What To Do When The Job Hunt Is Emotionally Draining

This week on Ask Victoria we’re tackling the emotional challenges of job hunting and feeling stuck. Have a question you’d like us to answer? Send them to askvictoria@idealist.org.

Dear Victoria,

I am currently unemployed and volunteering at a nonprofit in northern Virginia. I am writing material for the blog of a famous person but I am broke and cannot find a decent paying job.

I am a bit frustrated. Firstly, I am 59 years old and in not too long I will be 60 years old. I have struggled in DC for years trying to make it in nonprofits. I have done a lot of writing for websites and newsletters in addition to my work as an administrative assistant. I also have a Masters Degree. I worked in several small nonprofits including a small environmental group that closed for lack of funding. I even worked for a while in law firms and taught myself paralegal skills and was getting a slightly better income. But now this is restricted to formally trained people.

It is very depressing to see people in their 20s and 30s who are making it and may eventually spend a good deal of time doing something having to do with substantive issues of a nonprofit. Admin work was never my strength and I don’t find it that interesting.

I am passionate about doing something related to the environment. I have even thought of going back and studying biology or natural resources management though this seem pretty unlikely. The most frustrating thing is that I followed my friends advice to stress my writing skills which everyone says I do very well. Today, despite years of doing writing as part of my job, I was told by a temp agency that I would be a better fit for the administrative department than for their creative and marketing jobs.

I am scared that I will end up as an impoverished old man who can only be a secretary after years of trying to do something more with my life. I don’t want to sound like a snob, but that is just not what I wanted to do with my life and it is not something I will ever be great at. It’s extra sad since my low income has interfered with my getting married and having a family. What can I do? It seems very strange that after doing so much to help out nonprofits with my writing for their websites and newsletters that I find I am considered very entry level for this.

I know that young people do get out of school, start out doing admin jobs or internships, and advance to working on policy, managing projects, writing for websites and newsletters or analyzing policy. How is this done?



Dear Damon,

I sat with your note for quite a while before I put paper to pen and responded. As you were so candid with not only your career story but also your personal life, I wanted to take particular care in addressing your question.

I was compelled to share it with Idealist Careers readers as I am sure many may relate to your experience- a lower income possibly interfering in meeting a mate, marrying, and starting a family while dealing with the other issues that come with getting older. And if not that exact situation, I’m sure many can affirm that they’ve missed opportunities or had other regrets due to an issue-financial or otherwise- plague their minds and hearts.

Before I continue with the more practical advice, I invite any of our readers who’ve had an “I’ve been there” moment to share any words of advice, consolation, or encouragement in the comments below. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of having the support of community, and encourage you all to see Idealist Careers as a safe place to share.

Next, let’s get to the bright areas that I see glistening amongst the more somber words in your note. While your salary may be low and your job title may not be the one you had hoped for, I’ve seen some positives that you can work with. You have writing experience, a master’s degree, and experience at nonprofits. Then there was that interesting nugget right in your very first line: “I am writing material for the blog of a famous person…”

WAIT! Hold up, because I have questions and comments about this:

Are you getting paid for this work?

If you’re not, you should be! It’s great to get experience under your belt by doing pro bono work, but it sounds like you’ve been writing for years and should be able to gain extra income using your gifts. I’m not sure what the financial situation of this famous person is, but I’m going to wager he can pay his writer. And if he is paying you, perhaps it’s time for an increase.

I’m going to anticipate that the money conversation might be an uncomfortable one for you to start. It is for many of us (yes, me included!). The best way to tackle your discomfort is to prepare yourself before you ask.  If following this advice sounds like it might make even a small improvement to your finances, give it a try and report back to me- I’d love to hear how things work out.

How did you catch the attention of this famous person? What prompted him to hire you?

Think back to when you were hired for this project. Unless you were just in the right place at the right time, you were successful in getting this famous person to notice you. He must have seen value in the work you produce! If you’re not sure why he chose you, ask him. Sometimes it’s easier to see our strengths through another’s eyes. I don’t recommend getting into the habit of looking externally for validation, but if it gives you a little push to get you started in seeing it for yourself, so be it.  Which brings me to my next comment:

Ask for a testimonial.

Get it in writing! When you ask him what he likes about your work, ask him to write it as a testimonial. Unless he is able to hire you for a full-time, permanent job, I’m sure he knows you need to find steady employment. Use the testimonial on your personal webpage (if you have one), or even in a cover letter.

Contacts, contacts! Does he know someone who knows someone?

What connections does this famous person have? Perhaps he would be willing to ask around his circles and give a verbal testimonial of your good work. Depending on how much influence he has, he may be able to direct you to several new leads!

Now let’s talk about your resume a little more.

I would agree with your friends’ advice of tailoring your resume to the type of job you’re looking to get- in your case, writing. Without knowing the temp agency you went to, I wouldn’t know why the recruiter steered you towards the administrative jobs rather than the creative ones. It could be that they know from experience their clients are that picky; they could have that “administrative assistant stigma” in mind; or, it could simply be that they have many more admin jobs than creative jobs to fill, so it makes good business sense for them to point you in that direction and make a quick hire.

