By Thaimi Fina
As a mental health counseling student (graduating in 1 month, yay!) and a practicing therapist, people frequently turn to me for advice about a wide range of normal human experiences: How do I deal with a break up?  How do I stop myself from worrying all the time?  Why can’t I get motivated enough to reach my goals?  While I certainly don’t hold the magical answers to these complex questions, I believe there is a common set of strategies that we can all use to better cope with life’s challenges.  I will identify and explore some of these strategies as they relate to an issue that many recent UM graduates might be facing: How do I cope with the difficulty of finding a job in today’s competitive market?  In particular, I will focus on the mental health drain (or career blues, if you will) that most people experience during this challenging time.

Most of my clients who struggle with finding the motivation to accomplish their goals, report feeling like the task seems too lofty to even start.  Envisioning the ultimate task of “getting a job” can seem like an intimidating and daunting goal to pursue.  Most people become so afraid of failing at this significant task, that they avoid beginning their job search altogether (i.e. “I’ll just start next week, as soon as I finish this season of How I Met Your Mother.”)  Rather than scaring yourself into an unproductive rut, I recommend using the technique of “graded tasks.”  Break down your big goal of finding a job into smaller, more attainable ones.  For instance, rather than saying “Today, I will find a job,” say “Today, I will log onto and identify 3 jobs that interest me” or “Today I will review my resume.”  By setting goals you can realistically attain in a day, you will be more likely to actually accomplish them and be one step closer to reaching your final goal.  This technique will also help you to feel more self-confident and productive in your job search.
Next, be your own pep squad.  Therapists typically help clients set up a framework of rewards and punishments to help them shape their own behavior.  This sounds fancy, but I guarantee that it is simple enough to do yourself!  As you set your daily, small and attainable goals, decide what small reward you will give yourself for accomplishing each one.  You can also set larger rewards for greater accomplishments.  For instance, maybe if you complete your daily goal, you decide to reward yourself with a trip to the movies with friends.  Perhaps, if you complete a week’s worth of daily goals, you will reward yourself with a weekend road trip to your favorite getaway.  Be sure to set rewards that are unique to your interests and enticing enough to truly motivate you.  It might also help to inform others of your goal-and-reward system to help keep yourself accountable (i.e. this can include roommates, friends, and parents).  The process of finding a job is difficult because applicants frequently receive little to no response from employers.  This means there is hardly any external reward for your efforts.  Don’t let this lack of recognition get you down!  Be your own biggest fan and congratulate yourself for sending off that resume anyway!
This brings me to my next point: the power of your own thoughts.  Henry Ford wrote, “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”  The way you think about things can turn your mind into your greatest ally or your worst enemy.  The good news is you hold all the power here.  Constantly worrying (i.e. “why haven’t I found a job already?) and using negative self-talk (i.e. “I’m not accomplished enough; why would anyone hire me?”) can induce a depressed mood and a lack of desire to do anything.  Transform those unproductive worries into proactive behaviors!  Rather than spending 10 minutes worrying about how you’ll never find a job, use those 10 minutes to call the Toppel Career Center and set up an appointment with a Career Advisor.  I guarantee that the worries will not improve your ability to find a job, but meeting with an Advisor might.  Similarly, turn those self-deprecating thoughts into positive affirmations!  “I AM accomplished enough; I have worked really hard to develop some great skills!”  From my experience working with clients, I know this is easier said than done.  So, I encourage you to use the Automatic Thought Record provided below to become more proficient at actively countering those unproductive thoughts. 
Finally, don’t go at this alone.  Build yourself a strong support system of people who love and care about you to keep you motivated every step of the way.  This network can include a parent, relative, significant other, close friend, or mentor.  Spending time with people who make you feel good can help counter some of those career blues and leave you feeling less isolated.  Also, consider joining or creating a support group for yourself and fellow peers who may also be struggling to find a job.  Here at Toppel, we hold a job search group entitled Canes Career Club, which brings UM alumni together to share tips and support with one another as they strive to find employment.  If you’re not local, round up some of your friends who may also be looking for a job or contact your local alumni association and schedule your own biweekly or monthly career club.  Being surrounded by others who are also enduring a similar challenge can help to normalize your experience and keep each other motivated and accountable.
Even for the most competitive of candidates, trying to find a job is no easy task in today’s market.  The job search can leave you feeling disheartened and unmotivated.  Hopefully, employing these tips in your daily life will help you to improve your mental health and well-being during this challenging time.  Feel like you need more guidance?  Contact the Toppel Career Center (305-284-5451) to schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor and review your professional documents while strategizing effective job search techniques.  If you are a current student, you can also contact the UM Counseling Center (305 284-5511) to schedule an appointment and begin your journey towards regaining motivation and improving your mental health.  If you are a recent graduate, research local community mental health centers or private practices in your area for additional counseling support.  Best of luck and keep your head up, job seekers!