3 Tips For Overcoming Job Loss

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In recent weeks, I’ve spoken with several people who lost their jobs after 20+ years with the same employer. One person is angry and bitter and takes every opportunity to vent about the unfairness of it all; another turned to drinking through the day; another is fighting the desire to hunker down in their “cave” and nurse their wound.

Some of these coping mechanisms might even be necessary in the short term as temporary relief. After all, this kind of job loss is often experienced like the death of a loved one. It’s serious stuff. In a previous post, I gave some examples of job losses and what your thoughts might be about it.

But life moves on. Learning to adapt to changing circumstances in life is a necessary skill. Lots of advice has been written about how to cope with job loss, and how to move on. Based on my 20 years experience, here’s what I’ve learned that works for most people most of the time:

1. Take care of yourself. Grieve your loss. Too many people don’t take enough time to let go of this major experience in their life. Think of all the time and energy invested in a job for 20+ years. It takes much longer than most people realize…to dis-engage from their work.

You have every right to be upset, so accept your feelings—anger, hurt, rejection, panic, relief, whatever you feel, go easy on yourself. When you get up in the morning, take a pad of paper and write down everything you feel—for 10-20 minutes, all the things you wished you’d said (or hadn’t said) to your former manager. Do this for as many mornings as it takes to dump your feelings. This is especially cathartic if your termination was handled in an insensitive way.

Then, if possible, take a vacation, get out of town, put some distance between you and the experience. It’s easier to process the emotions, the memories, when sitting on a beach, or in some other safe haven. Eat well, make time for regular exercise, practice stress relief exercises, stay positive.

If basic habits, such as eating or sleeping, are disturbed by the job loss, get professional help from a doctor, a psychologist, a counselor. Ask for the support you need. Don’t try to shoulder the stress of job loss and unemployment alone. Your natural reaction may be to withdraw, to resist asking for help out of pride, shame or embarrassment. Don’t isolate yourself and brood. You will only feel worse. Whatever it takes to accept the situation, get there. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get on with the next phase in your life.

2. Reaching out to others. Over the years, you’ve built up a goodwill network of family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances in your personal and professional life—now is the time to draw on that goodwill! Share what you’re going through with the people you trust, not necessarily the people closest to you, such as your immediate family, who also may be hurting from your termination.

Join a job club or form one with former colleagues who may have been laid off at the same time. Commiserating, talking through your feelings, focusing on shared issues can be energizing and motivating. Personal and professional support will help keep you on track during your job search.

Networking is not rocket science but it is a skill and, like any skill, it can be learned and applied in the real world. It is a simple fact that most job openings are not posted as job vacancies but exist as job opportunities off the radar screen, and filled by word of mouth. That’s why networking is the best way to find a job. Basically, networking isn’t about using other people or aggressively promoting yourself—it’s about building relationships, and getting yourself in the right place so that when opportunities arise…you are in the pipeline ready, willing and able to take on a task! Learn to network—if you persist, it will pay off!

3. Rethink your career goals, or rediscover what truly makes you happy. Not everybody needs to create a job search plan, or keep a regular routine, or list their positives. We all have talents and motivations that will kick in…but now is the time to leverage your natural strengths into understanding how they correlate with specific jobs in specific work settings. This is the central message of JobJoy, so visit our site to find resources that can launch you into a new career or help you build on your existing one.

If you know anyone who has suffered a recent job loss, please pass this post along to them…and remind them that you have an encouraging work, a listening ear, a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on whenever they need it!

Job Change Advice: If you find yourself in a hole…stop digging!

Digging out of career hole

It’s easy to dig ourselves into a hole that feels impossible to get out of. For example, it’s easy to fall into a job with no intention of staying there only to realize, years later, you’re stuck there…it’s draining you body and soul, but you need the money just to survive or maintain a lifestyle expected of you by family and friends.

Our tendency is to look for a compromise, to find a way to keep the money but find a way to make life better. The solution for many of my clients has been to do more of what they think they want to do– paint, write, sing, perhaps, or start a business–a reaction to their job dissatisfaction or problems.

Sometimes, these options make the situation worse! Starting something new takes energy, something that is in short supply when they get home from work. Sometimes, their marriage or partnership breaks down; or, they go into debt or bankruptcy; or, they try to figure it all out on their own but they lack clarity, confidence, and resources. They slip into depression. In short, they reach a desperate place. They see no way out of their hole…trapped!

