How to keep building yourself (when you don't think you can)

Updated: Sep 17



Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

– John Wooden





A lot of us have been there. You just moved to a new country with brand new excellent opportunities and new places to explore and new people to meet. Very exciting. Until one day you realized that you can’t be your professional individual just yet. It could be that your working permit isn’t ready, or you have to wait for your change of status, or the government isn’t quite sure about the relationship between your country and theirs (so that they don’t feel comfortable with you working; does it make sense? No. Can we do anything about it? Probably not much). A month passed by, then 2 months, then 3 months, suddenly a year. Maybe 2 year. You are anxious. You feel depressed. You feel overwhelmed. You think that your future is doomed. Or is it really?



Here are some thoughts on how to keep growing personally while you don’t think you can, in this time of no assurance:


Think Long Term -- Today Doesn’t Necessarily Define Your Whole Future


For working women, having no day job or not even a freelance occupation is a true nightmare. Some of us were used to have 9-5 job with a lot of overtime, dance classes 2-3 times a week, kickboxing classes twice a week, language lessons, and of course all the social activities with friends, colleagues, and family. You were the busy queen! Now suddenly you have 24/7 no restraining activities but staying at home and do the cleaning and cooking. What? This is not how your life was supposed to be. Everyone around you will be saying, “enjoy it while it lasts,” or “you’re lucky to have such opportunities,” but you cannot be hating it more. Eventually, you start to think that your life is over. You’ll have no future career but being a housewife and spending your life taking care of your kids and home and -- if you’re lucky -- your pets. Sounds familiar?



"Realizing that actually one or two or even three years of career gap isn’t the end of everything is very important to survive in this overwhelming situation"

The fact is, we don’t have to be stuck there. Realizing that actually one or two or even three years of career gap isn’t the end of everything is very important to survive in this overwhelming situation, as long as there is an explanation for it. First of all, statistics: “Some 9.8% of applicants with two-year gaps in their résumés were contacted by employers for follow-up interviews. That response rate is only slightly lower than the 11.3% of applicants with no career gaps who were asked to interview, according to the ResumeGo study, which tracked employers’ responses to simulated applications” (Wall Street Journal, 2019). We have to understand that it is not our choice to be in this situation. But of course, in the meantime you have to actually do something about your life. Slacking around in your pyjamas everyday in three years will not help you explaining your gap year for your future employers or clients.


Think about your long term plan: How do you imagine yourself living in 10 or 20 years? Are you going to work for a non-profit company in a developing country? Are you going to be a professional explaining your newest design to your clients? Is there anything you can do -- even baby steps -- to help you reaching that long term goal? It could be networking (which nowadays can even be done online), joining volunteering activities (where you can also network), learning languages of the country of your dreams or a brand new language (Mandarin is currently in high demand), learning software, updating your portfolio, working on your certificate or license, or maybe write that novel that’s been hanging out in your mind for years. Anything, even a small one, that can make a difference for your future. With the power of magnificent internet, there is no excuse for not doing anything in your life. This is exactly the time when you can actually do it. So do it! By the time you are back in the working pool, you’ll have much less opportunity to do what you can do now. And when the time comes, you’ll have different qualities than any other people applying for the same career you want to have. Who knows, maybe in the future that skill is totally what the company of your dreams is looking for! Yay!


Change your mindset -- you’re more than you think


It is very interesting that humankind always define themselves on what they do for work, most commonly by their profession. Whenever someone asks the question, ‘what are you?,’ most people will instantly say, “I’m a designer, I’m a finance consultant, I’m a painter, I’m a teacher, I’m a housewife'' as if it is the only thing that matters. We are so used to identify ourselves with the one thing that we do with most of our time that we forgot that we are a whole individual who has all the rights to be so many things in our life. We are not completely defined by just one singular occupation that we choose (or for some people, forced) to do to earn a living. That is the reason why when that job is taken from us, we feel like our life is crumbled. That we have no purpose in life anymore. That our identity is being ripped off of us. That you’re now a failure.



"We are so used to identify ourselves with the one thing that we do with most of our time that we forgot that we are a whole individual who has all the rights to be so many things in our life"


Changing our mindset on how we see ourselves is one mentality that almost all of us will need, not only during this time, but also for our future. Understanding your value as a human is also one way to take care of yourself, to shield from what you think society might think about you and your ‘unfortunate’ circumstances. There’s a poem by Richard Siken that said, “everybody needs a place, it shouldn’t be inside of someone else,” which roughly translates as: your value is within yourself. This is the time when you have to look inward, to focus on yourself, your feelings, and your passion about your world.


The bad news is, most of us women were not raised in an environment that would encourage such an attitude. Thus, practice! This kind of awareness are not inside us by default, means we need to remind ourselves every single day about it. We grew up with a notion that you can either make money or make kids. But we are more than that, we are more than ‘a something’. Try to write down everything you are or what you want to be: you are a daughter, a sister, a partner, a mother, a humorist, an artist, a great friend, a reliable person, a silly dancer, a hard-worker, a traveler, an animal lover. Remember: every little thing on you matters. It is what constructs you as a whole. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”


"Remember: every little thing on you matters.