Spending time over-speculating won’t get us too far though, so I’d like to share with you some actionable steps you can take towards improving your chances in your job search. I outlined a lot of advice to another administrative assistant who was looking to make a similar transition.  In her letter, Belinda expressed the same frustration of being overlooked for jobs outside of administrative roles.

I’m pleased to report that Belinda has accepted a new position and is on her way to communications superstardom as we speak! So it can be done. As I suggested to her, a simple resume fix might be to avoid using bold text for your job titles. If you don’t want to be seen as an administrative assistant, don’t put it in bold.

Give your resume another read. Ask yourself how well it demonstrates the skills needed for the job you want rather than the job you have. Are you presenting yourself as an expert or does your resume read “entry level”? When you look at your resume, assess it for whether you come across as confident. Reframe how you see yourself, and don’t get discouraged if you’re not successful immediately. Building confidence is an ongoing work in progress. While you’re never quite “done” with it, now is a great time to start.

As you think about your abilities, be sure your resume includes any quantifiable results and focus on accomplishments rather than job duties. If whatever you wrote about your writing experience sounds like an afterthought rather than a compelling illustration of your contributions, rework it until it accurately showcases your strengths. If you need help making the changes, ask your friends to help you outline your best accomplishments. Also see if they have any recommendations for what to look for a job that matches your interests and abilities.

How else can you highlight your writing experience, beyond the resume? Do you have a portfolio, website, or blog? Think about what you can do to get potential employers (or paying clients) to find you. Make it easy for them to see your work. It might take going beyond the typical strategy of responding to online job ads in order to find your fit.  

You also mentioned you have a Master’s degree. Tell me more about that; was your program of study related to writing or the type of work that you want to do? You mention that you’re passionate about the environment- if this is what you studied, use your academic experiences to your advantage. Also see if there are resources you can use at the institution- many offer free or low-cost career assistance to alumni. Make a call, see what services you are entitled to, and jump on them! Track down former classmates and set up informational interviews.  The more proactive you can be in your job search, the better your chances.

Damon, as I’m sure you’d agree, the job search isn’t just about the practical, nitty-gritty tactics. It can affect matters of the heart, challenge your resolve when opportunities don’t align with your passions, and take stabs at your self-confidence. As you revamp your job search methods, know that your worth is not reflected in the numbers of your salary. Treat yourself with tenderness, and surround yourself with people who value your skills and cheer you on. I’m sure that with a few tweaks and a little polishing, your job search will improve. Please keep us posted!

To your success,


Do you have any advice or kind words for Damon? Please share them in the comments.


Related Posts

I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.
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    • Talitha
    • October 1, 2015

    Your honesty and vulnerability in sharing and asking for advice is helpful and inspiring. This process can be very isolating and reading your letter was a reminder that I am not the only person struggling to find the position/career/recognition that matches my interests and goals. Good luck and thank you!

    • Mariama
    • October 3, 2015

    Hi Damon,
    Thank you for your courageously sharing what you are going through. I have high hope you are going to find what you are looking for! Good luck!

    I completely agree with your Victoria, especially about Damon’s surrounding himself with people who sees the best in him.

  1. I empathize with Damon’s situation and experiences.

    I think we’ve all been there in one way or another at some point – especially working for change-making organizations we feel passionate about, but who are, themselves, struggling to make ends meet as an organization.

    It is easy to get taken advantage of and easy for others to keep you on pro-bono unless you *ask* to be paid. I know from experience it is possible to move from volunteer positions with non-profits to paid positions, especially once the organizations see the value you are adding to their team. Often times all you have to do is remind them of your accomplishments, simply *ask* if they can start paying you – and suggest a reasonable market-competitive salary.

    If you are a hard-to replace part of the team, or if they are not interested in dropping everything else they have going on to find a suitable replacement for the shoes you fill, they are likely to offer you something for your continued services. Negotiate with them, and take it!

    Before you do that though I would highly suggest getting testimonials and letters of recommendation from current and previous organizations you’ve volunteered for – those are invaluable and will go a long way towards finding paid employment. Be sure to ask for the letter of recommendation *before* you ask to get paid – this will also remind them how essential you are to the proper functioning of their organization as they know it. You can use those letters of recommendation to apply for other paid positions to supplement your current income, or make a transition into a full-time salaried position.

    I wish you all the best Damon! And for and all others in similar shoes, keep your chin up and ask for what your services are worth – as a freelance grant and content writer I remind myself first and foremost. 🙂

    ~Janet Kozak~

    1. Thank you so much to those of you who have reached out with advice, personal stories, and support! Keep it coming!

    • rochelle robinson
    • October 13, 2015

    I appreciate Damon’s struggle because, I am similarly dealing with the same at 57. I also appreciate the advice given by you, Victoria, and will take your suggestions into consideration as I restructure my work search. However, I would really like to hear back from Damon to know if he’s employed any of your ideas and how it has or hasn’t worked for him.

  2. Pingback: Ask Victoria: Reader Response and Open Thread - Idealist Careers

  3. I’m in a similar situation. I moved from my home a few years ago to make a better life in an attempt to transition from newspaper writing into technical or non-profit communications. I sometimes think I get close to landing a good job, but then it doesn’t come through. Its frustrating.