It might feel like a death trap but it is not a life-and-death situation. They are not homeless or hungry. There are personal and professional supports available—this becomes the time to draw on them. One of the most important resources to draw on is the creative spirit than resides in each of us. We may not be musical, or artistic in any manner, but we all have the power to create our future. Creating is a process and anybody can do it.

Changing your focus is the key to a midlife career change

The biggest obstacle to creating a new career or business or future is our inclination to compromise. We focus on the wrong things, on what we think we can do for money, instead of what we want to do. In my experience as a job change expert for the past 20 years, what I see is a lack of vision based on one’s deepest values and highest aspirations.

In the creative process, it is important to love the creation before it exists—to love the dream home before it is built, to love the song before it is written, to love the child before it is born. The same principle is to get a vision for a career or job and love it before you find it our create it. An entrepreneur loves the business before it is built. A chef loves the dish before it is made. A filmmaker loves the film before it is produced.

In terms of work, too many of us have lost touch with what it is we love to create. How do we know? By comparison. When it is not there, you feel like you’re going through the motions, disengaged, uninvolved, disconnected—in short, you don’t really care, it’s just a paycheck. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become a problem after many years, especially if it drains your energy, and plants you in a hole.

Love the result, not the process

One of the best ways to get out of a job hole, or career trap, is to push aside compromise thinking and focus on what it is you would love to create—the result. This does not mean you will love the process; you may even hate taking the necessary steps.

It is not a compromise to do the hard work, learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you may need but don’t have yet. Easy or difficult, fun or a pain, throughout the good, the bad, and the ugly, that experience of connection, involvement, of being true to yourself and true to your creation will permeate everything you are doing. Sounds a little like parenting, doesn’t it?

Love brings out the best in us for parenting and career change. One thing I know for sure is that your chances of making a successful career change will disappear quickly if you forget or lose touch with your desire to see the end result, no matter what circumstances you are in. Being a creator is about keeping your eye on the main prize.

Is it money or meaningful work?

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Work-life balance is one of those buzz words that characterizes the zeitgeist of our times. We live busy, hectic lives and, in order to control all this activity, we often separate our different spheres of activity into compartments of work, family, socializing, romancing, education, politics, religion, and so on.

This compartmentalizing also extends to our mental and emotional lives, to what we do and believe, to what we value. Work-life balance is about aligning our being with our doing.

Easier said than done, right? In fact, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that there is very little work-life balance in our lives. We might want it…but we can’t get it!

Highest levels of job stress

One major study commissioned by Health Canada[1] found that the highest levels of job stress and depression in Canadian public servants were found in Ontario public employees at municipal, provincial and federal levels:

“While they may earn the nation’s highest average salaries, Ontario workers reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest intention to leave.”

Reducing work-life conflicts is not a high priority for most employers even though doing so is proven to be a major factor in better job performance, according to Paul Fairlie[2], a researcher that I spoke with recently. He designs and conducts surveys related to meaningful work. He says that the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research.

Is it money or is it meaningful work?

It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a certain amount of money to be comfortable and to feel appreciated at a level similar to others doing the same job. Beyond these few extrinsic drivers, the vast majority of people pursue intrinsic rewards, e.g. meaning-based goals and values.

Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, prestige, status, power; rather than intrinsic goals, such as meaning or socially useful work. But the research clearly shows that money rarely shows up as a major influence on motivation and behaviour once basic needs are met.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

Instead, studies are consistent in showing that most people are, in fact, more intrinsically-motivated. If they become more extrinsically-motivated, it’s because of negative work experiences. Let’s face it, work can be a pretty harsh environment, involving layoffs, unfair dismissals, nepotism, corruption, and so on. It’s no wonder that many individuals acquire a cynical attitude: “Fool me once, shame on me…try to fool me twice, forget it, just pay me!”

As Paul learned from surveys, it is understandable that many people are more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting more interesting work. His research demonstrates that most employees still want self-actualizing work; they want to make a social impact; they want personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers; they truly want a sense of personal accomplishment.

When they get it, they are more likely to stay with their employer and report higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and discretionary effort.

