How to Use Zen in Your Job Search


We live in a to-do focused society dominated by technology and science. It’s easy to let our job search transplant to the Western mentality of check lists. We weigh the pros and cons; the statistics. We predict measured outcomes. In a nutshell, we do everything we can to infuse logic and rationalizations on a series of decisions and processes that may be random and erratic. We want a system and process, steps one, two and three to take us from point A to point whatever.

Quite frankly, I think there is sometimes a tendency to overthink the job search process. I am not saying to wing it. Those who know me know that I am an advocate and champion for multifaceted strategies and a plan of action in the search. I also think we get in our own ways  sometimes by letting the intellect alone rule.

If you think about many of our major choices in life—marriage, having a child and other passages—we often make these choices via our gut, our heart. Often highly irrational. “I love him.” “It spoke to me!” “It just feels right.” So, I would argue that while intellect definitely has a role in the job search, the career campaign is best when the job seeker tunes into the Zen by not trying too hard to make things perfect. Sometimes when we overthink, we lose sight. Perhaps this is why so many beloved artistic gifts through the ages—art, writing, music or creating a tasty new recipe—were often born of a place outside the logic and rational.

I’d like to share a few Zen principles to consider using in your search.

Concentrate on the now

When you are making decisions around your vision for the future, it can help to pay close attention to how you feel today, in the present. Sometimes we let what hasn’t happened yet create an anxiety around fear of unknowns. Sometimes we get stuck on what’s happened in the past. This back-and-forth thinking can help us duck some hazards or consequences to be sure; but it can also impede our willingness to take risks, to look at opportunities staring us in the face right now. Ask yourself how you feel about things now? That’s your reality. Use it as your base. I don’t want now what I wanted in my twenties. I don’t know anyone whose realties and dreams don’t change. Using the now as a marker for the next can be very powerful.

Don’t conclude too quickly

Experts on creative thinking agree that the best ideas occur when someone is not inhibited by preconceived notions or judgments. In Zen, you would let your mind roam; you would not give in to concerns about what’s popular or correct. Creative ideas about career possibilities occur more fluidly in a place of acceptance. Explore possibilities ; not just what you think you should do based on history or advice.

Think in visuals

Take that potential job and peel away the layers of words (e.g., title, description) and numbers (e.g., people supervised, salary). Use your imagination to envision scenes and situations where you would like to work. What do you see? Are you standing in front of a crowd imparting knowledge? Engaged in lively discussion or trust-based relationships? Behind the scenes in solitude conceiving of wise solutions to nagging problems? Playing detective? Calming folks? Pictures can be more powerful than words.

One of my favorite pamperings is yoga; and I try to get to class twice a week. An additional bonus to how relaxed I feel in mind and body afterwards is that the class is taught by my friend, Aleen. She is fond of saying that life is on the mat. When I’m on that mat and find that I’m not as strong standing on my left leg as I was the time before, it could well be even stronger the next time. Or I may discover I’ve mastered a different technique. Ironed out a kink. I am reminded that while the destination may be in our scope, isn’t it the journey that becomes our life? Applying Zen to the job search can only enhance its essence as part of that journey.

Photo: Johan Larsson

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