Matthew Fox, the acclaimed theologian and activist who wrote The Reinvention of Work, says, “Our work is meant to be a grace. It’s a blessing and a gift, even a surprise and an act of unconditional love, toward the community…” It’s grand and a little gushy, but deep down inside, even for non-sentimental jobseekers, it rings true.

Millennials and Gen Zers, especially, have shown that they do not want a small life or a small job. They want to work in a place where their labor serves the community and where they can experience a sense of grace and purpose.

To land a job like that, to be noticed among the many, some special spark in you must burn brightly. Every single person out there has such a spark. It’s made up of hope, and talents, and the desire to make an impact.

But just like in building a physical fire, there’s a critical ingredient that it needs to grow: space.


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Space, through its oxygenating power, is what feeds and fuels the flame, or drive, necessary to do good work or to land a job you’re passionate about. Too often, job seekers get caught up in the anxiety of the hunt and forget to nurture their spark. They forget to take a minute to think, or to breathe, reflect and recover from the stress of finding meaningful work.

Without space, the mental stamina involved in this type of search can be overwhelming. Under stress, some job candidates may end up choosing a role they don’t really want, submitting half-hazard applications that aren’t unique enough to stand out, or burn out before even entering the interview process.

If you’re currently searching for a job and are feeling the heaviness of the hunt dragging you down, the following strategies may help keep you grounded and will allow you to take the space you need to make smarter decisions about your future.

1) Visualize how you show up — not a specific outcome.

When my dear friend George, who leans more than a bit hippie, encouraged me to use visualization, I fought it. At the time, I honestly did not believe that conjuring an image in your mind could create an outcome in experience or behavior.

But a few months before the largest speaking event of my life — one where I would be presenting to half a million people — I started to get unusually nervous. So, I tried it. For weeks leading up to the event I created space for myself to envision a good experience. In the in-between moments of the day or while doing simple activities (like washing the dishes or waiting to pick up my kids at school) I imagined myself, over and over and in detail, not achieving any specific result, but simply bringing the best version of my own spark to the stage: calm, powerful, and joyful in the moment.

I saw myself confidently waiting for my name to be read by the announcer, smiling as I engaged with the audience, and walking off grateful for the experience. I crafted this image down to the shoes I would wear. Later, when I finally stepped onto that stage, I was entering a movie of myself that I’d already watched.

Try this kind of visualization practice anytime you’re preparing for a high-stakes situation. It could be a job interview, your first day of work, or even how you want to come across with new colleagues after being hired. Designing the way you want to show up, and not what prize you’ll get for doing so, will help clear away some of the head fog driven by your stress, and restore a sense of calm and clarity that allows your spark to shine through.

2) Make an appointment with worry.

To safeguard your wellbeing during any hard time, and keep your spark alive, you must learn to separate your emotions from your worries.

Allow yourself to fully experience your emotions in real time and try to listen to the important messages they are telling you. This may feel particularly challenging with difficult emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. When they arrive, try to get somewhere quiet and acknowledge them. If you want to move past difficult emotions, as research tells us, you need to feel them — not bury them alive.

For example, if you are feeling upset that you didn’t get called in for the second round of a job interview, refrain from activities that mute the feeling, like mindlessly scrolling through social media or binging on comfort food. Instead, sit down and let disappointment arrive. Don’t be afraid to sit with it. It may be hard and you may feel sad, but, after a while, that feeling will subside. Feeling don’t last forever unless we pretend they’re not there.

Worry is different. Unlike a feeling that comes and goes, worry is a psychological state. We tend to roll it around like a hard toffee in our cheek. It’s sticky and requires an equal amount of space and attention. You need to find ways to both feel it and to contain it (without ignoring it). If you avoid your worries, they will slowly, but surely, weigh on you. On the other hand, if you give them too much headspace, they can bloom into rumination, disrupt your focus, and make you less effective in your performance. That’s why it’s so important to teach yourself how to set worry aside and clear your mind, even temporarily.

An effective technique is to make an appointment with worry. When something is pulling at your mind (such as your employment situation), schedule that heavy thought and visit it only once per day at a designated time. Tell yourself, “Each day at 9 a.m. I will give this subject five minutes of my complete focus.” Then, when the subject occurs to you at other times, as it will, remind yourself it’s already scheduled, and try to move on.

3) Give yourself a minute to think.

If you are under a great deal of financial pressure, accepting (nearly) any job — and tabling your search for a job with greater purpose — may be the right choice for you, at least right now. Do what you need to do to feed yourself or your loved ones. You can find a way to grow and contribute in almost any role.

That said, the pressures around a job search causes many folks who do have other options to (either desperately or excitedly) to say “yes” without a moment’s pause. It can cause people to apply to every job without considering whether they’d actually enjoy it. If you have the leeway to do so and won’t be putting yourself at risk, try to give yourself some time — both before applying to a role and when considering an offer.

Get quiet and imagine yourself working at the company you’ve applied to (or are considering applying to). If you do get an offer, as a rule of thumb, sit with it for at least 24 hours. This will give you enough space to move past your most immediate instinct, and consider what choice is going to most fulfill you and your long-term goals.

The right role to step into can take many weeks and months to materialize and the higher up you get, the longer the process. The building tension of a quiet inbox and a non-ringing phone is not a pain to minimize, so try your best to accept what is and nurture your spark with plenty of restful space in your schedule, loving self-talk and abundant self-care. In this state you will be more purposeful about every decision you make. Your time is precious, and you deserve to be sure about your decision around where to spend it.

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Juliet Funt is a leading voice on optimizing employee vitality and efficiency, and founder of the Juliet Funt Group. She’s the author of A Minute to Think, nominated for the Next Big Idea Club curated by Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, and Dan Pink.

c.2020 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.

This HBR article was legally licensed through AdvisorStream.

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