complex interplay of internal and external factors.
I see it all the time: job seekers refusing to accept that no matter how much they want a particular job or how hard they work or network, it’s simply not meant to be. The sooner you come to the realization you’re not going to be a rockstar, make a living as a social media influencer, that you don’t have what it takes to lead and manage people—something more people need to come to terms with—then the sooner you can start reframing what “success” means to you.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher.
Based on my observations, I’ve come to realize that trying to portray ourselves as we wish to be perceived and identified as (e.g., financially successful, confident, a leader) is what trips us up. I find it fascinating how married some people get to their idealized image of themselves and then blame everyone when it doesn’t materialize, instead of asking themselves, Do I have what it takes? Do I really want what I’m aiming for?
My oldest friend’s entire working life, still ongoing, has been washing cars for a car rental company. He’s one of the happiest people I know. His inner peace is Zen-like because he accepts who he is and is thankful for what he has rather than focusing on, as most people do, what he doesn’t have.
As I see it, job searching, your chance to reinvent yourself, is hard enough without chasing what’s not in your cards. We all know someone, perhaps yourself, who has been pursuing a career goal, in various degrees of effort, for quite some time without success, hitting their head against the proverbial brick wall.
More than once, I’ve given a job seeker, after listening to their job search frustrations and how much time and effort they devote to their search, the advice, “I think you’d be happier pursuing a different goal that better fits you and your life.”
Why spend your life feeling like a failure and your life’s on hold while trying to attain an unattainable career status? There’s no better time than when you’re job searching to explore employment options that fit your inherent capabilities better.
Acknowledging your limitations (READ: your probability of success) and accordingly adjusting your job search is the best job search hack I know.