[Author’s note: this update is written for jobseekers who are struggling to find a job during this coronavirus pandemic, while I have to go back to fighting Stage IV cancer. This blog is also posted at A Life’s Walk With Cancer].
Before the first coronavirus (COVID-19) case reported on January 21, 2020, of an American who returned from Wuhan, China, the national unemployment rate was only 3.6% and 220,000 Americans filed for Unemployment Insurance (UI) on Jan. 18, 2020. As of today, the national unemployment rate increased to 4.4% and more than 26 million have filed for UI.
As a senior special assistant & advisor working at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as a community program director for Federal Career Connection, I’ve struggled on what to say to job seekers during this COVID-19 pandemic. I thought to myself, “Who am I to give encouragement to someone who is struggling to find a job during this pandemic, when I’m currently working!?”
Then I received my answer yesterday.
My oncologist informed me that my cancerous tumor increased in size and that I would need to undergo another round of treatment (this will make the sixth treatment regimen altogether since being diagnosed with cancer in late 2013).
The news hit hard. I thought I have pushed this cancer against the ropes…for good! The last PET/CT scan in January of this year indicated that the tumor remained basically the same size, with a decrease of hypermetabolic activity. I naively thought that after five years of fighting Stage IV melanoma cancer, there was a chance of going back into remission.
Yesterday evening I laid on my bed with my soul depleted and discouraged; hoping the darkness around me would swallow me up and take me to a protected sanctuary, so that I would not have to face another day with cancer.
This morning, I awoke still feeling discouraged about the news of my tumor growth. Then, I prayed to God to show me how to keep fighting.
Soon after my prayer, I realized that this cancer is a just cowardly and spineless bully; one that hides under the shadows of darkness, waiting to steal healthy nutrients from the body. And just like cancer, the coronavirus is a bully too. In a gutless fashion it attacks under the shadows, going after your respiratory system. Moreover, this shadowy virus also caused a national economic and unemployment crisis, catapulting you – the job seeker – into dire straits.
We both have our bullies to face: you as a job seeker and I as a cancer patient.
As a job seeker during these turbulent times amidst this national pandemic, you are most likely feeling depleted and discouraged as well, even hoping the darkness around you would swallow you up and take you to your own protected sanctuary. However, you are standing in this dark valley, and must walk through the valley of darkness to get to the other side.
As a Stage IV cancer patient, I continue to walk through my dark valley, and through the past six years I have gained some experience of how to deal with my bully each day. And through this experience, I would like to give you some well-founded advice to deal with your bully – this cowardly coronavirus and how it has adversely impacted your job search.
Keep in mind, however, the advice I give does not touch on how to job search during this coronavirus pandemic. In my opinion, there are plenty of good articles and blogs that offer practical advice on how to job search during this difficult time (e.g., Glassdoor’s “How To Job Search During The Coronavirus Pandemic” and Job-Hunt’s “How Hiring Happens During This Pandemic Quarantine”). The advice I give briefly describes how to take care of your health, develop a morning routine, fight for you and your loved ones, and depend on God’s strength during this national pandemic.
Take Care of Your Body thru Exercise, a Healthy Diet, and Sleep
It is especially important to maintain the following triadic healthy regiment, especially now during isolation. And yes, I know that I am not writing about anything new or groundbreaking. The issue is not knowing that exercise, eating healthy, and sleep are good for you, but it is actually doing it!
- Make time to exercise. If you are like me, the refrigerator has become a big challenge during this time! So, exercise daily. You will find, or have found, that exercising provides many benefits, from controlling weight to improving mental health and mood.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Exercise is not enough. It is all about nutrition! Steve Rathbun, a certified fitness trainer, argues that you can “train until you are blue in the face, but if you are eating unhealthy foods, then all that training accounts toward little benefits.” He recommends a person should eat smaller portions during each meal, consisting of a low-carb and high protein diet.” A good rule of thumb is that a portion should not be bigger than a clenched fist.”
- Get plenty of sleep. While exercise and a healthy diet are both important, sleep has a huge influence on your mood and productivity. Make sure you are getting between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. It will help you keep your stress levels under control during these challenging times.
Develop a Morning Routine
As I mentioned before, when I learned that my tumor increased in size, it was so easy to get into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hope the night would not end. And in the morning, I just didn’t want to get out of bed. But that is not living. In fact, it is more like dying than having cancer! So, I arose from my bed and got back into life.
If you do not have one, my advice as a cancer patient is to develop a morning routine that is supported by a time schedule. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, “Having a morning routine can increase your energy, productivity and positivity. It also generates momentum, building up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work (late morning).”
In my morning schedule, I get up at the same time each day…even on weekends! By getting up at the same time every day and following a morning routine, it will help you pull yourself together and be prepared to face your day and job search. And if you are not making your bed in the morning, I would strongly encourage you to start. In fact, Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) has this to say about making a bed:
Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise. It was expected of me. It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task. (Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World, 2017)
Fight for You and Your Loved Ones
Through adversity you will find your true grit and spirit. Remember, you a descendant of a rugged American; one who has toiled, sweated, and bled for this great nation of ours. Now, it is your turn to toil, sweat, and bleed – a true embodiment of what it means to be an American. We do not cower from fights, nor do we stop fighting for our loved ones. There is no whining. No crying. No complaining. Be the rugged American. Roll up your sleeves and fight. And when you think you can’t fight another day, then you must continue to fight, and then fight some more; and when you think you have no fight in you left, then fight some more! Do the same with the ones you love – love them and love them more, and when you think you cannot love them any better, then love them some more!
Depend on His Strength, Peace, and Faithfulness
Throughout these past six years of fighting cancer, I have often been told that I am a hero. I am nothing of the sort. I am just a personal and professional misfit; a wretched man who needs constant grace from God. In fact, based on national statistics of misfits like me, I should be in prison. But God has given me six years of life, because for most patients like me with metastatic Stage IV melanoma cancer is grim, with a 5-years survival rate between 5-19%. So, as a cancer patient who has outlived the statistics, I encourage you to turn to God and depend on His strength, peace, and faithfulness. Through His love, He will carry you through this difficult time. In fact, His strength is made more perfect in our weakness. He may not quicken your journey through this valley, but God will be with you all the way to the end. And if you accept His grace and love like I did through cancer, you will experience a renewed heart and intimacy with God.
I sincerely hope that the above advice gives you an extra push forward, and in some way instills the same fighting spirit that I have as a cancer patient.
Be safe. Be well. Be strong.
To get updates on upcoming workshops and career coaching sessions, visit https://federalcareerconnection.com
Author: Alex Harrington is currently a federal civil servant and a Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP) and Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF). He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a Persian Gulf War veteran, and is currently fighting Stage IV Melanoma Cancer.