Lots of people have joked for years about lazy Americans sitting on the couch, eating Bonbons and watching Jerry Springer. It’s a great visual. We can all imagine that poor-old-somebody lying around, doing a whole bunch of nothing, going absolutely nowhere. And we’ve all taken solace in that fact that “that guy isn’t me”.Things have changed. And although Jerry Springer is no longer on the air, more and more people are finding themselves stuck on the couch, avoiding getting a job. It’s not that folks are lazy (though honestly, some are). It’s not that they don’t want to work (though honestly, some don’t). It’s that people are literally paralysed by the thought of having to find work in these crazy times. To job seekers everywhere whose boots are stuck in the mud, here are three ways to bust through roadblocks and get back to work.
Roadblock #1: I’m Stuck
There’s a hilarious video called Stuck on an Escalator making its way around YouTube. A guy is riding an escalator when it suddenly stops working. Panicked, he turns to the woman a few steps below him. Neither of them know what to do. For what seems to be hours, they sit and wait. They are, in their own minds, completely stuck.
For those of us watching this amusing vignette, we can’t imagine why our hero doesn’t just walk up, or down, and free himself from this captivity. Unfortunately, like many job seekers, he doesn’t see any options, and has locked himself in a kind of mental jail. To get unstuck in your job search, you have to break out of your mental jail.
There are many reasons job seekers get stuck: they’ve been doing one kind of job forever, and can’t imagine doing anything else; they haven’t had to look for a job for a long time, and don’t know where to start; they have absolutely no idea what they can, or even WANT to do, so they do nothing.
Here are 4 simple things you can do today to get unstuck. I call it the R.E.D.O. Rule. Every day for the next week, I want you to commit to spending 30 minutes on each of the following:
- Research: 30 minutes on the Internet researching and learning about how to find and get the job you’ve always wanted. Use Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com as a starting point. Both offer some great tools and technique to get your engine going.
- Exercise: 30 minutes getting some kind of exercise, preferably outdoors.
- Design: 30 minutes to designing what your future working life will be. This means evaluating your passions, interests and skills, and brainstorming new things you can do for work.
- Outreach: 30 minutes making at least one phone call and writing a minimum of two emails to people who might be able to help you in your job search.
Here’s why R.E.D.O. works: Part of feeling stuck is psychological, and part of it is neurochemical. In the case of feeling stuck, you need to work both sides of the equation.
- The job universe can seem daunting and enormous. Focused research helps you better define what you are looking for, giving you some mental room to breathe.
- Exercise helps your brain produce endorphins and dopamine that provide stress relief and increase your capacity to learn and absorb.
- Using your imagination to design your future reminds you that you have choices. Choices allow you to feel less cornered, leaving room to get unstuck.
- Reaching out to others – for help, communication, and advice—gets the bonding chemical oxytocin flowing. These connections can make you feel more supported and less isolated on your journey.
Getting unstuck is a crucial component to making a healthy leap back into the job market. If your feet feel like they’re covered in dried, cracked mud, it’s time to find your bootstraps and break free. Try R.E.D.O. and give your psyche and your brain some much-needed help.
Roadblock #2: I’m Embarrassed
I once worked with a man who hadn’t found his “perfect” job a full twelve months after coming out of a prestigious mid-career graduate school program. One day, during a session, he told me he was no longer going out socially, as he felt too self-conscious telling people what he’s been up to.
Many long-term job seekers report that they’re embarrassed about being out of work for so long. They avoid going out because they don’t know how to fill in the big gap in their résumé, and they feel ashamed that they have gotten themselves (and potentially their family) into this situation. And, embarrassed job seekers are also particularly sensitive to the “Why have you been out of work so long?” question that inevitably comes as part of the job interview process.
Here’s a little tough love. Your embarrassment is in your head. In general, no one else is judging you. And, if they are, the best retort is a well-prepared answer. A prepared story showcases all of the various things you’ve been doing to stay busy during your unemployment. Even if these activities don’t feel like accomplishments to you, you actually have been doing something that is worth talking about. Who knows? It might be all that’s needed to ignite a conversation that could lead someplace interesting.
Why do you need to get over being embarrassed and get out there again? Because the way people get hired in today’s economy is through the people you meet, befriend and network with. They are the best tool in your arsenal for getting back to business. If you avoid going out, attending networking events, even your child’s soccer game, all because you’re embarrassed, you’re missing out on all of the opportunities that each conversation might bring.
Here’s a simple technique for preparing your story and helping you through your embarrassment. I call it The Story of You.
Think about all of things that you’ve been doing while you’ve been looking for work. Have you been volunteering at a soup kitchen? Taking a course to stay current? Running a home-based business? Being a stay-at-home parent? Substitute teaching? Working part-time? Networking and having informational interviews? Coaching Little League? Connecting with your local Chamber of Commerce? Unless you’re truly stuck in your life (see #1 above), chances are that you’ve been pretty busy in your unemployment. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and write all of it down.