    • Crystal
    • October 26, 2015

    I feel for you, Damon. And keep in mind that it’s not only individuals in their 50’s or older who have issues finding work. I’m 35 and moved to the Seattle area from Texas with the hope of finding more lucrative work in human resources and/or nonprofit. I have now been here for over a year and have discovered that the area is ripe with complacent and passive aggressive business cultures compared to any other place I’ve lived. Despite my 8 years of experience helping businesses build HR departments from the ground up, my direct communication style coupled with companies who want younger, “moldable” candidates has left me with approximately 40 interviews and zero offers. I’ve joined local HR associations where I’ve met numerous professionals, including within the nonprofit sector, and unfortunately the lack of sincerity makes these connections as useful as friending a stranger on LinkedIn or other social media sites. I’m naturally a helpful person who makes a genuine effort to connect, so having moved to an area of the country that is all beauty with no substance is disappointing. After so many bad experiences attempting to build a career in strategic HR, I’ve actually changed my job search back to office administration despite the inevitable decrease in salary. As much as I would love to have the luxury of relocating back to Texas or the East coast, my massive amount of student loan debt from obtaining my BA and MBA continues to put a large dent in my remaining savings making it impossible to plan at this time.

    I hope my story helps you feel at least somewhat better about your situation, Damon. I wish you and all other job seekers who aren’t being given a chance to shine the best of luck!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Crystal. I really appreciate the support I have been seeing among Idealist Careers’ readers and hope that hearing each other’s stories and ideas have been a comfort to you all. Keep on working at it, and please do let us know when you find your next gig! You are all welcome to write in to the Ask Victoria column with your specific questions as well. Take care and keep in touch!

    2. Please contact me. I am in the process of building a business within this next year and will need an HR person who can be the entire HR department as it will be a small start up at first. I love your philosphy and want to structure my business differently also. We need to rethink business and bring small business back to the people instead of the 1%ers so we can run business the way we want.

      Also, just a thought…..why do they call them “social” media sites when they have become ecommerce, marketing, HR platforms and not social at all. Since I am in the job search status right now, I cannot put anything personal on my social media because I know prospective employers will be checking it. It is ridiculous. Capitism is ruining everything. The job hunt has sucked ALL the joy out of my life.

      While I agree with Victoria’s advice, it is the exact thing that has me very discouraged. I literally spend about 16 hours/day on my computer either looking for a job, applying for a job since I have to rewrite my resume to tailor it for every single job announcement, updating my linked in profile, google+, facebook, professional association contacts and websites, and writing my blog and website. I do not get paid for any of this. I would be better off spending the time driving for Uber. At least I would be making some money.

      The problem is that, in the past, employers were willing to invest in their employees. Now they want us to come fully packaged and laden with student debt because we paid another for-profit organization to train us for the skills we need to work for a different for-profit organization. (even “non-profits” have to operate in the black in order to keep functioning). They are all profiting off of us but we do not get to share in the profits in the form of a living wage. It is all about what we can give them. How about non profits appreciating that I am giving them my free time?? Not just my “free” time but that it costs me gas and parking or public transportation money to get to the office. They can at least pitch in and give us a little training or a reference now and then. What happened to employers investing in the employee in exchange for loyalty and hard work? That is how I know I am old.

      1. Hello Diana, if you are launching a nonprofit or social enterprise, you can post your HR job listing on Idealist.

        I understand the frustration of spending so much time and effort on job applications and not receiving an interview or even a response of any kind. My advice would be to refocus your time so you spend less of it in “traditional” application processes and devote some more to other job search strategies, such as networking and informational interviewing. I know it’s probably no consolation to hear that, as these activities are also time consuming. I’ve had many the job seeker push back with the retort that their networking efforts don’t yield results either, but in my experience the personal, one-on-one interaction can really help get things moving- especially if you look at networking as relationship-building rather than “hey, can you get me a job?”

          • Crystal
          • November 13, 2015

          In Diana’s defense, for lack of a better phrase, the greater Seattle area is not a good place for real networking, as a majority of people just aren’t interested in maintaining contact on a consistent basis. There’s a general sense of “what can you do for me in return” when you attempt to have one-on-one interactions and typically you’ll have one or two conversations via phone, email or in person if you’re lucky. I’ve literally only met one person out of hundreds that I’ve connected with who has been supportive and truly invested in my efforts to find work and she is a highly experienced recruiter who has seen first hand the struggles with the hiring managers in this area. We’ve laughed about it quite frequently because she knows I’m an excellent candidate, but the hiring managers are so fussy and indecisive that often times they change the entirety of what they are seeking in terms of the job and qualifications which in turn makes more work for her to find that “perfect” candidate. Additionally, I’ve seen job ads that have been posted off and on for over a year now with places that I’ve applied and/or interviewed and these are not stock ads from staffing agencies trying to lure in candidates, they are posted directly by the company. That’s just not normal, but I digress. My point is that this truly is an extremely hard place to find employment using outside-of-the-box or otherwise standard strategies that are useful in other major metropolitan areas. It’s difficult to describe to others who aren’t here living it every day.

