menu/ DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT

He that lives in hope dances without music.

- George Herbert

Why might you hesitate or procrastinate when it comes to picking up the phone and initiating the contacts that are the building blocks of a successful job campaign.

Fear of rejection is one of the reasons. So is immobilizing discouragement.

"Until you've sat at home, as I did, waiting hours, then days, even weeks, for the phone call that never comes, you'll never know how important it is for me to return a call," said a senior vice president for human resources, who invited me into his corner office to discuss his personal experiences (three times) of job loss.

I had thanked him for being so prompt in getting back to me when I telephoned for an appointment. He said that during his job search he decided to make the baggage of discouragement a positive force, pushing him toward the phone and out the door for an endless series of interviews.

Now back at work, he used the memory of the pain of waiting for unanswered calls as a stimulus to leave no call unreturned for long. "When you're looking for work and someone doesn't return your call," he told me, "you go lower than a whale's belly."

"You don't have to have the patience of Job," said an international banker, "but - phew! - people don't get back to you. And when you're waiting every day is like a week, every week is like a month, every month is like a year."

You've seen how important spousal support is in dealing with discouragement.


Empathy, not sympathy; positive reinforcement, not solution giving, during the job search; that's what is needed from spouse or close friend.

Faith and friends are usually sufficient to pull a person through discouragement. An indispensable dimension of that "faith" is faith in self - quiet confidence (the word means "with faith").

Of course, you're discouraged. You wouldn't be human if you didn't feel down when out of work. Besides, chances are you've lived long enough to be able to relate to George Kennan's remark that if someone "lives more than half a century, his familiar world, the world of his youth, fails him like a horse dying under its rider."

Good image, but don't forget the rider can get up and start moving again. You are a human being with options, far better options than the one a not-so-helpful career consultant had in mind when he thought about the opportunities "out there" and told an aging inquirer, "If you are 56 and blown away, you might as well open up a candy store."

You have a choice. You can convince yourself that you're looking into an empty future, or you can believe instead that an opportunity awaits you just around a future corner and you will turn that corner soon.

The intensity of your personal discouragement while unemployed will vary from person to person, and normally it will be in direct proportion to the duration of the quest for work. As his job search moved into its second year, a 52-year-old sales executive in San Francisco said to me, "I'm running out of ideas and contacts, I'm running out of money, I'm running out of life."

Several levels of discouragement may be activated simultaneously; for some, it may settle in at the level of the unconscious. When that happens, professional help may be required, as a displaced sales executive discovered with the realization that his job-loss had triggered off a host of unresolved feelings of grief related to his wife's death 18 months earlier. He dealt with discouragement by learning how to deal with grief.

Some job seekers find themselves for the first time asking someone else for help. They find this distasteful. Unaccustomed as they are to asking for help, they are even less prepared for the refusal and rejection those requests will draw. Not flat out rejections; those will be rare. But letters have a way of being set aside, resumes get lost, promised calls become promises broken; and the "anything-I-can-do-to-help" messages become forced or muted, not followed up by prompt delivery.

This leaves the job seeker even more alone and much discouraged.

After the fact, some can joke about it. One man told me he kept careful count of the response ratio to the resumes he mailed out. It was 3-to-40, only three responses "of any nature, even 'go to hell.' You got to the point where 'go to hell' was nice to hear; I mean, you got a response. The guy knew you were alive. It was wonderful! You got a rejection letter. It made your day!"

With considerably less glee, an ousted computer executive, age 46, acknowledged that "there were very few people I felt comfortable talking to or asking for help when I was separated from the company. I had always been independent and successful; that was my image and I felt I had to protect that image. People I helped along the way - finding jobs, advancing their careers - didn't seem to have time to pick up the phone and call. This was probably my biggest disappointment in the entire experience."

Below these surface-level disappointments, these flesh-wound experiences of discouragement, lies a substratum of discouragement in many that calls out for the durability of hope, a call that does not ordinarily get an immediate and effective response.

Hope is needed to provide the courage to endure, to overcome the all-too human tendency to personalize part of the human condition.

I was astounded when one young man I was attempting to help some years ago referred to himself as "a walking graveyard." No one would have suspected this handsome, well-dressed young professional was carrying with him that kind of baggage of low self-esteem. He should have been building up some personal reserves of hope to draw upon when he was in his 50's. As Thornton Wilder saw so clearly, "We strengthen our souls, when young, on hope; the strength we acquire enables us ... to endure despair."

