by Tom Melander

“You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem.”  –Eldridge Cleaver


In my last post, I concluded that we must face the possibility that unemployment might remain high for another year or more, and even when the job market improves, we will continue to face increased competition from foreign workers. With no real end in sight, simply hoping for change won’t solve the practical problems the unemployed face today.


This article will explore the idea that, in times of hardship, you’re either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. This can be a tough topic. Accepting this idea forces us to assume personal responsibility even when circumstances beyond our control determine many of our outcomes.


It’s Not About Blame


When things go wrong, it’s about maintaining dignity and self-respect. I’ve found that folks who habitually see themselves as a part of the solution—regardless of their circumstance—suffer less and find solutions to their practical problems faster than those who turn inward and focus purely on their own hardships.


But let’s face it. Popular culture measures worth in terms of income, wealth, and consumption. We are bombarded by images of the rich, beautiful, and materially successful. They’ve come to represent success. What’s worse is that many of these images are specifically created to feed our insecurities and motivate us to buy into whatever they represent.


It’s no wonder our self-worth falters when we lose a job. We’re told we no longer count because we no longer consume. This is false, of course, but it takes time before we realize that each of us has intrinsic value no matter what our circumstances are. The key is to be part of the solution.


We need to be careful not to cut ourselves off from our most reliable mechanism for overcoming both hardships and feelings of self-doubt: using our skills and abilities to produce a meaningful outcome. But how does this work from a practical perspective when you don’t have a job?


Rebuild Self-Worth by Giving Back


Balancing our job search efforts with a good measure of giving back is an effective way to boost our sense of self-worth. It is important to find volunteer opportunities that engage our talents and special abilities. For me, that means purely feel-good activities—while noble—don’t make the cut. When I’ve been unemployed, giving back has meant helping individuals referred by my pastor with vocation questions. But giving back doesn’t have to mean a formal activity with a non-profit. A client of mine who teaches firearm safety classes at his community center also helps the owner of a local gun shop by running errands for the store. 


Giving back does more than benefit the recipient:


  • It keeps our current skills sharp. It hones the skills we already have.
  • It allows us to learn new things. It gives us the chance to take our skills in a different direction.
  • It allows us to network. We can connect with other professionals which might lead to a new job opportunity.
  • It fills employment gaps in our resumes. It shows potential employers that we are active, hard-working, and engaged.
  • It provides social interaction. It can take the place of the camaraderie we once had at work.
  • It gives us purpose. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning and helps us maintain a daily routine.
  • It’s fulfilling. It allows us to make a difference in our community.


Giving back can provide purpose for our lives during uncertainty and renew those feelings of self-worth, which are critical to job search success. Did you know that the word vocation comes from the Latin word voc which means call? By engaging our skills and talents to help another, we can continue to live out our true vocation, or calling, while we search for our next job.


4 thoughts on “Maintain Your Self-Worth While Unemployed

  1.  Volunteering can be great for building self esteem AND a resume.  Mary Clare, you may want to think about ways to use your skills through volunteering during your leave.  The advantage of this is that you can limit hours and build in flexibility with volunteering.
    Two sites  you may want to check our are and  You can sort both of these databases to find opportunities.  Altelrnately, you can explore opportunities with organizations through networking.


  2. I'm coming up on maternity leave, which I'm excited about but it will also mean that there will be a gap between when I finish my Master's degree and when I will start looking for a job.  I'm a little nervous that I won't be as marketable as my classmates who will have had continuous work and/or school experience before looking for a job.  My other concern is not that I will be bored, but that I won't be moving forward in my career and using my new abilities (I'm planning to take a full year off).  This article reminded me that there are other ways to stay "in it" without having to work full-time.  I'm hoping that by volunteering or staying involved somehow it will help me in this coming transition time in the ways outlined in the article.


  3. Before reading this blog, I hadn't thought about volunteering as being an important tool for those who are unemployed because it seems that searching for jobs in today's economy is extremely time consuming and almost a job in itself.  After reading the blog, however, I realized that volunteering provides a very worthwhile experience for someone to re-gain a sense of self-worth in both the workplace and community as a whole, while networking with others in an effort to expand upon one's job search.  I really enjoyed Sarah B.'s comment because after reading the blog, I as well thought that perhaps an unemployed individual could utilize volunteering as a way to "test drive" a new career path or area of interest while building self-confidence in the skills and knowledge-base for a particular field. 


  4. Thanks for this entry. I think the issue of self-worth while facing unemployment is incredibly important, and yet often overlooked. I completely agree that there is tremendous value in balancing a new job search with some sort of giving back to the community. I think people often dismiss volunteering as an activity for young people or bleeding hearts, and I appreciate your emphasis on the other positive aspects of volunteering that apply to everybody, especially the unemployed. I feel that people are constantly shocked by how much they get out of volunteering – the amazing people they meet and the new and exciting challanges they face – and are often inspired to embrace a new career path and make new connections.


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