          I’d like to reiterate that these are just my experiences, and obviously those of others who are having the same struggles finding work. Some people, young and old, come here and they’re successful and can manage to acclimate to a work environment of complacency, passive aggression and/or limited opportunities for growth due mostly in part to insecure leaders making it very hard for those over 30 to be considered viable candidates. In thinking about this further, part of the issue is that people aren’t retiring at the standard age of 60-65 and hiring someone older and experienced who can potentially take their job sooner than a 20-something is a scary thought. I’m by no means defending the practice of hiring young over old, but I’m guessing this is a big factor in the final hiring decision.

          I look forward to seeing where everyone lands! Thanks to everyone who has listened and been so supportive to those of us who are struggling with a very different job market than 20 years ago!

            • Ray
            • November 20, 2015

            Hi Crystal, I found myself drawn to your post as I too recently moved to the Seattle area and have encountered similar experiences. Likewise, I come from the east coast and was surprised to experience the commonality of passive aggressive and closed off attitudes here. Furthermore, the job hunt in the field I desire has been draining to say the least and I completely empathize with your frustration of spending all this time and not seeing money. Anyway, I just wanted to say I get what your going through and you literally are not alone out here fighting this fight. Fingers crossed for both of us. good luck.

        • Crystal
        • November 13, 2015

        Hi Diana,

        I actually did not see this post up until today, so I apologize for not responding. I’m 100% certain that this area is simply not for me although I do appreciate your interest in my credentials. Finding a job would only fix part of the problems I’ve encountered with the greater Seattle area and I’m a firm believer in having the same good quality of life both at work and in my personal life which I’ve concluded will likely not transpire here based on various experiences thus far.

        There are definitely others out there will my level of integrity and strong work ethic and I think Idealist is going to be a great way to find the right people for your business. Good luck with your endeavors!

      • Tatyana
      • November 2, 2015

      Reading this article and all your comments have given me some comfort in knowing that I am also not alone in this predicament. I am in my early 40’s (gulp) and recently moved to Seattle in hopes that I would find a professional job in environmental sustainability. I have a Master’s + and even went to a one-year program in Seattle. Alas, despite applying the numerous job positions in this field and some survival jobs as well, I have had only a couple of job interviews and a few informational interviews. I am now between places to live and jobs, and I feel terrified of never finding a professional job that will pay my worth. And the debt, student and credit card, is mounting. Is it age discrimination and/or a dearth of mid-level jobs? I may sadly move back to Colorado for survival jobs, but I am now in a state of anxiety that those jobs may elude me as well. Crystal, it’s great to hear your perspective on Seattle, and funny enough, I grew up in Texas as well and who knows, maybe I’ll move back one day. I have heard from others that the City is still a “small town” and it’s all about whom you know. Referrals seem to be king period. Damon, keep at it – get that branding website up and there has to be paid freelance jobs that you could get. Also, if you’re interested, grant writing is a skill in great demand among non-profits. Thank you and good luck to us all!

        • Crystal
        • November 3, 2015

        I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles in this area, Tatyana. It’s never easy to predict the type of business cultures you’ll encounter in a new city and of all places I would have expected Seattle to be much more progressive than what I’ve encountered. Many of the executives I’ve interviewed with have been disinterested in hiring individuals who desire to contribute on a strategic level and in some cases appear to be threatened by candidates who possess the talent to one day be a successor. Even the animal rescue organizations I’ve attempted to work with have extremely negative reputations amongst those who have experienced a cold environment while volunteering, which is disconcerting and a testament to the general attitudes of local residents and transplants who have lived here for an extended period of time.

        Having lived in New York City and Texas, I’ve never been made to feel that my ambition is a hindrance the way I have this past year. It’s extremely discouraging and much like you, I am now considering relocating despite the hit to my financial stability. Luckily I did move here with a friend who is also finding the overall experience to be disappointing and not the better quality of life that we had hoped to achieve. Texas might be fairly conservative and I honestly didn’t think there was a worse place to live, but Seattle is not much better despite it’s reputation for being liberal and “green”.

        Best of luck, Tatyana! I hope you find what you’re looking for whether it be in Seattle or back in Colorado. Remember that life is too short to stay in a place that is holding you back from being a success and sucking the life out of you daily.

          • Kourtney
          • November 6, 2015

          Crystal and Tatyana, this is very interesting. I feel much less alone because I have been going trough the same thing in Seattle! I moved to Seattle two and a half years ago and have been searching for an entry-level job in the environmental science field. I have only heard back from one organization and that was almost two years ago. I have been living with my partner who has not only been able to start his career but has flourished and has been financially stable. In the meantime I have been working part-time with low pay and student loans. Having already been anxious about not finding a job in the environmental field and not being financially stable I am now going through a breakup that is adding the stress of not having a job, income, or very soon a place to live. Not being able to find a job that will allow me to support myself in the area I will probably have to move back to my hometown. So it is reassuring to know I am not the only person struggling in this city, particularly in the environmental field.

      • Beverly
      • November 5, 2015

      Hello Crystal, I was reading your comment going thats right! First,don’t come to the East Coast the culture is the same. I’m over the preferred age of 30, have networked my “butt” off, I think everyone in the NYC tristate area has my resume and still “crickets and tumbleweeds”, (silence). So I have followed the example of many of my peers and have begun to try to establish my own business, ITS REALLY HARD, but it gives me the hope of being gamefully employed in something I like and possibly keep a roof over my head. I’m begining to feel as Damon, does and it will only make my current situation worse. Good luck to you and Damon.

