Friday, December 9, 2011

Job Seeker Zen

Why did I spot this quote in my Google+ timeline last night?
"A job seeker is a masterless slave." ~Steve Pavlina (blog)

Career, job hunting, work-life balance, difficult workplace situations, making ends meet, ... These are actively on my mind these days. We know from our studies that when an idea takes root in the mind like this, we begin to see it all around us. Throughout the day our different observations, conversations, and so forth each bump up against everything from our habits to our beliefs and onward to whatever else we are holding in our heads, regardless of whether we are conscious of them. Before we know it, it's the topic of the day in Zen class; it's shared conversation with friends over lunch; it's taking note of the economic and unemployment reports; and it's spotting serendipitous nuggets like Steve's quote resonating with us. Suddenly you see that everybody else was in the same boat with you all along? Maybe the problem was worse than you thought... Before you know it, you are giving an instinctive response from within your capabilities and circumstances, perhaps writing a blog post about the phenomenon itself. ;-)

Now if life were moving along as expected, would I have noticed Steve's post at all? It may have been in the timeline, sure, but would I have really seen it? The mind is continuously inundated with sensory input and thought, but most of it arguably goes unnoticed. Just consider for example that even when your eyes are closed, there is still seeing happening even if it's only the back of your eyelids. So, what is it when something as simple as a short Google+ post hooks your conscious attention? What circumstances were ripening inside me, ready for an encounter with such a random trigger? How much pressure must have been building to have me change course from my regularly scheduled day and write this essay in response?

Pause and consider:

  • Did I have any choice in how I responded?
  • What does my response show about my mind?
  • How would a different mind have responded?
  • Can you change your mind?

For the jobseeker, those are particularly poignant questions. After all, is this not the nature of the interview process itself? Have you ever considered what happens if an interviewer senses desperation in your responses--that is, when you are more focused upon needing a job--the scarcity or lack-- rather than evaluating the job in front of you? How are your answers received?

Steve has written about an exercise I believe he calls "manifesting pennies." In short form, we do this: Absolutely know that there is spare change lying on the sidewalks in plain sight, review the sensation of how happy we would be to find some of those coins, release those very thoughts trusting that they will take care of themselves, and then set off on a carefree walk. Over time, we undoubtedly begin to spot the spare change. Each successful find brings joy and reinforces the belief, spurring on the activity. Occasionally we may hit a dry spell and question whether the experiment is working, but we don't get stuck in that doubt; we revisit the belief and the feelings and try again another time.

Now, if we secretly hold the suspicion that the experiment will not work but set out to debunk it, will we be more likely to be happy finding a coin or proving ourselves right in finding no coin? Either way, the function--confirmation bias--is the same: Both people will get busy with their beliefs and tend toward eventually having a jar that confirms their beliefs.

Consider a different potential problem: Suppose I fail to let thoughts about that penny quest go before setting off on my walk? If during my walk my mind is focused upon the details of the experiment, when will my mind have time to scan for coins? Can it really do both? (Remember the desperate interviewer?) Is it necessary to consciously direct the search for coins with thought, or is being open to finding coins sufficient? Can't we just trust the body and mind to do the search without supervision? When my mind is locked onto a thought or pattern that is taking away from the "idle cycle" tasks at hand, how can I release the thought and get back to business?

Just like Steve's quote, I can only take note of a coin on the street because my mind was "tuned" to recognize it. It would not have been any more there or less there either way--meaning my belief did not cause it to appear in any mundane sense; however, it would not have been there in any esoteric sense unless I was predisposed to see it. The quote hooked my conscious attention. I "manifested" Steve and his quote when I gave them meaning.

We should see that faith in the "manifesting pennies" exercise creates a change in mind which in turn spurs a change in physical habit. It may take some training to adopt the new programing, but it is doable. When not otherwise distracted, your mind will have your eyes scanning the sidewalk for shiny things in hope of a find (or a failure to find, depending on your disposition). You may even change your habits further to take longer or more frequent walks than you otherwise would. In essence, incorporating the new belief and everything associated with it fundamentally puts the auto-piloted aspects of your life on a new course in potentially unpredictable ways. After all, you might miss a potential mate's gaze if your eyes are watching the ground; similarly, people who might otherwise engage you might think you too strange if you suddenly break a conversation to pick up a penny. Then again, you might find someone who appreciates your thriftiness or your pragmatism! There is no way to tell...

Now, can we extrapolate and see how all of this this might apply to the job seeker? Did you see the parallels?

The worthwhile Zen masters and the personal development specialists alike make a deep study of these functions and share their insights, giving others the opportunity to free themselves with their examples. While all of this is a concern for me, expect to see more posts delving deeper into the study and the applications. I'm working now to take our insights from our Zen and martial studies and to make them applicable to the job hunt, giving job seekers different tools and perspectives to shake free of past problems and to put success back in motion.

Do you have a story or some insight to share? Would you like to learn more? Comment on this post or email with interest and inquiries!

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