I think the German poet Hebbel saw something that is at work within most of us and expressed it well in these lines: "The one I am sadly salutes / the one I could have been."

A displaced healthcare executive after first thanking me "for putting me in touch with my feelings by giving me the opportunity to complete the questionnaire," echoed Hebbel in articulating this advice for others: "Don't engage in recriminations, back-biting, or 'if-only' exercises; don't look back."

The circumstances of age, sex, occupation, and other personal "environmental" impacts on the displaced executive's psyche, make this a complicated issue. The "sad salute," usually directed to opportunities missed, is made by different people in different ways and goes out in different directions.

Although its meaning is unique to the discouraged person, the experience is shared almost universally with others in the human community by virtue of their being human. Even back in the eighteenth century poet Edward Young framed the question in a poem called Born Originals. If indeed we are all "born originals," he asks: "how comes it to pass that we die copies?"

To be is to be disappointed - eventually; to have somehow fallen short.

But, "That which we are, we are," wrote Tennyson in Ulysses, and we simply have to accept this and get on with life:

Tho' much is taken, much abides, and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.


Those who experiences job loss need immediate and repeated assurance that they have not been laid off from life, despite the downward-pointing psychological signals their personal sad salutes might be sending to themselves.


Draw comfort from Mark Twain's observation: "It is not likely that any complete life has ever been lived which was not a failure in the secret judgment of the person who lived it."


Sayings like that may be useful for after-the-fact reflection, but offer little consolation to someone still in the job-search tunnel with no sight of the light at the other end. One woman in my sample reported that at the end of a long interview with a job counselor, when she had been out of work for four months, she asked: "Let me ask you a question. Am I ever going to get a job? And he just sat and he said, 'Well, I don't really know.'" She held her composure there, but shortly afterward when she sat down to join a friend in a restaurant, she burst into tears.

Ousted from his company presidency, a telecommunications executive went, as he put it, "into a funk," when he clicked on the email feature he had been accustomed to using on his home computer and discovered that he was "not valid"!

Back in the 1960s, when college students were supposed to be unreflective activists, Jim Beek, a student at Loyola College in Baltimore, wrote a poem for the Winter, 1968 issue of Ignis, the campus literary quarterly, that can speak to the heart of the problem the person searching for work brings to this book. It was entitled Catharsis and opened with the line, "I awoke in the silent fist of the night gagging on loneliness." Then, several lines later, Jim Beek writes:
And I opened my books for something to ease the cramp
But they only grumbled at me for awaking them
at an odd hour.
And the fear that my existence wasn't doing
anyone any good
Was under my fifth rib.
So the poet prays "to a god who would have nothing to do with a stained glass window," and gets this reply:
Son -
This is the pain that lets you know you're alive.
Much of you is grown, and the rest is trying hard
to catch up.
You have raked many words from books, and now
you must put some back ...
If you put up your guard and go through life
with a sandbagged soul,
You may fend off a blow, but you'll also stop a kiss.

The fear that your existence isn't "doing anyone any good" adds a lot of heavy freight to your discouragement. If, as the psychologists remind us, depression is inverted anger - i.e., anger turned in on itself - discouragement might be thought of as an aching awareness of not being needed. The pain is there, "under your fifth rib," alright, but it can serve as a reminder that you are alive, and a member of the human race, and able to contribute if you lift the weights from your "sandbagged soul," become vulnerable again, and see what words, or works, or ideas of your own are at hand, so you "can put some back" in the form of meaningful employment resulting from a persistent job search.

persistence

There's the word - persistence.

Discouragement erodes it, undercuts it, tries to smother it. Discouragement puts the fire out. The really discouraged person stops looking. The persistent person never gives up. Torrey Foster, founder of Job Seekers, tells his clients, "You've got to be pushy." Lest they go too far, he tempers the advice by explaining that he is speaking of "diplomatic persistence".

I sat in on a 7:30am Job Seekers meeting on a snowy January Friday. ("We meet on Fridays to encourage them not to shrink the search to a four-day workweek," explained Torrey Foster.) Jim Piper had good news to share. "I was a victim of society," he said, referring to the downsizing phenomenon, "but now I've been reclaimed." The call came at 10:30 on the morning of Christmas Eve, he was happy to say. And to the others there who remained jobless during and after the holidays, and who had to drive through snow to attend the meeting, he said: "Keep on spinning your wheels and eventually you'll get some traction."