Meaningful Work Index

Furthermore, the higher they score on his Meaningful Work Index (MWI), the more likely they are to experience fewer physical and mental health symptoms. He reviewed 2 national studies in 50 states and found that employees with a high MWI score measured low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety.

However, when employees don’t find meaningful work with their employers, they disengage–the rate of days lost to sickness and loss of productivity rises dramatically. Indeed, the stats suggest that a growing fringe of Americans and Europeans are withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.

Work-life balance enables individuals to become self-reliant, make informed choices and find satisfying and fulfilling work and lifestyles in today’s rapidly changing labor markets.

Leaving large orgs for lifestyles business

Many of them are leaving the world of institutionalized work and creating a lifestyles business, which is a small enterprise that shares the following characteristics:

- Set up and run by its founders
- Aim of sustaining a particular income level from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle
- Does not require extensive capital to launch or sustain (limited scalability or potential for growth)
- Suitable for sole practitioners, husband-and-wife-teams, or small groups in “creative industries”
- Dependent on founder skills, personality, energy, and contacts
- Founders create them to exercise personal talent or skills, achieve a flexible schedule, work with other family members, remain in a desired geographic area, or simply to express themselves

Creating such a business isn’t for everybody but more people than ever are leaving their corporate jobs to try it for themselves.
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[1] “Where to Work in Canada: An examination of regional differences in Work-Life Practices,” Health Canada survey, Linda Duxbury & Chris Higgins, Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business, 2001
[2] Paul Fairlie, Ph.D., President & CEO, Paul Fairlie Consulting, Advancing the Science & Meaning of Work

You Can’t Cheat Life!

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“I really HATE my job!” This is a phrase I hear almost every day as a career consultant who works with individuals in career transition. For example, when Elizabeth came to see me, she was 52 years old and had been working since her teens, and almost 30 years as a public servant sitting in front of a computer all day as an information analyst.

Her job required her to process about 90 email messages a day, plus 120 pages of info from the Internet, plus another 20 “alert” messages from subscriber-based services. She estimated only 10 of these 200+ messages were truly relevant to her job. She felt “stuck’ in her cubicle reading all day. She wasn’t the only one suffering from information overload. Of the 10 analysts employed in her section, 5 were on long-term stress leave.

Elizabeth herself appeared very fit and healthy. But she felt trapped in her job. She wanted help but felt severely constrained by her life circumstances. When she told me in no uncertain terms: “I hate my job!” I asked her what she did with all that negative energy? Was there an effigy of her boss that she could punch and kick during her lunch hours in order to discharge her frustration? No.

There are only two ways to process that kind of negative energy. One is to explode, such as the worst cases of “going postal” when a worker shoots his co-workers or boss. The other way is more common: we implode and the negative energy manifests in stress and dis-ease.

Although Elizabeth had a strong desire to do something, she felt unable to do anything because (1) she was only 3 years away from taking early retirement, and (2) she had two teenage children who aspired to a university education and needed her financial assistance. She felt compelled to continue down the same path. I have a lot of compassion for individuals who feel trapped in this kind of employment situation: damned if they do leave their job (and risk financial insecurity) and damned if they don’t leave (and risk their health). It is sometimes called the dilemma of ‘golden handcuffs.’

Every 6 or 12 months, I’d contact Elizabeth for an update, asking her how she was coping. After two years, I got an email from her sister saying Elizabeth could not reply because doctors had found a tumor in her brain the size of a lemon. Three months later (and 2 years after we met) I cut her obituary from the newspaper and closed her file. She made it to age 54. Like many people in her situation, she never collected that precious pension.

Her story inspires me to keep doing what I do. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the number one cause of disability in North America. It costs employers more money in lost productivity than any other illness. And the costs to society, in general, are huge. We all know someone who is defeated by their job, perhaps a family member who is crushed by their job; or, a friend who is underemployed and humiliated by the mundane, boring, and repetitive tasks of their work; or, a colleague who has been rendered impotent by the hierarchical structures of the institution he or she works in.

