You’re a Volunteer – Not Victim – of Your Horrible Career or Job Search

volunteerHave you ever gotten ticked off after reading something that really rang true even though you did not want to hear because it called you out on something that you were doing but would not admit to doing?

Have your found yourself saying to friends, family, co-workers, contacts or anyone else that would listen that you are in a never-ending stall in your career or job search due to no fault of your own?

If you answered yes to both of those questions then, please, do not continue reading this article.

I might just tick you off. Not intentionally, of course, yet it could happen just the same.

This week I realized that I have been incorrectly using the word ‘victim’. You normally hear someone is playing the victim or being a victim when they are behaving in a poor me type of way wanting sympathy while taking no responsibility for the events in their life.

That is not a victim. My step-dad inadvertently helped clarify this for me.

My step-dad is a great guy; he inherited me as a step-daughter when I was 40 yet treats me as his own. I love him and he has no business at 70 being up on top of a ladder cutting down tree limbs.

But he did, and there was a disagreement with gravity which resulted in him being the proud owner of a new hip.

He was a victim of a fall.

The dictionary defines victim as: “Noun. A person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action”

If you lost your job because the company downsized or closed, you are the victim of a downsizing or closing. Those are events. You were harmed.

On the other hand, if you are in a seemingly never-ending terrible job, career or job search and blaming events, people, the economy or any other outside factor, you are not a victim; you are a volunteer.

I am not talking about a couple weeks, months or so; I am talking about an extended, prolonged, excessive, lengthy, drawn-out, extensive, continual, long-term, very, very, very long (hence the never-ending) terrible career or stalled job search.

You are volunteering to remain in that position.

Why do people volunteer? Because it makes us feel good.

I volunteer at a woman’s program to do resume, networking and LinkedIn classes because it makes me feel good. Volunteers do not get paid; they volunteer for an intrinsic good feeling.

If you are a volunteer it is because you have come to feel good with the pain, frustration, anger or other negative emotion that you have cultivated and will not let go of it, even if it means letting go leads to a possible positive outcome.

Volunteers in these situations are quick to point out all the ways that the positive will not – cannot – happen.

Here are some common volunteer phrases that I and other coaches have heard:

My boss/coworker steals all the credit for my work
They don’t like me at my job
There is favoritism at my company
No one recognizes how hard I work
I keep getting passed over for a promotion
My boss is an idiot
The economy stinks
No one is hiring
No one will even consider me
It was their fault I got let go
The computer systems block my resume
They do not give me a chance to tell my story
You have to know someone to get ahead
I don’t have time to get that certification

These are not events or actions that cause you harm; these are situations in which you have a choice – you have options.

Leave. There is an option. Some others are: network, redo your resume, take a free class, ask for help or try something new.

I never said your options are always great ones, just that you do have choices. Don’t think you have a choice? Wrong – you are making one simply by staying. Sometimes those options make you feel like you are going backwards. Go back, go sideways, go forward – just choose to go.

I am going to throw out another option that should be considered first before all others, and this is one that many of my colleagues really, really, really, want to tell people but are much too polite to do so: stop blaming everyone else.

All the reasons above are a “them” mentality – ‘I cannot because of someone or something else’.

When an event happens, whether you got screwed by your boss, company, coworker, industry or whatever – you have a choice. You can blame them and wear the cloak of volunteer –or- you can see it for what it is, an event in a continual progression of your career and life.

It is like driving on the road and you veer off a bit and find the rumble strip. That rumble strip does not mean that you forgot to drive, can no longer drive a car or are going to go careening off into an embankment.

It is simply a rocky and very loud reminder to get yourself back on track.

Oh, I know, I am making it sound so easy. I’m not throwing stones, I am not heartless and I am not speaking from mount high. I was a volunteer.

Shortly after leaving a solid career in the financial industry and starting my company the doofas I was engaged to decided to have an affair. When I kicked him out I also kicked out the sole means of support since my company was in its infancy.

I was a volunteer. It was his fault that my career and life was in shambles. He did this to me, look what he did to me, look at the rubble that he left in his wake, blah, blah, blah.

Luckily I have a best friend who called me out. Sometimes getting called out is the shocker you need to get off the rumble strip.

She pointed out that I was completely giving up my power of choice. I was volunteering to boo-hoo.

I was volunteering to cry about business; instead I chose to work my butt off and made it successful.

I was volunteering to be alone; instead I chose to allow a true, wonderful, loving circle of family, friends and my beau into my life.

It is not easy to stop volunteering. I hated the process. I did not want to be positive, damn it, it was much easier to be miserable and blaming.

If I stopped blaming than I had to take ownership and I had to do something. There was no immediate reward for doing something, but there was an immediate reward for blaming, it made me feel better.

What got me through it was a best friend who kicked my butt with every boo-hoo and celebrated every victory, even the tiniest, as though I just won the World Series. I’m a Cubs fan so that is really saying something.

We started tracking the victories and they began to multiply. The by-product was the boo-hoos started to dissipate no longer made me feel good.

The hardest lesson and the one that made the biggest impact in my life and career was to look beyond the events. Oh, I so wanted to stay lingering in the events and milk that poor me thing for all that it was worth. I thought the events were what was making me miserable or sad.

They weren’t.

It was the fact that I was not ready for the better events that those crappy events just cleared the way for. When I decided to look at it from a perspective of no matter how painful and humiliating it was, it paved the way for something better – that is when life got better. Let’s face it, if that was the best there was than it would not have crashed and burned.

When I was able to step back and say, “thank goodness doofas did that” it allowed the most amazing, intelligent, supportive, loving, honorable man to come into my life.

“Thank goodness I was put in the position of eat what you kill” it positioned me to completely devote, nurture and love my business and create something that brings tremendous amount of value to others and myself.

Instead of “Darn it, I didn’t’ get the job” how would it feel to say “thank goodness I did not get that job, that means there is something better for me that I can now find.” Oh, it might make you gag the first time or two, but once you really try to see it that way, you get excited.

When you get excited you take action. When you take action, people notice and are drawn to you. When you widen your circle of people you increase your pool of opportunities.

Victims are survivors, volunteers are not. You survive a downsizing. You survive a layoff. You survive getting fired. I did not survive a couple of crappy events, I moved on. You do not survive a crappy job, you move on. You do not survive a stalled job search, you move on.

My step-dad survived the fall and he is surviving me hanging out with him to help out. It’s not all bad; he gets out of tree-trimming or any other house physical labor and I get to hear how to prepare pork the right way and was expertly instructed while making my first quiche.


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I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

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