      1. Thank you for writing in, Beverly. Just a quick comment- You may already been doing this but if not, consider targeting your resume to the jobs you’re applying to?. It can be more time-consuming on one hand, but your efforts are targeted towards the jobs that fit you best. It tends to work better than casting a wide net with less focus. When you target your resume, it helps to do so with the job description in front of you. Really delve into what the organization is looking for and demonstrate how you can contribute to those needs and goals.

        • Crystal
        • November 5, 2015

        Thanks for sharing, Beverly, and I’m sorry to hear about your struggles, as well. As I mentioned in my post, I actually have lived in NYC and did not find the job hunt to be nearly as difficult mostly because my communication style fits the area and the recruiters I worked with were amazingly connected. The only reason I left was due to the financial crisis which resulted in a strong possibility of losing the job I had at the time and honestly it was a depressing place to be in 2009. I adore the East coast and it’s on my list of places that I would like to return once my career has hopefully stabilized, but for now I have to focus on a realistic move to an affordable area of the country where I might be able to reassess my career goals without going broke!

        Honestly, I think every major metropolitan area has the same “networking” issue and it’s all about who you know when it comes to working for the larger companies. I’ve never really had a problem connecting with people, but finding individuals who take a genuine interest in your situation is very hard to come by in the business world. The Idealist community seems to be a great avenue of support and I’m so glad I found this post!

        Good luck with your business, Beverly! We’re all cheering you on!

    3. I would go online and see what is available there (online companies) who are looking for HR people. There is a fee but it is not huge. Something to think about!

      1. Hi Cindy, thank you for chiming in. I’m not certain what you mean about a there being a fee- are you suggesting that our readers look into agencies that charge the job seeker?

        In all my years in career development, I’ve almost always steered job seekers away from agencies that require them to pay a fee. This charge should be incurred by the hiring organization. Many fee-based agencies that charge the job seeker don’t tend to be viewed as reputable. Of course, there are some exceptions, but I would proceed with caution. Really get a clear picture of the offer and what the organization can truly provide for you. If you’re in doubt, research the company before signing up.

        To your success,

        • Crystal
        • November 5, 2015

        I agree with Victoria on this one. Job seekers should never have to pay to find work, as there are numerous agencies out there who can help you for free, including your local state employment centers. The job search itself is not hard, but can be rather cumbersome and time consuming when exploring the various resources available. I’ve essentially left no stone unturned in my current search, from joining local HR organizations to seeking out independent recruiting “gurus” who aren’t part of larger staffing agencies. There are usually boutique niche recruiting firms in most major metropolitan areas and these can sometimes be more helpful than the standard firms if job seekers aren’t restrictive about working for only large corporations.

        Again, my issue hasn’t been a lack of abundance for interview opportunities, but rather the general personality and business culture fit in the Seattle area. I’m always open to helping others find work, so maybe I’ll start my own blog!

  4. I can definitely relate to the stories here. Thank you all for sharing so openly. Last year, at age 35, I made a move across the country and it took nearly eight months to land a decent job in a new industry, with one more rock bottom “survival job” in there as well.

    In addition to taking lots of extra time for exercise and for fun and rejuvenating activities, things that helped me during the transition were getting all the support I could from friends, family, and professional and community support groups and resources. There are also free 12 step programs like Debtors Anonymous (http://www.debtorsanonymous.org/) that deal specifically with money, debt, and work issues.

    Keep in mind that building a career is an iterative process. Don’t give up if the first offer isn’t your dream job, or doesn’t use all your skills. One thing leads to another and you’ll build those invaluable connections along the way. All the best!

    • LOLA
    • November 9, 2015

    Damon, definitely empathize with you. Thankful to hear of you writing a blog for a famous person. I truly hope it begins to yield you more of the results you desire. Sounds like a good possibility. I am beginning to enter the workforce again. YIKES!
    I’m in a place in my life I could not have Imagined. Would not have wanted to imagine…debt, flat broke in the natural, just buried my dad who suffered from a rare brain disease, recovering from serious health issues that riddle my body with pain, feelin like ” boy, did I ‘f-up’ to be here at 50.” Dang!
    Writing is a passion of mine. I’ve vowed to step out and up & use the gift more! I will learn how to start a blog… Guess I hid my writing and stories most of my life, but I can no longer do that and breathe. A year ago I began working on my own company. That wasn’t my intent per se but it seems I was ordained to do this work. It involves many many intriguing stories of my family dating back 182 years. And counting… I have a line of greeting cards, journals, pens and such containing ahmazing photos of these folx I am very much connected to. Working towards a coffee table book, etc…
    Most immediately, I hafta find employment to continue residing indoors, talkin on my cell phone, utilizing our very necessary Internet privileges and the like! It is proving a bit challenging to align myself with suitable employment. I trust this will work out. I will keep pressing, seeking and knocking.
    Salute to all of us who desire to create lives we love by contributing our skills, gifts and passions to the world. I know what we have to offer folx are waiting for, no matter how daunting this task of securing ‘right’ employment appears to be! Much continued success to you! Peace~

    • Daria-Ann
    • November 13, 2015

    I personally think Ramit Sethi addresses some of these questions as well. He has some good guidelines on negotiating your salary, asking for more pay for what you do. I would start here. http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/products/ and scroll down to the “find your dream jobs” section.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Daria-Ann. We have referenced Ramit Sethi’s resources in the past, so this is a good reminder.

