I started graduate school in a big pile of shame. I blamed myself for a lot of the bad things that were happening around me. At the core of that, I was afraid that I was not good enough; that I was not good enough for the field of student affairs, and that I was not good enough to make the impact on students that I wanted. Good ole’ imposter syndrome got the best of me. But, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor in my life recommend I read some Brené Brown. And, that’s when everything changed for me.
Brené Brown has become an inspiration to me and a guiding light to my work. I found that Brené was able to put into words what I was feeling, and she taught me how to combat that. I strongly value inclusion, vulnerability, empathy, authenticity, and wellness. Through her research, Brown eloquently makes the connections between these values and illustrates how powerful they can be for society.
Brené Brown has helped me navigate the past year and a half of graduate school, but as I have started my job search process, I have found myself returning to her work. Shame is real during job search. It is so incredibly easy to get caught up in the “I’m never going to get a job” thoughts. But, Brené has helped me through it, and I want to share that with others who may be feeling shame through their job search. Here are some of the ways Brené has prepared me for job search:
Owning Our Story
“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brené Brown
My story has not always been sunshine and flowers. And, it’s scary to think about employers seeing my struggles and weaknesses. But, I want to practice being brave in owning all of that. When I get hired into a position, I want to bring my whole self with me, and that means my story. My hope is to find an institution that will create the space for me to continually own my story and for my colleagues and students to also own theirs. When we own our story, it becomes easier to love ourselves. And, we cannot love others if we do not first love ourselves. How can I expect an employer to “love” me if I don’t even love myself? How can I expect students to trust me and to feel safe with me if I do not respect myself? How can I ever expect to learn and grow as a person and professional if I am not willing to own my growth areas? Owning our story is never easy, but that is why it is the bravest thing we will ever do.
There’s Power in Empathy
“Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’” (Brown, 2012, p. 81).
Brown (2012) tells us that empathy is the “ladder out of the shame hole” (p. 81). It’s easier for me to empathize with others than myself. I cannot forget to give myself grace, though, through this process. I will make mistakes. I will have interviews that do not go so well. But, I cannot stay in those “not so well” moments. I cannot shame myself because of something that does not go as planned. It’s okay to practice empathy with myself. As well, it’s okay to show empathy to those who are going through the job search process with me. Everyone’s job search looks different, and I don’t want to make any assumptions otherwise. But, I think it’s okay to hold space and listen when our peers express hardships in their own job searches.
Embrace Our Vulnerabilities
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” (Brown, 2012, p. 37).
It’s okay to not know something. It’s okay to not know the answer to an interview question. It’s okay to ask for help through the job search process. And, I have to be okay with admitting all of those things out loud. I want to show employers that I value vulnerability by actively portraying it in how I present myself to others. I won’t have all the answers right now. That’s part of the beauty of continual growth and development; I literally learn something new everyday. I really believe it’s okay to show my vulnerabilities to potential employers, because, as Brené tells us, they are never weaknesses.
“But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope” (Brown, 2012, p. 126).
It can be hard to practice gratitude during such high stress times like job search, but I believe practicing gratitude is an excellent mindfulness technique. It can truly help us stay in the moment and be where our feet are. It can be extra hard to practice gratitude when an interview doesn’t go as well or I never hear back from an institution at which I was really hoping to work. I must be willing to be grateful for the difficult times, because my failures bring teachable moments. Carol Dweck encourages us to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Practicing gratitude can aid in always looking for the positive and always looking for what a situation has to teach us. Though it may be hard to see right now, I know that one day I will be grateful for this job search process.
Shame Does Us No Good
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Brown, 2012, p. 69).
Shame cannot survive when it’s met with empathy. And Brené teaches us that vulnerability is the birthplace of empathy. When I’m willing to be vulnerable to the idea of mistakes, it becomes easier to empathize with myself when they occur. When I empathize with myself during difficult times, the shame monster has no chance against me. Jack Kornfield once said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Dr. Kristen Neff stated, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” Job searching won’t be easy. I’m not sure it does me any good to pretend it will be, but I have to be willing to give myself the grace through it. I will find my home. I will find the institution where I belong. In the mean time, I am going to keep reminding myself that I am worthy of love and belonging.
I am Enough, You Are Enough, We Are Enough
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s about going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging” (Brown, 2010, p. 125).
I am enough. You are enough. We are all enough. If there’s anything that I hope you take from this post, it’s that you are indeed enough as the person you truly are. With that said, I know that I don’t necessarily get to tell anyone how they should feel. I don’t want to pretend that practicing authenticity is always easy or even safe for everyone. I can only speak my own story, and I cannot speak for anyone else. I have to be willing to recognize that I hold privileges that make it easier for me to be vulnerable than it may be for others. What I have written today may not be an option for you, but I do hope that you (as the reader) know that I believe that you are enough and you do matter.
Getting a job does not define me as a person. I may not be the first person to get a job. I may not even be the second or third, and I have to be okay with that. The time frame in which I find a job doesn't define who I am and what strengths I bring to the table. I will find a job, eventually. I know I will. I believe I will. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will come. And, in the mean time, I will continue being patient with the process and with myself, and keep remembering all that Brené has taught me.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: AVERY.