I work with scores of people every year struggling with burnout, depression, confusion, and cynicism. In almost all cases involving lengthy career pain, there is a serious degradation in the energy levels, health condition, peace of mind, self-confidence, courage, self-respect, happiness, freedom, and other aspects of their personal well-being. That negative energy has to go somewhere, and the sad truth is, it often turns against our bodies in the form of serious lifestyle illnesses. I am not suggesting that Elizabeth’s career pain caused her cancer but I know darn well that it contributed! You can’t cheat life!

However, some individuals have heard Elizabeth’s story and told me they would trade places with her in a heartbeat. They would relish the opportunity to sit in front of a computer every day reading emails in order to collect a public service salary and pension. For some reason, they believe they are impervious to the very pressures and stresses that undermined the well-being of Elizabeth and her colleagues.

Common sense defies their assumption. They too would experience stress, possibly burnout. However, the stress of struggling to pay bills, looking for jobs, coping with unemployment also takes a toll on health and well-being. The sad reality is that many individuals are managing career pain of one kind or another. If your work experience is full of pain, why not suffer in a cash-for-life public service job? This reasoning is rooted in a belief that work is suppose to hurt, that’s just the way it is. The temptation to cheat life is strong. Roll the dice, and hope you beat the odds and actually get a chance to collect your pension and enjoy a long, healthy retirement.

There is another way to approach your career. You don’t need to roll the dice and gamble away your life force. We can approach career choice systematically, with deliberate intentions to make the most of our talents and motivations. We can identify and define work settings that will recognize, reward and motivate us for what we do naturally and easily. We can identify specific job titles that best match our unique combination of talents, motivations, acquired skills, experiences, values and priorities. It’s a wonderful day when we can say in all honesty, “I know who I am and I’m glad I am me.” This takes courage in a world that is constantly trying to make us into something else.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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I recently performed in a musical theatre production of ‘The Gifts of the Magi,’ a story about a young married couple—Jim & Della Dillingham—who are living in New York in 1905 when Christmas rolls around and they have no money to buy each other gifts to express their love.

They have hit hard times because Jim is unemployed and Della gets a little sewing work now and then. In the end, the buy each other gifts that are very meaningul but are made by a huge sacrifice: Della cuts and sells her beautiful long brown hair in order to buy a watch fob, for the very watch that Jim sells in order to buy Della pure tortoise shell combs for her beautiful long hair! The fact that each was willing to make such a personal sacrifice for the other demonstrates their deep and genuine love for each other. It makes no real sense, there is no good reason that explains what Jim and Della did out of love for each other. Hope and love cannot be reasoned with.

I think the same idea stands behind the notion of doing what you love for a living. It can’t really be reasoned with. In fact, there are many good reasons for not doing so, reasons that sound very…well…reasonable. It’s just too hard, too risky, to pursue what you really want; just accept the fact that you can’t have it and compromise. Choose a career that is safe and learn to live with it. [Or, do as I did as Soapy, the bum, in the musical, who does his best to get arrested in order to avoid work! He's the comic relief...]

But the heart wants what the heart wants; it cannot be reasoned with. Our life-spirit cries out for vitality, we want to feel engaged with life, living with purpose and meaning. Is it any wonder that a career compromise often leads to a mid-life crisis, or depression (which is now the number one workplace disability)? I am not denying the fact that for some people there are formidable and genuine obstacles to making a significant change in one’s life. But, in most cases, the obstacles to moving forward to a life of more vitality may be challenging but not impossible.

What is reasonable, I suggest, is to learn how to create what you truly want without compromise. What is not reasonable is to surrender to compromise, to give up on your natural talents and motivations, or the chance to explore the fullness of who and what you are in terms of your right work, or your highest aspirations and deepest values…it’s never too hard or too late.

The way I approach this issue with my clients is to separate what they enjoy doing both at work and outside of work from what they think is only possible. This is critical. Most people can only think of 30 jobs off the top of their heads, and if none of those jobs light a fire in them, then they use this as an excuse not to explore their options further. For example, there are over 60,000 jobs operating in our economy, with new ones being created every day because almost 50% of jobs are created for individuals who have a particular set of unique talents and skills. My job is to help identify and define those many opportunities, and develop a plan to move you into a better jobfit according to your time and priorities.

