On the job hunt? How to manage pressure from loved ones

Feb 17, 2021

8 mins

On the job hunt? How to manage pressure from loved ones
Cécile Pichon

Psychologue du travail, coach et consultante RH

“Did you call back the recruiter I told you about?” “You know, you’ve been looking for a while now, maybe you shouldn’t be so picky.” Has looking for a job put your nerves to the test already but everyone still has something to say? Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the unsolicited advice you are getting? When trying to find a job, you can often be bombarded with questions and suggestions from the people close to you. They may have the best of intentions, but it still puts pressure on you. So, how do you manage the situation?

Why are our loved ones putting pressure on us?

Our loved ones care about us and that’s good to know. The problem is that, while their concern is commendable, when it isn’t freaking us out completely it can stir up feelings of worry, fear, confusion.

‘I just want to help!’

Our parents, friends, and partners care about us. They would love to see us get out of this awkward transitional time as a job seeker. They can’t help sharing their advice––or even placing blame––hoping, one way or another, to have an impact on the situation. Claire, a young graduate looking for work in the social sector, had a difficult experience with this: “It all starts off with good intentions: our loved ones want to save us time by giving their advice. But they are not in our shoes, nor in our heads. They don’t know what the employment situation is like in our sector and don’t have the power to find us a job with a snap of their fingers.” What’s worse is that their concern can make you doubt your ability to get by on your own.

Different concepts of happiness and professional success

Franck, an engineer who is in the process of changing careers, said: “Our loved ones have a certain idea of happiness in mind, of what has made them happy, and they don’t understand that our path is not necessarily the same as theirs.” The engineer left his last job as he was suffering from burnout and has been looking for a position in a new field. But his action has caused concern and incomprehension among his loved ones. “What’s important to them is that you have your engineering degree, even if it doesn’t correspond to what you enjoy,” he said. It is difficult to explain to them within this context that he’s ready to change jobs after all the energy he spent studying the first time around.

That time when you are looking for a job can be difficult as you struggle with conflicted loyalties or the fear of disappointing those close to you. How do you cope with staying at home while your partner is working full-time? How can you let yourself take time off to think about things when your parents have never taken a break themselves? How can you consider changing careers when your parents put so much energy into financing your studies? The pressure is even greater for young people, like Claire, who are still living with their parents while trying to find a job: “When they come home from work, I’m in the living room, I’ve made dinner. They ask me how my day went and if I’ve made any progress. I don’t know! Most of the time, I don’t have an answer.”

The many reactions to unemployment

After experiencing burnout, Franck realized that he needed a break to rebuild his confidence and prepare for his future. That did not go down well. “I was told, ‘You’re taking advantage of unemployment benefits. As if some people truly needed unemployment and I was just ‘taking advantage’ of the system,” he said. Unemployment means different things to different people, depending on the person, their environment, and their generation, but it isn’t uncommon for your loved ones to have a negative view of it. “My parents have difficulty accepting that their son may not be in a place where he’s able to work,” he said. “For my father, taking time to rest and reflect has never been conceivable. For him, I’m a freeloader, far from the role model he had imagined me to be.”

Friends also tend to have something to say and reactions can vary. Claire’s said they thought she could be in charge of planning weekends and evenings out because she is “on holiday” and Franck’s didn’t understand that he was taking his time to find his way. Franck said: I felt a total lack of understanding from my friends about the time I was taking to think about my projects and, strangely enough, this lack of understanding was sometimes accompanied by a certain jealousy.” In the end, job seekers may feel isolated, regardless of the ever-present pressure from their loved ones.

A real lack of neutrality

Even if they want to help you, the people around you lack objectivity. And this is normal: your situation affects their lives too. Within a relationship, for example, your job search can disrupt both of your daily lives, resulting in a loss of income that has an impact on the entire household. Your other half may want to have a say in the matter and put a certain amount of pressure on you: “When I ended up unemployed, I had to reassure my loved ones,” said Franck. “At the same time, in my former professional life, there were already so many people to satisfy that I ended up burning out. All this pressure meant that after a while, there was no more mental space for myself or for listening to my own needs.” Franck also took advantage of his break to begin working with a psychologist.

Feeling defeated?

Why are other people’s little comments and words of advice so unsettling? Looking for a job lowers your self-esteem, especially when you’ve been at it for a while. You are in a vulnerable position: the expressions of concern and counsel from your loved ones end up weighing on you as much as their criticism. The result? Your self-esteem is negatively affected and you feel guilty. But is it possible to ignore their views and opinions? Perhaps, but it’s not easy as they’re the ones who have been helping you to get back on track since your childhood, according to Christophe André and François Lelord, the French psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and business consultants, in their book entitled L’Estime de Soi (Self-Esteem). “Parents remain the most important providers of love, it is still their opinions that count in the fields of behavioral conformity and academic success,” they write. And while you don’t have to take your parents’ opinions at face value, a little approval from them wouldn’t hurt. This is perhaps the hardest thing for them to understand.

