I’m reading Chimamanda’s novel Americanah and somewhere in chapter 30-something, her characters start talking about Obama’s election campaign.
It brought back memories of the early 2000’s in which people would ask “Is America ready for a black president?”
At the time, I thought that question was insane — a self-limiting belief for a nation to hold. That racism was so blatant and ubiquitous that it would prevent us from having a president darker than a paper lunch bag.
Why would you look so poorly on yourself, America? Why would you tell yourself something that doesn’t need to be true? And even if it is true, why should that stop you, America?
I almost didn’t apply the same logic to myself.
When I first graduated I was seeking work, but very specifically I was seeking PRN work. That meant that I would be called into work only on an “as-needed” basis. It’s typically less hours than working part-time. I wanted to have multiple PRN jobs to get a wide variety of experiences. As a dietitian, the job market was full of openings that were full time. I lounged at any chance to work part-time or PRN.
3 months went by and I was jobless. I was utterly depressed and didn’t know what to think of myself. Especially when it felt like half my classmates already had jobs, and two of them had jobs at the same places I applied to. I kept wanting to know what it meant about me.
I went online to rant and I was told “It’s your name”.
I thought (and posted) “No, it can’t be my name. Half my class also has foreign names and they got jobs right away.” “I work in a medical profession. Foreign-ness doesn’t matter in health care like other industries.”
But the well-intended comments went on. “It’s your name.” “Change your name to something less threatening.” “You know, Americans hate things they cannot pronounce.” “Your classmates may have foreign names, but I bet yours looks even more foreign.”
For a week, I actually let that get to me. I bought into it, somehow. I was desperate for an answer that made sense to me — so I latched on to the stupid name thing.
The problem was that having this psuedo-explanation didn’t help me feel any better. In fact, I felt 10 times WORSE. I stopped applying for jobs. I lost the vigor I once had.
Other friends came in for support, urging me to throw out this name-business. That it has nothing to do with my name. That some of them were employers and would look at my resume first BECAUSE my name was unique. I didn’t believe them. Nothing could make me believe them because then I’d be back to “Okay, then why do I feel like a failure? What other explanation is there?”
It wasn’t until I got called in for a series of successful interviews and finally landed (my first among a few others now) A JOB.
As more and more offers came into my e-mail inbox and voicemail, the lie (or — if it is true — an unproductive belief) I chose to believe shattered. I realized how useless believing that made me. “How many more job offers would be coming in now if I had kept going that week I let that thought put me into a paralyzing depression?”
I was ashamed that I had let OTHER PEOPLE’S negative beliefs get to me and limit myself. I threw it out like molded bread.
And learned of other reasons why the job prospects were looking slow in the beginning:
- Lots of competition with other new dietitians in the same area
- Sometimes companies realize they cannot afford hiring a new person
- Hiring staff was using up the rest of their PTO and thusly, unresponsive
- Competition between a new grad with 0 years experience vs. someone with 30 years experience
- Some people became friends with the right people at the right time
- I was NOT applying to full-time positions that would have been more willing to have a fresh graduate
- etc, etc, multiitude of reasons that you may never really find out until you walk a day in the company’s shoes
Self-limiting beliefs, any thought in which you give yourself the reasons you cannot succeed at something, are powerful. And utterly unproductive. But I was able to rise above it and Barack Obama is our president.