Exactly one year ago, in December 2019, the first human case of COVID-19 was identified. Since then, the world has hurled into a state of emergency, with millions of people fighting for their jobs, food, and shelter, if not for their lives, with the death toll at 1.7 million and still counting. Over the past year, we’ve seen communities come together, key workers risk their lives, and some remarkable acts of charity and kindness, despite the world economy essentially coming to a halt. Different countries have faced their own set of setbacks, and have approached balancing public health and safety alongside ensuring economic recovery and continuity of education, in their own way.
Somehow, within this chaos, the class of 2020 have graduated and entered the job market. As a December MBA graduate, I started my job hunt a couple of weeks ago, and already I can feel the pressure of unemployment slowly mounting up. And yes, of course, my anxiety is creeping right back up too. In this article, I want to talk about the 3 realisations that helped me to cope with graduating into a COVID-19 world, to manage the stress that comes with unemployment and job hunting, and to actually enjoy this extra time that I have gained.
Realisation 1: Getting into a daily routine is important for good physical and mental health
With unemployment comes, what I call, the ‘infinite time-lapse’, where you find yourself forgetting what day of the week it is, or sometimes, even the time of day! I talk about this first because I am notoriously bad at keeping to a schedule – I love to get lost in what I am doing and before I know it, it is three o’clock in the morning. And that just sets me off for a lousy week of missing the daylight hours to go for a run, not getting proper meals or simply enjoying what little sunshine what we might be getting in the UK (this time of year, every drop is rare and precious!). All of these things are incredibly important for our health and well-being, and the best way to kick this off is to get back into a routine, out of the ‘student-life’ and into the mindset of a professional.
Anyone who knows me well enough, will know that I love a good planner. It’s really important to implement what works best for YOU. Set yourself achievable goals, i.e. small and realistic tasks, which are time-bound. It is extremely important to foster a sense of accomplishment, by celebrating the small-wins, in order to continue maintaining a productive and healthy routine. It is also essential for boosting your mood and motivation to keep you going! For example, most days, I want to tick off an exercise, a networking task, and a blogging task within my schedule. Most days. Which brings me to my next point.
Realisation 2: Accepting that not every day will be ‘productive’.
The definition of ‘productivity’ means to “create more in less amount of time”, which in turn creates this impression of always trying to work towards achieving our goals and ‘staying busy’. In this pursuit, we become entangled in pushing ourselves beyond our limits, until we burn out and get demotivated, or even experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Perhaps, the definition of productivity needs a little retouch, because taking time off to relax and re-charge is equally, if not more, essential to success – and even more important for our mental health and well-being. There will be days that you don’t achieve what you set out to – forgive yourself for that. Don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself the rest or the break. Sometimes, I like to set myself time to just do nothing. I’ll watch a movie or catch up on a series, or browse some magazines. If I find that I am falling out of my routine, I give myself the opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate my schedule and re-adjust my ‘achievable goals’.
Furthermore, productivity is not always ‘work-related’. It is whatever fulfils you and brings you a sense of accomplishment and excitement. Use this time to pursue those things that you might usually be ‘too busy’ for. It can be a work-out, reading a book, editing a movie, creating a scrapbook, writing a blog, researching into new hobbies, learning a new language… and my favourite, reflection.
Realisation 3: Understanding the value and role of reflection in our successes.
The natural temptation is to jump into the first opportunity that comes along and dive back into the nine-to-five daily slog, but there is so much value in taking a little time for reflection. For recent graduates, whether undergrad, masters or the one-year intensive full-time MBA, this can be valuable time to reflect on and absorb all that information that we have been collecting through our notes, recordings, etc, in order to apply these valuable tools, frameworks and knowledge effectively in our careers – whether that’s in the job search process or in our next roles. For me, this means making all the important information easily accessible. Our brains can only retain a limited amount of information – so it becomes important to store the ‘little details’ in a retrievable way. I like to categorise my notes by topic and purpose, for e.g. interview tips, coaching guidance, company-related research, lecture learnings, etc. Furthermore, I am currently enjoying capturing reflections on my blog, The MBA Pilgrimage, focusing on assignments, dissertation, favourite modules, guest speaker sessions, etc – and hoping that it is proving useful for current and future MBA and business students.
Finally, keeping up with current events, and the ways in which different industries and companies have been affected over the past year, has been an important element of my reflection exercises, more so in updating my on-going research on various businesses, networks and industries. However, this comes with an element of resilience. Current events can be a little overwhelming – and paired with the struggles of the job hunt, it is important to balance our exposure to the news, social media, and online comments. The ideal scenario is finding a sweet-spot between learning enough to stay updated and educated, and then shutting out the explosion of opinions and views out there. In reality, it doesn’t work that smoothly, and we are all only human. Again, be kind to yourself when this happens.
So, I want to finish, just by looping back to my previous points about ensuring that our mental and physical health and well-being is the absolute top priority. At the end of the day, simply surviving 2020 will have been more than enough. Remember to be kind to the people around you – everyone has had their own struggle – and always always always keep spreading the good energy, positivity and love!
About the Author
Sresha is a biomedical scientist and engineer, with over 10 years of professional experience in the Healthcare and Social Impact industry working for and with the UK's National Health Service (NHS), emergency response, charities, pharmaceutical & medical device companies, specialising in Customer Operations, Consumer Behaviour and Marketing. With a strong passion for helping the community and making lives better, Sresha used her entrepreneurial mindset to co-found the Women in Business Club at Warwick Business School, during her full-time MBA programme last year, setting up webinars, group coaching sessions and panels. Since then, she has started her own blog, reflecting on the female experience, MBA learnings and career strategies with an aim to create a thriving community of learners, and leaders.
Follow Sresha on Instagram at MBA Pilgramme