    • Jen
    • November 14, 2015

    I certainly empathize with Damon – even though I’m much younger the issues of underemployment and frustration in finding fulfilling work has hindered my “life plan.” It’s hard and it sucks. I’ve spent years now doing unskilled work in a field that doesn’t look very promising for me, along with hearing choruses of friends suggesting I should join them in their bank cubicles doing office work. (As a creative person with a background in the arts and a mind for community outreach – the idea of working at a huge bank corporate office is pretty terrible.) I’m sorry that I don’t have much in the way of advice, but I hope for you and me both we find a way.

  5. Damon, I’m sorry that I don’t have any advice, but I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I am 58, underemployed (with a doctoral degree, no less), a rather low income and serious financial problems. I too am unmarried, even though I don’t think the finances are the primary reason. If it weren’t for my dog, friends, and family, I’m not sure where I’d be at this point. It’s very, very tough. Actually, it seems nearly impossible and hopeless at times.

    • Gustavo de Paula
    • November 17, 2015

    Hello Boys and Girls,

    I’m from Brazil and you can believe me, the comments above fits quite well my daily struggle to find a job that truly makes me happy. The same issues about paying to find the best job offers, the networking based only on mutual advantage and not on true friendship, among others discussed above, really paints a portrait that can be assigned as a snapshot of Seattle as well as São Carlos (my place), São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or most cities, large and small, in Brazil.

    Reaching my fourth decade and being a dad of four, I need to find a job that allows me to stop struggling and start enjoying the life. It’s not easy for someone who is many times “too good for the job” or “too old for this job” or “under-experienced for this job”. Being a materials scientist with PhD, the last resort will be to become a teacher in a public university – not bad at all, good payment, safe work… but in a regime of exclusive dedication that leaves too few time and energy to do something that matters beyond the classical career of a third grade teacher – my father was one for 35 years and I know that inside they have the feelings that something bigger is missing in his history (well, raising eight is a BIG accomplishment he acknowledges for himself!)

    I have ZERO work experience in non-profits so I cannot compare myself to Damon in most aspects other than being good in writing and having a post-graduation degree. In other hand, I strongly feel (and most people around me say it every time they have opportunity) that my skills and knowledge are deeply underused and I could have a great job that really makes a difference in the word. I do agree, indeed, albeit I know that I have an impact – very small – but not negligible anyway. So, after giving vent to my frustration, I would like to say to you Damon, you’re not alone but the solution exist for you as exists for me. It’s not easy to find some(many)times but it exists and the main advice is: do not give up. Never. Ever.

    We can do it.

    Warm hugs from Brazil,


    • Gustavo de Paula
    • November 17, 2015

    Just as an advice that may help a lot of people, take a look at http://puttylike.com/ and see if this blog can help you as it helps me and *a lot* of other people. You don’t need to buy anything to find answers for deep, distressful questions you have about yourself!

    If’s it’s not for you, be sure, it’s for a relative or someone close. It’s worth a reading.


    • Janus
    • November 19, 2015

    Dear Damon, and everyone else on this thread,

    I can’t thank you enough for your letter, and for everyone else’s responses. I can definitely relate to your situation(s) in some ways. These are the kind of articles I wish there were more of.

    I’m a 2010 graduate from my university’s English department, but in recent years, I’ve developed an interest in environmental issues. In Fall 2013, I even got accepted for a grant that allowed me to enroll in my community college’s certificate in Green Technologies and Sustainability. I’ve been seeking positions as an administrative assistant in a green company or non-profit green organization. (Actually, it’s possible that I’m still not entirely sure exactly where in the green industries I might fit in, but for now, I guess something like this is a fair description.)

    However, I’ve just been having a hell of a time looking for a role that suits me. It’s like many positions in renewable energy and related fields are expecting you to know how to build your own spacecraft. It’s as if many positions in the sustainability fields expect you to be able to build your own spacecraft right in your own backyard from scratch. In just about all the green job boards I’ve looked, many of the positions seem very technician-like. For the few positions that aren’t so highly technical, I just about never hear back from them, for reasons that continue to escape me.

    If one is planning an event, let’s say, I might be able to help coordinate/organize/oversee that, maybe, but if you ask me to fix your car, I might as well not even exist. I’d say I probably have more “soft” skills than I do “hard” skills. But I’m starting to wonder if I’m even in the right field.

    Everyone is saying to find one’s passion. But I’m not sure I have just this one, all-overriding passion, though. To say so would be like painting myself all in only one color, or to describe myself in only one word. You just can’t do that with anyone, really.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am still fairly passionate about the environment. It’s an important cause that affects us globally today. Everyone is trying to find ways to reduce their costs and impacts. New opportunities are arising all the time (or so it may seem) and it’s exciting to be a part of this movement. I can’t imagine anything greater than helping our planet, and this is also the only field where I feel I’m not judged.

    But I still also have other goals besides the green workplace. In fact, to be honest with you, if money didn’t exist, or I didn’t have to worry about finding a new job, I might actually be more involved creatively and artistically, maybe even also a little more athletically now. (I say these because I was musically involved in my youth, and I never got to be that physically active growing up.) I may have even heard that those who have active and varied lives outside of the workplace do equally well in their work.