It is what constructs you as a whole"


Find yourself


This is probably the most cliche thing that anyone can write here, but there is a reason why people can’t seem to stop talking about it. Having no instant time-fulfilling deadline-achieving activities is the best ever time to figure out what you actually want to do with your life. Chris Gardner, the man behind the best-selling book and movie The Pursuit of Happyness once said, “when you are trying to do something that you are truly passionate about, there is no Plan B. Plan B sucks.” That is because you can never commit to the plan B of your life, because you know it is not what you actually want.


"Try joining some free online lessons related to the career you were curious about. Research, research, research. Find people in networking sites such as linkedin and glassdoor to talk about how they feel about their profession"

Now is the most valuable time for you to rethink whether the previous job satisfied you? Imagine you are in your deathbed when you are 100 years old, will you be regretting the life you had? Try joining some free online lessons related to the career you were curious about. Research, research, research. Find people in networking sites such as linkedin and glassdoor to talk about how they feel about their profession. Have you ever felt jealous about people whose job is traveling and writing about their journey in a faraway land? If you have enough savings during your previous working time, maybe it is time to try it out yourself, write your experience, and figure out if it is really what you want. Make pros and cons list about your previous job and your -- possibly -- dream job. When the time comes for you to be back in the job market, you know what you want to do, and you would be prepared for embracing the most out of your life.


Work on your skills




The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you” - BB King




In a world where almost everyone is well-skilled, there’s always a hunch on looking for someone different. Someone who has an extra skill that might be beneficial. On top of that, continuously improving yourself with new skills gives off the vibe that you’re in love with your life and what you do. That you are motivated to be a better person even under an unfortunate situation. Imagine when you are an employer, would you rather be hiring someone with 10 years of consistent full experience but so burned out that he/she can’t wait to exit the office once the bell rings, or someone greatly motivated to work with a full thirst of experience that will guarantee you a hardworking professional eager to learn?


Nowadays, there are so many skills you can explore with minimum -or even without- budget. App-based language learning such as duolingo and fluentu are widely available. Free online courses from well-rated universities such as Coursera and Edx are definitely within our reach. If you are keen to look out, there might be some free or almost free lessons from communities in or around your city. Your new local library might be as well a great place to start.


Imagine by the time your waiting period is over, you already master a new language, excel in a new software, or holding a new certificate of a broader knowledge. It can even be as simple as being able to finally make the dinners you will be proud of when you invite people over, or perhaps you might even find a new career from all the bartending classes you signed up for. You might be stripped away from your previous career, but “The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you” (BB King). Suddenly the gap time doesn’t sound as bad anymore, does it?


Work on your (neglected) hobbies


There are very few people I have met who never complained of not having enough time to do their hobbies. On the extreme side, I often hear, “Owh I wish I can do my (insert a hobby here) for life, if only I have time to explore it enough.” Of course the sentence would not be exactly like that, but you get the picture. Often times though, once the free time appear in front of them, then suddenly the thought of exploring one's hobby doesn’t sound as interesting anymore (speaking from personal experience as well, it hurts to admit but it’s true).



"Often times though, once the free time appear in front of them, then suddenly the thought of exploring one's hobby doesn’t sound as interesting anymore"



On the other side of the hemisphere, there are people who do the exact opposite. I personally know someone who hasn’t managed to find a job for a few months. Instead of wailing and whining, he embraces the thing he likes the most: watercolour painting. He spent a few months finding his own style and sculpting his own signature. Practicing non-stop every single day, instead of being depressed for not being employed. He started posting his work through several free entities, such as instagram and deviantArt. One day, his arts got featured in an article. Not long after, his artworks were highly demanded internationally, and he currently is living solely on his paintings. Another person I know who also had difficulties finding a job spent her time developing knowledge and ideas about granolas. Few months after, she had her own business and already have her stocks in several supermarkets across the country.


I truly believe that you must have heard similar stories out there, which means the odds of that happening is not as low as we thought. “But I won’t be able to monetize my hobby anyways,” Yes, I heard that. However, this kind of soon-to-be-business adventure will easily need months to prepare. By taking ahead all the first steps, once the time you can actually monetize it, you already have a strong foundation and brand in hand. By then, you just have to execute and see follow up with the progress. Nothing is as cool as answering the question, “what did you do when you did not work?” by saying “Oh, I was developing a proposal for my new startup/business.” In conclusion, yes indeed, it could be you!


Work on challenges


What are the things you secretly hope to be able to do back then, but you didn’t simply because of work demand? You talked about it so many times to your friends and family: I wish I could … (fill in the blank). It could be hiking the tallest mountain, running a long marathon, getting your diving license, visiting faraway countries, or the long postponed diet. It could be joining a writing club to finally make the novel about your life and embrace your inner creativity.