Once you have a list of 3-5 things, write yourself a short paragraph describing all of these things. Put in colourful tidbits to make yourself sound interesting and engaged. And even if you don’t feel it, fake it. You’re not going to stop feeling embarrassed until you get used to tooting your own horn a little bit. A sample story might come out as something like this:
“It’s been a busy time. My seven year-old daughter plays soccer, and I’m one of her coaches. Last month I took a night class in marketing so I could improve my skills. And now I work part-time at a local diner while I continue to pursue finding work at an ad agency or in the marketing department of a company.”
This is The Story of You, and you need to create it and embrace it, not be embarrassed by it. No, not all of us have been perfectly occupied during our unemployment, and we’ve probably wasted more time than we’d like to admit. The best way to get your confidence back is by getting back in the game.
Roadblock #3: It’s Hopeless
Yes, it is true. There are about 14 million Americans reporting that they don’t have work. The actual number might be even higher. But it is also true that there are 3.2 million available jobs right now, and that means that 23% of job seekers could have jobs if they wanted them. What that means is that you are just as likely to be a fit for one of those 3.2 million jobs as the next Joe, and you need to find a way to make yourself part of that 23%.
Hopelessness, quite frankly, isn’t going to get you hired. And different from being stuck, it carries a weightier burden. Hopelessness creates an emotional state so deep in despair that it can often override our survival instincts. In these cases, depression, anxiety and even thoughts of suicide become real concerns.
In May of 2011, I was brought in by The Boston Globe to do a Career Makeover segment for a man who had been out of work for almost two years. Until the recent economic downturn, he had remained gainfully employed as he followed his wife, an academic, as she moved around the country in pursuit of her academic goals. Now, settled in Boston, having applied for dozens of teaching jobs and having had eight unsuccessful job interviews, he was not only discouraged, but quite hopeless about his prospects.
It was a tough case. Men in particular, find satisfaction and gain self-esteem by being able to provide for their loved ones. Faced with his inability to make ends meet, and having to depend on his wife’s academic wages, my client was in a tough spot.
Have you ever known someone who completed a Marathon? Mastered an instrument? Lost an enormous amount of weight? What all of these achievers have in common, is that at some point in the lives they made a decision. They made a decision that they were going to cross the finish line no matter what it took. They were going to practice violin, even when others were out having fun. They were going to drop those pounds even if it meant giving up sweets forever. These people made a commitment to not only sacrificing for their goals, but learning the survival skills necessary to achieve them.
You’re no different than a Marathon runner, a musician, or a dieter, except, for perhaps, in one way. You may have forgotten how to survive. Hopelessness is a being state where you have given up. It is the feeling of despair that the lost hiker gets when she might not be rescued. Or the despondency of a cancer patient who knows his time has run out. Hopelessness is not a survival state.
Here’s a not-so-simple trick that you must do today to start crawling out of your hopelessness. You need to embrace something that I call Survival is the New Normal.
Determination is a survival state. Willingness to adapt and change is a survival state. Our instinct for “fight or flight” comes from the most ancient part of our brain that quickly assesses a situation and in an instant, compels us to fight or run for dear life. In today’s turbulent economy, erratic geo-politics and unsure jobs market, learning to survive IS the new normal.
In the world of tough love advice, this is the new harsh reality.
If you grew up during the Baby Boom where, post-WWII jobs were on a steady path of growth, you probably don’t know what adaptive employment and job survival mean. If you entered the job force during the Internet and real estate booms, where jobs were flowing like sweet milk and honey, you probably don’t know what adaptive employment and job survival skills mean. And if you grew up getting a trophy, even when you lost the tournament, I am sure you don’t even have the foggiest idea of what I am talking about.
Careers don’t just happen. They are active, living, breathing things that survive because they can adapt with the times and grow with you. This is not Pollyanna-feel-good-daytime-TV-advice. This is a biological imperative. In order to thrive in the 21st century, you need to learn how to survive. Because without your survival gene turned on and activated, you are not going to stand out from the crowd, you are not going to get selected for an interview, and you are not going to be part of the 23% of job seekers who land one of those 3.2 million jobs.
Having an adaptable mindset and figuring out how to survive in these tough times is what will be your saving grace. We, as individuals, and collectively as a country, need to understand the need to dig deeper, work harder and survive, just like my grandpa did when he got off the boat just a few months before Black Tuesday and the start of the Great Depression in 1929. He didn’t have a choice. He HAD to learn how to survive, because when you were an immigrant in 1929, there was no other option.
Survival is the antidote for hopelessness. It is what is needed to find your bootstraps and pull yourself back from the brink. And it’s what you need to learn if you want to get back in the game, and get a job.
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