    But before you ask me why I didn’t also pursue those further, let me remind you of one of the consequences of trying to “careerize” one’s hobbies: it takes the fun out of them. Nor can you necessarily make a decent living on just them alone.

    As of this writing, I do have a small, unofficial job right now. I work for a friend of mine as her personal private landscaper. One of my colleagues in my environmental activist team asked me in late April 2015 if I was interested in earning a little spending money by helping her mow her lawn, composting, and other tidying up and yard help around her property, and I immediately accepted her offer without hesitation, as I know I would never fit with a restaurant or retail store. I already tried positions like those numerous times in the past. They just never worked and always ended rather disastrously. I could never put up with what sometimes goes on in places like those, at least not for too long or all the time.

    Depressing doesn’t begin to describe how I feel when I witness others about my same age or even younger who are already quite established. I turned 28 on June 10, 2015. Three decades is just right around the corner, and in another decade, I’d be in my 40s. I fear I would die with only a few pennies to my name.

    I struggled greatly for much of my young life trying to find what it is that I really wanted to do and what I’m really suited for. I changed my career choice several times over late high school, most of college, and early post-college. It’s been a long, grueling, winding road. I’d say two of my many biggest obstacles for these were that I do not have the same support system at home like I might have in school, and our culture and society is biased against people of my personality type.

    But even now, despite all of my “comebacks” from my low times, I wonder if it might already be too little, too late…

    • Cristine
    • November 19, 2015

    It is so, so helpful to read about other’s experience of the weird, slightly hostile personality of Seattle people. I lived there for 27 years and kept thinking it was me: I wasn’t friendly enough, I was too friendly, I needed to be less this or more that… I finally realized after a lot of research and paying attention to what other people were saying about the place, that it wasn’t me. The lightbulb went on when I read a business column with this little tidbit: “At one networking event, this person introduced themselves and gave me a business card. C’mon. This is Seattle. I don’t know you. Why would I want your business card?”

    Um, since it was a networking event, maybe this poor delusional person thought they could, you know, NETWORK! As in, introduce themselves, talk a bit about what they do… give you a card. Honestly, the bizarre attitude there boggles the mind. The best advice I have is to do something totally unrelated to business, something fun where you’ll meet lots of people. Then once you get to know them, mention, casually, like it’s no big deal, what kind of work you’re looking for. And that no one is hiring for that.Setting up the negative in that way will allow the perverse passive-aggressive personality to go ‘wait a minute- you’re wrong’ and come up with a connection. I know it sounds weird, but it works. A passive aggressive work-around. And I think it’s the weather creating the strange insular personality here- so really, not their fault. Hard to deal with, nonetheless.

    I think all newcomers to Seattle should get together- maybe through this blog- and help each other out. Just for the moral support if nothing else!

    1. Hi Cristine, I think your suggestion of doing something fun that you enjoy in an effort to meet people really hits the nail on the head. Most people think of networking in the way you first described: go to an event, hand out your business card, and say what you do (or “worse”, what you’re looking for!). This type of networking has really fallen out of favor and relationship-building is what has become the more successful way to gauge commonalities and how someone might be able to help you and you them. Rather than going to a networking event hoping to get a job lead, go with the purpose of meeting someone just for the sake of meeting someone new. Come to it from the perspective of “how can I help this person?” rather than “what do they have to offer me?” It really changes the balance of things and can bring to light connections and ideas you may not have otherwise seen. Our article 20 ways to network that don’t feel like networking might give you some additional ideas. To your success!

  6. Damon,
    Although I am a few years younger than you, I can relate to your situation. It can be so challenging and really digs in to you – forcing you to do some serious soul searching in addition to all of the usual things one does when struggling and transitioning to a new field or new job. I recently had a life event that made me pick up my courage and try again.

    Maybe it’s the all the working on myself I’ve been doing (not necessarily related to employment – but all the aspects of our selves and our lives are tied together), but I feel like this time is different. I’ve been applying to jobs in my target fields like mad – even ones that ask for skills that are a bit out of my reach right now. I’ve made a list of the skills I am lacking that many of these jobs ask for. I’ve located tutorials to start to learn these skills (free or low cost; Lynda.com is where I started, was offered a free 30-day trial; but there are many, even on YouTube), certificate programs (which will have to wait until I have more income), and am doing some volunteer work to help me get some more recent & relevant experience on my resumé and to have work I can use to start buiding a portfolio. Once I get my skills resharpened, I know I can also create/write pieces on my own, if I don’t have “real clients” to do the work for, to showcase what I can do.

    Most of all, I am using all the inner tools I have to stay focused, to take good care of myself, to acknowledge the negative voices in my head but gently quiet them down so I can keep focused on my to-do list. I believe in myself and in what I can do and I believe that the right employer or opportunity will recognize my qualities and the strengths my (slightly out of the ordinary) experience brings. I find that it’s really an internal struggle with myself, on a daily basis. It’s like developing a muscle, takes daily work, it’s gradual, but it does get stronger. I don’t know if you’re into any kind of spiritual or meditative practice, etc, but my meditation practice has helped a lot. It helps you to discipline your mind which helps you to stay focused and to quiet down the negative voices. I am also a fan of Marianne Williamson. Even if you’re not, you might want to consider reading her book “The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles” – just for kicks, if nothing else.