Beneath the pressure from our loved ones hide their fears

Why do other people put such pressure on you? Sometimes, it is a conscious choice: they want to influence your behavior and decisions so that they match their expectations and worldview. But most of the time, the pressure they put on you is a result of the subconscious fears and anxieties weighing on them:

  • Fear of job insecurity: Many people are afraid of finding themselves in financial difficulty one day. Atypical career paths, periods of unemployment or unstable jobs frighten them and they want to protect you from that insecurity. “You are being too picky, there’s an economic crisis, a job is a job.” Claire has heard that sentiment many times since she began her search eight months ago.
  • Fear of social isolation and marginalization: Being unemployed can bring up fears in your loved ones––as well in yourself––of not fitting in socially or of creating distance between you and all those around you who are employed. In addition to this fear of marginalization, a certain shame may emerge: “My daughter is out of work”, or “My partner is unemployed”, is not always easy to say or to hear.

Be aware that their fears are not yours

Are they worried about you? Their fears are not yours, though they may mirror yours because what your loved ones are afraid of may be something you fear for yourself. Their fears also reinforce yours, multiplying the effect tenfold in the process. And if they don’t trust you to get yourself out of it, what better way to make you doubt yourself? You may then be tempted to escape from them for a while or to stop picking up the phone. So how should you deal with this situation?

Our advice to relieve the pressure

  1. Separate your fears from other people’s
    Take the time to identify your fears and those that are coming from others. Their feelings are not yours. You already have enough to do with your own self-questioning. Maybe some of the fears you feel are related to the way other people see you? Fear of not being good enough, fear of disappointing others, fear of breaking familial and social rules? “Once I identified the sources of that pressure, I managed to take a step back,” said Franck, adding that his therapist was of great help to him.

  2. Stay focused on your goals and projects
    The time you spend looking for a job can make you feel vulnerable and suggestible. It’s better to be clear about your objectives so that you don’t let your emotions and pressure from your loved ones get the better of you. “After a few months of being unemployed, I completely panicked because I wasn’t getting anywhere,” said Claire. “I couldn’t stand being dependent on my parents anymore. I applied everywhere, but the jobs were depressing and not at all what I wanted.” Despite the pressure, Claire turned down an offer of a position. While staying the course doesn’t mean ignoring other people’s advice, you mustn’t forget that you’re in charge**. Take the time to take stock of what you’re looking for and what you think is important in order to stay focused on your search.

  3. Listen and express your needs
    It could be worth reaching out to others to express your needs, rather than being subjected to their speeches. If talking about your job search is ruining your self-esteem, you can say that for the time being you would rather not talk about it. Then say: “What would help me would be. . .” or “I’d like to ask your opinion on…” This technique proved useful to Claire over the holiday season: “I didn’t want to speak about my job search, simply because I thought I was doing better on my own. To make sure I didn’t get upset, I anticipated [what might happen]. I told them this and they left me alone.”

  4. Reassure your loved ones by communicating with them
    Communicating with your loved ones and keeping them informed of your progress in searching for a job can also help you to regain control. Since they’re worried, show them that you understand their fears while expressing that you don’t need them to burden you with those fears. Reassuring them may seem a bit contradictory given that you are the one who is unemployed, but good communication can help you out. Talking about it is the secret. I had some big discussions with my family and friends and I set them straight,” said Franck. “You can’t blame someone for not understanding where you are with things if you haven’t told them. My parents, for example, were holding onto the little I was giving them. Now that I’m giving them more, they don’t have as many questions.”

  5. Prepare your answers
    “How’s your job search going?” The question can be frightening for some people. Franck got caught in this trap at first: “Once, someone asked me that question and I was totally caught off-guard. Since then, I’ve prepared a little speech, which has worked pretty well so far.” Preparing what you’re going to say can help you to keep the people who are worried about you informed factually. Having a ready answer should help you to get through gatherings with friends and family with peace of mind. For example, you can list what you’re looking for, the latest updates, and what you need. If you don’t yet know exactly what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to say, “I’m thinking about this kind of job”, it may open doors and help you move forward in your thought process.

  6. Trust yourself, you have the solutions
    Despite everything your loved ones may tell you, nothing will happen without you. You are the one who knows what’s good for you and unlike them, you are 100% dedicated to your situation, since you get up every morning thinking about how you will find a job. Focusing on your inner voice, rather than the noise of the crowd, can help you to put everything into place.

While you don’t have any control over the pressure coming from your loved ones, you can choose the importance you want to give to it. Being able to identify and understand it, alone or with the help of someone else, can help you to take a step back and feel freer. Being clear and honest with yourself while communicating with others is a good way to create a sense of inner peace that nothing, or almost nothing, can shake.

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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