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Overcoming the Shame of Unemployment

Employment, or the lack thereof, has become an intrinsic marker of a person’s moral worth.

One in six Americans is currently unemployed.


And the impact on Americans is not only financial — there is also a tremendous human impact as well.


Of the approximately 25 million unemployed, many are struggling with feelings of shame and embarrassment because they tied a portion of their identity to their jobs. So, when the job, title, and paycheck is gone — their self-confidence takes a critical blow.


Many Americans are experiencing a loss of social status and a deep sense of shame. A large percentage of the workforce is likely grappling with feeling rejected by the labor market, ashamed of their unemployment, feeling less confident in themselves.

Their mind begins to tell them common myths associated with being unemployed:

  • If they were “good enough” or performing at a higher level, they wouldn’t have been laid-off

  • If they were “good enough” they’d be able to get another job quickly

  • Their value goes down every day there are unemployed

  • If they were more likable they wouldn’t have gotten fired

This, now toxic, mindset may leave them feeling unsure of how to interact with others, or how to spend their time purposefully.


Being an Executive Career Coach, I’ve seen firsthand how a lay-off or furlough can trigger a kind of paralysis that stems from shame and loss of identity.


Here are 3 things to remember, in order to keep your mind positive and productive.



  • Grieve the loss

I advise clients to grieve the termination — the closing of one chapter of their lives, which likely included close professional relationships.


Research shows that job loss can be equally as difficult to cope with as going through a divorce. Feelings of anger, despair, and denial are normal and typical emotions that often accompany a major loss.


If you try and fast forward through your emotions, you’ll likely land in a place of Resistance — which feels like disapproval of life as it is right now. Being in a state of Resistance always equates to suffering. Honor your feelings and grief, and you’ll find yourself able to move on more quickly and graciously.



  •   Use your time wisely

The old adage, “It’s easier to look for a job when you already have one” actually has research to back it up. A report that investigated the job-seeking strategies of 2,895 adults ages 18 to 64, found that people who were currently employed generated more interviews and more unsolicited recruitment offers than people who were unemployed.


So, what does this tell us? If you are currently out of work, you’ll need to be able to show productivity during your time away to recruiters. Do this by showing you’re maintaining your industry skills and haven’t stepped away or lost knowledge on current trends.

Here’s how:

  • Write an article for LinkedIn. Research trends and write a 500-700 word piece from your unique point of view or experienced perspective


  • Makeover your LinkedIn Profile. 95% of recruiters and hiring managers use LinkedIn to find and qualify candidates, so if your profile isn't polished, pristine, and optimized, you will be a needle in a haystack.


  •  Take an online course that will give you an edge or teach you a new applicable skill


  • Join a professional network of your peers and offer to mentor someone new to your industry



  • Repeat: It’s only temporary

Unemployment is an awkward time of anxiety and self-doubt, mixed with unlimited free time — but it’s temporary, and it doesn't define you.

Keep in mind that it’s the beginning of a new chapter in your life and the future possibilities are endless. Stay positive, don’t give up on your search and work will come your way. You’ve been through hard things in the past and survived every single one of them.


You will not be unemployed forever.


Your value hasn’t changed.


You are worthy, and the sooner you believe that the sooner an employer will too.