    Most of all, hang in there. I believe there is a mission I am meant to achieve in this world using my strengths and skills, and I believe that is true for you too. Breathe! Believe! and Keep on going!

    • Will
    • November 27, 2015

    I feel a lot like Damon. I was working a clerical job at a non-profit before I quit earlier this year to volunteer overseas. Now I’m back and unemployed other than doing some temp work a staffing agency has gotten for me. Unlike Damon, I’m in my late twenties and I don’t have as clear but of an idea of what I want to do. I’ve been searching for a job but it’s hard to find something when you don’t know what exactly you’re looking for.

    I’ve done three internships in the non-profit sector and none of them turned into a job. I feel like I’m going nowhere fast. I wanted to do something good with my life but it feels like I’m wasting my potential.

    1. Hello Will, thank you for sharing your experiences. What you said about it being hard to find something when you don’t quite know what you’re looking for is very true. I usually recommend to job seekers that they find out what they want to do and then target their resume and other application materials to that career area and job function. If your resume demonstrates competencies in job functions that don’t relate to the jobs you’re applying to, you’ll be less likely to be called in for an interview. A good first step is to figure out what you want to do and then tailor your resume to demonstrate that you can do that type of work. To your success!

    2. Will,

      I think I could relate to your situation. I was in a similar position in the past, as I detailed above in my own response to Damon’s letter.

  7. I’m just gonna leave this here.


    What I’m curious about, though, is if Steven Handel has ever met/known anyone who actually found their passion through their duties.

    • Maria
    • December 2, 2015

    I strongly empathise with Damon and everyone who took their time to share their stories here. It can feel extremely frustrating when you actually want to do something and make a change, regardless how big or small, but no one seems to want to give you the chance to show what you can do best. I am in a similar position right now, as I recently quit my job in a nursery because I felt I could do more with my degree in environmental sciences, which is actually the field that interests me.
    The huge amount of applications submitted and job descriptions read, got me realizing that not one company is interested in the individual, but in what the individual could do for the company. Although in a way it is understandable, it does seem that all the traces of one’s personality, values and principles, should be left aside in order to become a ‘fit’ for a multinational corporation, and if you manage to convince them they will shape you and turn into whatever they need for the company regardless your preference or ambitions.
    Having said that, it does seem that even for entry level positions or internships everyone prefers the ones that already have a million internships behind them and 100 years of experience in the field, even if in their job description they state that ‘no experience is required and training is given on the job’. I guess it’s easier for them to hire someone who already knows the job and just give them training on what’s been going on lately in the office. But what are the ones like me supposed to do then? If no one gives you the chance to get that first experience that you need? You put everything in those applications and watch how your email gets full of negative responses, that’s if they can be bothered to answer each candidate. What is even more frustrating is that even for unpaid jobs they ‘secretly’ want you to have all this experience and more, and expect you to be a lottery winner so you could pay for your rent and expenses while you do all the unpaid internships in the world with the hope that maybe someone appreciates what you are doing.
    I have moved to England 4 years ago for studying at University in the hope that I would be able to build a better future for myself and contribute to the welfare of societies and environment once I started my career. But then realized more and more that the youth is not supported in any way in terms of career development, goals and ambitions, regardless all these ‘Youth Development Schemes’ proposed by the EU institutions. It does seem that certain parts of societies are highly favored and the ones like myself who really want to do something with their lives better get themselves a job in whatever the standards tell them they would be ‘suitable’ for and perhaps change expectations.
    At the moment it looks like a dead end.

  8. Maria,

    I think you nailed it with the concept of possibly having to sacrifice a little of one’s self when they join a company.

    Now if you and said company have the same or similar goals, that’s just fine. But if you don’t fit with that company’s culture, it’s likely at some point that your values and their values might come to clash with each other.

    I wanted to share another article I found in recent months. http://www.truity.com/blog/4-career-choices-introverts. But don’t let the article’s title fool you. I think many people of different personality types can also relate to this. I remember I was once very briefly a #2 from this article. Now I’m more like some kind of combination of #s 1 and 3.

    They say that you should build your own dreams, or someone else will have you build theirs. That you should make your own plans for yourself so that you don’t fall into someone else’s plans, and because no one else has anything planned for you. That you’ll regret it whenever someone else makes your decisions for you, regardless of the outcome.

    But something about what you want to do not always being realistic, practical, and/or lucrative, but the stable jobs seem unfulfilling, meaningless, and dull can make one wonder how, if, and maybe we should, re-examine some of the world’s workplaces. The only thing else I can say is that it’s not easy leading a double-life.

  9. I understand your frustration. I am 57 and was a nonprofit CEO. Due to funding cuts I lost my job. I have been looking for 18 months. I had 25 years experience in nonprofits. I am diving for Uber and Lyft now. I feel I am helping people- I do look at it as a public service, keeping intoxicated people off the roads. I like making my own hours and interacting with many of the passengers. The down side is that it works out to minimum wage, after car expenses, so I have to work 80 hours a week to pay the bills.

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