This might sound just like a distraction from not having your permit as a professional. However, there is nobody in the world, literally nobody, who will ever say that they regretted their chance to reach the top of Himalaya -- which takes easily months to years for training and months to climb. Nobody I know ever regretted themselves getting their diving license and explore diving spots in west papua, exploring a totally different world where people have to breathe using oxygen tanks, swimming with the most interesting animals on the planet. Nobody I know ever say he/she shouldn’t have taken part in 72 hours of trail running or multiple days marathon. Trying different diets and share it with the world is also one way to optimize your challenge and perhaps one day able to monetize it. It is the satisfaction that will not only boost your confidence, but also your optimism and happiness. Pushing one’s limits and boundaries is an art in itself, that you will never forget for your entire life.


Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

Volunteering


It might be an unbecoming thing to say but nothing sounds as amazing as volunteer works being written on your portfolio. And as puritant as it might sound, nothing feels as good as doing something good for others. This selfless act always pays, even when you don’t expect it. At once, it also gives you a sense of purpose, that your existence is not a mere number but destined by the universe.



The fact that giving to others will enhance your quality of life is also backed by science. Volunteerism improves health by strengthening the body, improving mood, and lessening stress in participants. Those who volunteer regularly have a 27% better chance of gaining employment. 60% of hiring managers see the act of volunteerism as a valuable asset when making recruitment decisions according to a study performed by Career Builder.



"Volunteerism improves health by strengthening the body, improving mood, and lessening stress in participants. They regularly have a 27% better chance of gaining employment"


Look around, and there are always places where you can be of help. In the USA only, there are 1.8 million active non-profit organization to check out, thus the opportunity is endless. If possible, find volunteering position in a field related to your passion. If you like to read, there are always communal library in your city, or an NGO that does collecting books for kids in developing countries. If you love animals, there is American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). If you are into building and construction world, there is Habitat for Humanity. International Rescue Committee focuses on people who are living in a critical environment including areas of conflicts. Nature Conservancy works to preserve land and water. NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Equality Now and Women for Women International focus on women’s rights, both inside and outside of the USA. The list goes on and on. You just need to type what you need on your browser, and voila! You are ready to be one of the most beautiful souls we certainly need on this planet.


Work on Passive Source

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges while not having salary, is not having the salary. Although having an active income is not allowed by circumstances, there are plenty of passive -- and totally legal -- ways of earning money. In the USA, this includes renting your room or house, joining some competitions, lending money, or invest in stocks (with limitations). You can even write a book, as long as you send it through your home country's publisher. If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, perhaps this is a glorious time to prepare your strategies: exploring sources, writing proposals, meeting people. By the time your permit arrives, you would be fully prepared to directly act on it. If you are interested in knowing all the options you have, here are some ways to straightening up your finances now that you have no income.



Keep your optimism and productivity alive


“Feeling sorry for yourself and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.” –Dale Carnegie


“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller


“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” –Tony Robbins


I deliberately put three quotes to start because who would say it better than those who have been in pain and thrived? On top of that, this could be the struggles in not having a permanent job (yet), is to keep your motivation up and running. Believe it or not, it is so much easier to be drawn into bad habits once you don’t have any restraining schedule in your life. You start with taking super late breakfast, not brushing your teeth and wash your face early in the morning, wearing something you would never want other people to see. Before you know, you start wearing pyjamas all day, eating chips and binge-watching tv series for weeks, not aware of what day it is.


"Wake up every morning as early as you would have when you have a daytime job, or even earlier. Dress up as nicely. Inform yourself. Research more. Think more"


Here are two opposite quotes that would help to put up the picture: “God is in the details” (German proverb/ Mies van de Rohe) and “The devil is in the detail” (anonymous). One small lazy habit can be very sneaky, it can almost certainly lead to another, then another, then another, preventing you from actually being able to profit from all the freedom you have in your momentary situation. You are absolutely entitled to have one or two lazy days a week -- we know we need it -- but make sure that it is something you planned to do, not something that is being taken for granted. Keep all the activities that made you feel the most motivated. Simple acts such as taking shower in normal morning hour and getting your morning coffee make a massive differences in the way you feel about your day. Call your friends and talk to them about your day and how would you make your day amazing. Read a book or watch some documentaries to explore the world and to explore yourself and what you might become. Look for community activities that keep your feel of belonging. Exercise to keep yourself fully energized. Make or check out your vision board to keep you on track with your life goals. A quote from Zig Ziglar to remember, "People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily."


The key is consistency. Wake up every morning as early as you would have when you have a daytime job, or even earlier. Dress up as nicely. Inform yourself. Research more. Think more. Stay sharp. Be the version of you that you like the most. Do something. Anything under the plan.

When life throws you lemons, don’t only make lemonade. Everyone knows how to do that. Instead, make a goddamn world-class patisserie level lemon cake brand with 10 branches all over the world!
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