“Are you a warrior?” is a question I’ve been asking myself at least once a week for the past year. It’s the theme of a workout I started that includes close to 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 50 plyometric lunges and 4 x 400-meter sprints. As you can imagine it’s a pretty challenging workout that usually takes every ounce of physical and mental strength to finish.
During this workout, there’s almost always a point where fatigue starts setting in and the remainder of the workout feels overwhelming, similar to the “wall” runners experience during very long runs. Usually this happens before the third (out of four) rounds. I’m only halfway finished, I’m exhausted and maybe the most troubling aspect is that I start to question whether I have the strength and will to finish. I know that if I don’t overcome this self-doubt, I won’t be able to complete my workout. What’s worse is that if I don’t finish it, I’ll not only question whether I can finish it the next time but start to feel the self-doubt creep into other aspects of my life: career, family and relationships.
Self-doubt is a powerful force and can originate from anywhere.
The Specter of Failure
Around the time I created this workout routine, my job was eliminated as part of a global reorganization. After working professionally for 15 years, this hit me like a heavyweight punch. I was completely caught off-guard and even though I knew about the reorganization, I never considered it would impact me. I was making a big impact on the company, accomplishing a lot and received consistent positive feedback so naturally I was shocked when it actually happened.
Immediately after the news, I went through a range of emotions: confusion, anger, doubt and panic. When the surprise wore off and the reality sunk in, I realized I was unemployed; something unfathomable at the time. So as a natural problem solver I began by studying what had gone wrong. I started asking myself what I could’ve done differently and ended up spending a lot of time in this vicious cycle of questions that had no answers. Did I say something wrong? Was I working on the right priorities? Should I have done something differently? I was searching for clues as to why this happened but what I didn’t realize at the time was there were none and, even if there were answers to be found somewhere, I’d never know. Ultimately, I had to accept that the organization simply eliminated a position to try and better streamline its operations. And most importantly, I had to think of the big picture: this is something that happens to many people all the time.
Even with that in mind, it was hard to not feel like a failure and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that only I – in my own head – was the only one who felt this way. My wife, friends and colleagues were extremely supportive and talked about my accomplishments with admiration. It turned out that I perceived myself as a failure because I was unemployed. But that perception was holding me back from recognizing all the accomplishments and achievements I’ve had throughout my career.
The Art of Now
This workout and mantra helped challenge me to keep going, despite the obstacles. Through the process of rebuilding my confidence and seeing each setback as a new opportunity, I also learned a few valuable lessons. The first being the importance of living in the moment. Though it can sound like a cliché, I found there’s really a lot of value in it. There’s simply nothing you or I can do to change the past. For me, I had to accept there was no going back to my job and the earlier I did that the better chance I had at finding a new and better opportunity.
Once I started trying to live in the moment, I began to realize all the good I have in my life: my health, my loving family, my amazing friends and colleagues. I realized I had an opportunity to pursue my interests outside of work. Over the summer, not only did I start the “warrior” workout, I also started a cycling club in my community, volunteered at the local Arboretum, began getting through my extensive list of books to read and spent significantly more quality time with my wife and children.
When I focused on the moment and began to recognize the joys in my life I realized that it‘s not my job that defines who I am, it’s the way I treat others and the way I treat myself. I simply had to squash the idea that I was a success or a failure because of my employment status. And if it’s an injustice to be rude to someone or treat them poorly it’s the same injustice when you do it to yourself. Early on, the self-doubt and feelings of failure were holding me back from my true potential and stifled my ability to find a better opportunity and truly appreciate the gifts in my life.
You Are Not Alone
The power of my own personal and professional network was also crucial during this time. People were extremely helpful in doing what they can, whether it’s searching for opportunities within their organization or making introductions to people that might be able to help. As a result, I’ve been able to not only expand my network and spend quality time catching up with my colleagues but landed several job interviews.
One of the biggest surprises while networking was finding out how many people have similar stories to mine. And it happens at all levels regardless of your performance level or years of experience. I talked to a few current Chief Financial Officers who discussed their gaps in employment and shrugged it off as if it’s a commonality of anyone’s career. And when I accepted that my career path was no longer a straight line (whatever that meant) I was able to open myself up to new possibilities.
Additionally, there are thousands (and at the time of this post, sadly, millions) of people currently unemployed who are actively looking for work. Most, like me, are seeking advice and just looking for a foot in the door. During the early stages of my search, I didn’t have the confidence to realize how much I could help others but once I started breaking down my own barriers, I was able to help others. And sometime that’s all that people need: just to know that someone if out there for them.
In the Face of Difficulty
During my search I would have times when everything seemed to either be going really well or really poorly. There was simply no in between. I would make it all the way to the final rounds of interviews and then not get selected, at which point I’d restart the cycle of self-doubt and worry. I’d start thinking the same questions I had when my job was eliminated. Did I make a mistake? Could I have answered a question better?
What I was neglecting to see is the success in my search even though I didn’t land every job. Not only was I getting selected to interview, in most cases I was making the final rounds of interviews. For the cases I didn’t get selected there was a reason why and it wasn’t because I did something poorly. It just wasn’t the right fit.
Though the news of not getting selected for an opportunity is difficult, I knew that I needed to continue to move forward. The only way to get a great job was to persevere and keep trying. So, I decided to control the things I could like networking and constantly looking at new opportunities even though I might have some that seemed like they were going well. I leveraged my network once again to dramatically improve my resume and online presence. I relied on help from people who offered and didn’t shy away from meeting someone new even though they might not have had a job opportunity at the moment. Most importantly, I had to get out of my comfort zone.
What Lies Ahead
I’m now fortunate to have found a new opportunity and the “warrior” workout was my constant reminder to persevere through physical and mental obstacles because the reward at the end is always worth it. It’s this same mentality that I used during my job search and eventually it was successful. When I started to change my outlook and maintain unwavering focus and commitment, I found I could get through any obstacle.
On Monday, January 6th, 2020 I woke up on a cold, wintry morning and got ready for work for the first time in a few months. I caught the 7:08 AM train downtown and walked to my new office where I was greeted by my new coworkers and friends. I was excited to start my new job and I wouldn’t have made it here without the support, kindness and generosity of my friends and family or the “warrior” mentality.
Outstanding article, Josh. Thank you for sharing your story!