Her resume was impressive. It told the story of increasing sales leads by 4000%, diverse experiences, and leadership roles culminating in a Vice President title.
She had just been laid off.
She was by far the most qualified and impressive (I’ll repeat it — her resume was that good) person I’ve coached.
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And yet, she had been laid off anyway.
Like many people in a dark, overwhelming time, I want to help people within my scope of influence. So I started offering free coaching to folks who experienced layoffs or furloughs on job searching, salary negotiation, and feminist leadership.
Most of these sessions have been with entry-level or mid-level people not far from my age and lived experience. So I was taken aback when she requested a session.
What could she possibly learn from me?
Hello, imposter syndrome, my old friend.
Millennials and Gen Z have internalized all kinds of nonsense about our worthiness as adults with value. Homeownership, job progression, marriage, family — all the ‘adulting’ markers are harder, sometimes impossible, to attain in the whirlwind of chaos and tragedy that has impacted our generation.
We are told if we work hard enough and love our jobs enough, then maybe we will achieve all of those things that seem to elude so many people in our generation. When we fall short of those markers, we feel inadequate, like we are failing at adulthood. We can feel unworthy.
The truth is, I am worthy. I had plenty to offer this woman at a pivotal crossroads in her life, and fresh eyes on a resume and job search/salary negotiation strategies are always valuable.
A Life Lesson: Your job will never love you back.
We covered all my standard content when our conversation took an unexpectedly powerful turn.
I asked her what her life can teach me. She said that she’s learned the hard way that your job will never love you back. She made an important distinction that stuck with me:
“You can be valued, but you can never be loved by your job.”
Wow, she is so right.
Even people who are extremely valuable to their companies like her will be furloughed or laid off when things get tough.
Sure, there are some recession and pandemic-proof jobs. But even in those cases, people aren’t retained because they are loved but because what they do is still valuable in a hostile economic environment.
We may want to believe our jobs will love us because of all the love-centric messages we receive about employment.
“Do a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Find a workplace that feels like family.”
Maybe you’re like me, especially drawn to workplaces where people have close relationships. Maybe you easily blur the line between loving the people I work with and the organization I work for.
It is hard for true, unconditional love to exist in a power dynamic like employee/employer. We work for an employer, not with them. Job security is not love, but if we are loved, we may be spared the uncertainty and harsh penalties Americans face when our joblessness also means loss of healthcare.
Is it possible that we seek unconditional love because basic security and safety are luxuries our generation has just not been afforded?
Unconditional love — for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health — is not something a job, employer, or organization can ever truly give, even those with the best intentions.
As jobless claims in the United States total 1.3 million this week, this has never been clearer.
Many of these 1.3 million people were the kind of person who brought donuts to the office, who remembered and celebrated birthdays, who had trinkets laid about in their cubicle.
Many of them led strategic teams and projects.
Many of them met their sales goals.
Many of them worked overtime, barely balancing work and family.
Many of them took the initiative, changed organizations, transformed lives.
And yet, they were laid off anyway.
For most, if things were still “for better” as opposed to the “for worse” of a pandemic, their job would have gladly kept them.
Being unemployed or furloughed is a lot of things, but it is not a measure of your worth or how loved you are.
Regardless of your employment status, you are loved, valuable, and worthy. Today, tomorrow, always.
It is time to radically accept that despite our best efforts, no job or employer will ever love us back.
When we accept this, we allow room for us to focus our love on where it matters.
Focus your love on your community.
Focus your love on social justice and changing the world.
Focus your love on yourself. (You deserve it.)
Focus your love on your team.
Focus your love on projects, whatever lights you up, whatever gets you out of bed.
Focus your love on your purpose, the many callings each of us has within us.
My love belongs to me, my family, my commitment to justice, and my purpose. Many jobs have played a role in living in alignment with my purpose and values, but they are a means to an end, not the end.
My job will never love me back, but I always will.
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