So here is a reasonable question: Is it reasonable to give up before you have had a chance to see what kinds of jobs you are truly suited for, and before any learning has taken place about how to move from where you are now into a better jobfit or career? I would say that is unreasonable and not terribly practical to squelch the self-honesty about what you might really want in terms of work. A compromise can close the doors on one of your most important human instincts, the desire to create a career or work that really matters to you.

Hope and love make so many things possible. That is a gift given to all of us. We don’t have to settle for a reasonable compromise. Incredible things occur every day, unlikely, unpredictable, unreasonable things that bring more vitality into the world. These things are available to you too. It starts with a commitment to explore your options. Don’t compromise on that creative urg to get an accurate and reliable picture of what you truly want.

Here at JobJoy, we are in the business of helping you get that picture and take effective actions to make it real. In 2012, you can be in a very different position than you are as 2011 ends. Our JobJoy Report lays the foundation in which you are more able to create what you want in terms of a better career or job. This webinar explains how it works as a gift that keeps on giving.

Break out of Zombieland!

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Thirty years ago, I got hooked on George Romero’s Dead movies, starting with Night of the Living Dead. And I enjoyed the 2004 spoof Shaun of the Dead. Now, the sub-genre lives on through the new movie, Zombieland.

Some critics consider these Dead movies to be a fitting metaphor for our times—the idea that zombies return from the dead to eat the living! It is entertaining to see how this idea is channeled through the creative talents of regular folks, such as one of my clients, Morris R., who helps organize a local Zombie walk each year in October. See if you can spot him in the video—he’s the one in the black suit with the red tie and dangling eyeball!

Zombie walks recreate key scenes and ideas from zombie movies. For example, as the credits roll at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, your eyes follow the camera panning right through scenes of regular people moving supermarket trolleys, working behind tills, waiting at the bus stop, or mindlessly listening to street music, all staring and acting zombie-like. At the end of the movie, when the zombies have taken over, the camera does the same thing again, underscoring the point that nothing has REALLY changed—zombies now and forever!

Every time I see such scenes, I am reminded of clients who come to me in a state of calamity, including a local teacher who was desperate to find a better job fit. He said, “I come alive in summer. The rest of the year I am dead, a walking zombie, going through the motions of life.”

The living in these zombie movies are often characterized as people living in various states of limitation—making them easy targets for the Undead. Some are physically handicapped, others suffer from poverty, while others are stuck in institutions, or trapped in specific social settings, such as a mall or a amusement park. Others manage to escape a gruesome fate, but only for a short time, before their fears, beliefs, doubts or assumptions put them in the path of the flesh-eaters. In the end, they all fall victim to the insatiable appetites of zombies.

Limitations are part of the reality we don’t like. How much easier life would be if we could remove the barriers to career advancement and shoot forward into success! In Zombieland, the main characters literally shoot their way through the barriers posed by the Undead.

Many of us simply surrender to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If zombies surround us, why fight them, it’s easier to join them. Today, the number one workplace disability is depression. Millions of workers in North America cope with job stress and dissatisfaction by popping pills that have zombie-like side effects.

We can also react to negative situations with flight or fight. We might run from the zombies or beat them off…but then what? Being creatures of habit, it is too easy to backslide into our previous zombie-like existence—the exact point made in Shaun of the Dead.

Paul Tillich, a 20th C. philosopher, said “Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature.” When we have the courage to really live, we find joy, for as Tillich says, “Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous ‘YES to one’s own true being.” This takes courage in a world where choices have trade-offs.

Making hard choices is the essence of the hero’s story in any movie, including the Dead ones. How do you start being less fearful? How do you keep from falling back in the same old decision patterns? In my experience, the only way out of the career trap is through it.

It takes courage to honor the ambiguity that accompanies any transition process. We oscillate between hope and fear when we go from childhood to adolescence; from a student to a worker; from a single to a married person; from a childless adult to a parent–they all require some faith in the process of life.

This is the choice : life or zombieland.

If you’re stuck in zombieland, you need to break out. Now is the time to explore options with an emboldened heart and an open mind.

The zombie movies remind us that our fears sometimes force us to retreat to what is familiar. We keep doing what we’ve always done. Habitual behavior creates a comfort zone. You may not enjoy your job duties but at least they are familiar. Better the zombie you know than the zombie you don’t know.

Now is the time to rise up and smite that zombie on the nose. Choose life! Break out of Zombieland today!