The Trick to Cultivating Motivation for Your Job Search


Looking for work is challenging. All the effort and energy comes from YOU.

You’re the one who has to send out the resumes, apply for the jobs, reach out to people to network, look for job postings, etc. It’s a huge expenditure of energy that relies solely on your ability to motivate yourself. And, often, you may hear … crickets.

Finding that internal motivation is critical, but often people inadvertently de-motivate themselves when it comes to their job search.

For example, one of my clients takes a deep breath and sighs every time we get past the "how are yous" to talking about his job search. Which is ironic because the reason he’s here is to talk about his job search, but he is far more comfortable talking to me about everything BUT. He’s feeling super guilty because the truth is, he hasn’t done much.

In fact, he doesn’t really want to look for work because all that he can imagine is that a future job will be exactly like his last one: exhausting, frustrating and all-consuming. So pictures a soul-sucking, energy-draining job, he’s worried about paying his bills, and he’s telling himself, “I should be doing more to find a job, but my wife doesn’t want to move.”

Ugh. With all of that swirling around in his brain, it’s amazing he got out of bed this morning.

Yes, it’s true that he has bills. Yes, it may be true that he could be doing more. But if this isn’t motivating him, let’s move on to something that will. Right now he’s motivating himself from a place of fear (which most of us do), e.g., “I better get a job because if I don’t, I’ll lose my house, my wife and my car.” This sends him into panic-anxiety mode, which results in a flurry of not-really-thought-through-all-the-way activity. Or, the anxiety is so overwhelming that he is paralyzed and doesn’t do anything.

So what do you do?

Imagine, instead, what do you WANT?

Working amongst the palm trees? (That’s what I’m doing right now, and it’s pretty awesome.)

Being able to come and go as you please?

A flexible job that also pays?

If you can articulate what you WANT, you are far more likely to get it.

The surprising thing is how difficult it can be to actually identify what you want. We often nip our dreams in the bud before they can start making us excited—or afraid. They are smothered by these kinds of thoughts: Oh, that’s a pipedream. I could never do that and make money. It’s just not realistic.

Sometimes it’s easier to start by writing down all the stuff you didn’t like about your last job. Write it all down. Be honest. No one else will see this.

Next, what would be the opposite of each item on your list?

While listing the opposite might not be exactly what you are looking for, it gets you focusing on what you want rather than staying stuck in what you don’t want. It’s better to point toward the future, what you want, than dwell on the past.

Focus your list on three things:

  • What kinds of things would you’d like to do every day? It can be a variety of tasks or a predictable series of things. It’s up to what works for you.

  • Who you would work with?

  • Where would you work?

Figure out what you want, really, and it will help turn your motivation around. And if what you want scares you a little bit (or a lot), then it means you’re on the right track. Because realizing you can have what you want is powerful, scary (and exciting!) stuff. See what happens to your motivation when you allow yourself to dream about what you want.

That’s what can turn around your motivation. But if you still don’t believe me, read this:

True Inspirational Story

One of my clients had been commuting an hour each way to and from work when we first met. In our first session, he explained all the reasons he was unemployable and why any job he’d want would require a long commute.

I suggested, just for fun, we identify the things that he’d really like, so we made a list of what was really important to him: the commute, autonomy, on-the-job training, salary requirements, etc.

For kicks, he applied to a job close to his house. To his surprise, they called him in for an interview. After talking with them, they offered him a job. They provided all the training he wanted and needed. He got the salary and autonomy he wanted. The best part? His commute is 10 minutes.

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Portland, OR

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