Job searching is hard and can be demoralising. The longer people search, the more their self-confidence is dented. Add to that a foreign language and a foreign culture and the challenge is complete. YLC’s mental health expert Lysanne Sizoo suggests that you can use this time of transition wisely and meet the challenge creatively by finding out what you would love doing first.
Shifting the focus
When we move to a new country, we are all, regardless of nationality or background, keen to slot in and find our place in our new environment. For many people, a way of doing this is through a job. Employment, on one level, is about paying the mortgage and putting bread on the table, but hot on the heels of a financial imperative is a self-esteem-related one. It can feel hard for some to know who they are without a professional identity; but why just do what you’ve always done, unless it is what makes you feel happy? Transitions offer the unique opportunity of reinventing yourself; however, shedding your skin, snake-like, doesn’t come without effort and sometimes a little pain. And successful internationals often reflect positively that being in a foreign land sometimes makes them far more courageous and enterprising than they would have been at home. There’s nothing to lose but a bit of pride.
Self-esteem built on ‘knowing thyself’
Having a career, for both men and women, is highly regarded in Sweden and is often used as a way to ‘know’ who you are. This adds pressure to incomers to quickly find a job and therefore, a label, just to answer the question “och vad gör du?” … Don’t be afraid to take your time and sort out what needs to be sorted out internally. Jumping back into the rat race… just to feel you have bought yourself an identity would be a sad loss of the opportunity that change and transition can bring.
Having a career, for both men and women, is highly regarded in Sweden and is often used as a way to ‘know’ who you are. This adds pressure to incomers to quickly find a job and therefore, a label, just to answer the question “och vad gör du?” I remember how the other dagis-mums would ask me this question on a regular basis for the first six months after we arrived. My vague “bit of translation, writing, finishing my counselling studies…” didn’t really satisfy their need to ‘know’ me through my work-label, nor my need to be accepted for the rather lost bunny that I was. Being supported by my husband didn’t always sit comfortably with either of us, but I used that time to come to terms with multiple experiences of pregnancy loss and doing some essential emotional spring cleaning. While my husband ‘had a life’ and worked hard to support us all, I felt both privileged in not being forced to put my son’s needs before those of an employer and yet also full of professional envy. Turning Point is now thriving, but it was built upon spending a good couple of creative years in the professional wilderness and being bravely vague in response to “och vad gör du?” So don’t be afraid to take your time and sort out what needs to be sorted out internally. Jumping back into the rat race, be it in a foreign culture and a foreign tongue, just to feel you have bought yourself an identity would be a sad loss of the opportunity that change and transition can bring.
Not being valued as you would be back home
For those who feel confident that they love what they do and want to continue, there is a different hurdle. The diplomas and the accreditations that they bring from other countries are not always recognised here. Despite being, for example, licensed physiotherapists or architects in their home country, they might now need to jump through a great many hoops, or even start from scratch, just to be allowed to use their job title. In addition, most Swedish employers, from pubs and restaurants to big commercial enterprises, will expect you to speak ‘good enough’, if not fluent, Swedish before they consider employing you. For some people learning a second, third or even fourth language is as easy as getting up and walking the dog in the morning, but for others it can be real challenge.
This situation requires both physical and mental perseverance that goes hand in hand with the right to have moments of despair and anger. Expressing your frustration can clear the mind and give you the impetus for another round with the appropriate authorities in your best broken Swedish, fighting for your professional right. Most people eventually get there, driven by the love of their chosen profession.
Meaningful (unpaid) work is work too!
You can also use this time of transition to pinpoint for yourself what your need of a job is right now. If social contact and finding a network is more important, for now, than providing for a family or for yourself, then volunteering can be a wonderful way to gain experience and ‘try out’ new directions in life. A friend of mine recently returned from Australia and now volunteers for the Coroner’s office in the UK. She does an amazingly responsible job yet sometimes she feels that by adding ‘volunteer’ to her work description in conversations with others, she is presenting herself as somehow inferior to those who are economically employed. She knows that part of this is about her own individual prejudices and so she reminds herself on a daily basis that her work is meaningful and full of purpose yet leaves her totally free to care for her two pre-teen boys on her own terms. And in the meantime that particular Coroner’s office is getting to benefit from a rare talent to the team.
Dreaming your way to a great job
Finally, I believe any career orientation process should always include some dream work around what you ‘desire’ to do, rather than what you ‘ought’ to do. Remembering what you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’, and noticing what practical and so-called sensible voices got in the way, can be a great eye opener. In client work I sometimes ask people to actively ‘disable’ the practical and/or pragmatic parts of themselves (and sometimes their inner critics too), so that the process of creative day dreaming can actually take place. If you want to write a book but keep asking yourself after every word written whether it will ever be a bestseller will surely inhibit any possible creative flow that might have existed.
Try it for yourself… close your eyes for a moment, ask your pragmatic and critical (or sensible, or practical) self to step back for just one moment. Then ask your creative self; “If YOU could choose, in an ideal world, what YOU wanted to do, … what would you be doing?”
You might surprise yourself. Perhaps your creative self tells you that, for now, studying Swedish and learning about the Swedes is more than enough to be getting on with, or that being a full-time mother is what makes your heart sing. Maybe you want to be in the same profession, but feel more independent, or maybe you are sitting on a huge truckload of knowledge that you never ever dreamed could be marketable. Change can take a lot of planning and time, sometimes years, but it begins with reconnecting to an old dream, and switching off the voices that said you couldn’t or shouldn’t. It’s not even the practical outcome of such a mind experiment that is important, but the process of setting aside a moment or two to listen in, to a non-conditioned, deeper inner voice. Then you can still choose to ignore it or not, but at least you are doing it with awareness.
Once you have created a mind space for dreaming, the next step is to balance it with supportive practicalities and planning. Think of the dreaming phase as the open end of the funnel, as wide as possible to catch all the ideas, and then, as you hone in on making those dreams a reality, the ideas are sharpened and shaped, but not criticized or put down. In the end, it is easier to be rejected for something you really believe in, than to be rejected for something that wasn’t even your idea to begin with. The former is their loss, the latter yours, for trying to be what you’re not… and then being rejected for it.
These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and
clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic
meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would
never be shared in a public forum.
If you have any specific questions about job counselling, or indeed other issues that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved).
Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.
Article: Lysanne Sizoo
Photo Credit: Doug Wheller