Persistence eventually pays off. One of the Cleveland Heights "job seekers," a metallurgist who moved into management only to move out on a downsizing wave, "got tired of looking," so he started his own business: Power To Go, an airport-based, traveler-oriented, battery-pack pickup service for travelers uneasy about the battery life in their portable computers. The portable battery package is ordered by phone, paid for by credit card, and returned after the trip for recharging by the company and deposit retrieval by the user. The metallurgist-turned-entrepreneur explained to members of his support group why he started his own business: "It was better to do something than slowly die."


His business forecast was modestly confident: "Lots of little seeds get planted and 88 percent of them die; you hope for the other twelve."


Tom Peters, of In Search of Excellence fame, had something encouraging to say to this kind of initiative in an interview with Psychology Today (March 1993). The questioner commented, "Your ideas are remarkable in their compassion for failure." Peters replied: "Well, to not fail is to die ... If you are not pursuing some damn dream and then reinventing yourself regularly, assiduously, you're going to fail. Period."

He further explained, "In the world of dull, boring management, the essence to me of everything that one accomplishes in life, from the trivial to the grand, is failure. You don't ride a bike the first time. You don't play a violin the first time. The essence of experimental physics is to create experiments at which you fail; then along the way you eventually achieve some knowledge of something. It's hard to articulate because, for me, it's so damned obvious that the only thing worth pursuing is failure."


Peters has much respect for "the role of groundless courage" in an individual life.


One of the men in my study, a 54 year-old manager of advertising and sales for a large tire company left his job voluntarily because he chose, for family reasons, not to move to a distant state. When I met him, it was fifteen months and still no job. "I tried to devote three to four days a week to 'employment seeking,'" he explained. "I went to support meetings, yet there were days and weeks that I gave up on myself and gave in to depression. I did nothing directed to job seeking. Pulling myself out of those 'bad' days has been truly tough - for me and especially for my wife. If nothing else, this has been the greatest test of our marriage. So far, we're winning."

Because he gave up on the search, he had not yet come up with a job. His spouse was holding him and their marriage together. The ground went out from under his career and the will-power isn't there to summon up the "groundless courage" to keep his job-campaign going. I've been told that the painter Francis Bacon (b. 1909) used the phrase "exhilarated despair" to describe himself; he saw it as "a state where one's basic nature is totally without hope, and yet the nervous system is made out of optimistic stuff."

I'm talking here about something that is even better. I'm talking about the importance of living in hope. In the words of poet George Herbert, "He that lives in hope dances without music." The job seeker has to keep on dancing to music from within, after the "background music" you get from your job stops. Another line from Herbert suggests the unappealing alternative: "He begins to die, that quits his desires."

All of this is condensed in the experience of one manager, age 51, whose severance pay was long gone and had, after two years, no job prospects that looked promising. In describing this "most traumatic experience" in his life, he wrote in a letter to me:

"Unemployment has had a positive effect on my life in that it has made me a much more sensitive and caring person. I have been humbled and that is good. Last year for a time I was driving an airport limousine to make twenty dollars a trip (every little bit helps). On one occasion I picked up one of my former peers who still works at my last company. That was humbling! I keep telling myself that someday I will find financial security and I will look back with gratitude for having had the chance to become a better person. I remain hopeful, but my trust is only in my own effort. I expect no help and want (and deserve) no sympathy. My situation is the result of the choices I personally made. I have no one to be angry at, including myself."

Persistence can activate the optimism that lies hidden in the inner person, somewhere in the nervous system, ready to spring. By exercising persistence, you can experience the "exhilaration" and reduce the "despair." But you have to try it to become convinced. You have to believe that the other side of every "out" is "in," and that any exit is an entrance in reverse.

Every ouster is the starting gate for a comeback. You also have to remind yourself that you are not alone. You are experiencing just one dimension, admittedly painful, of the human condition. For the musical Closer Than Ever, director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. penned a telling lyric for a song called One of the Good Guys. It is a musical portrait of the hardworking, faithful family man, troubled by doubt, but hanging in there as one of the "good guys."

Just between good guys,
it's not which road you take;
which life you pick to live in;
whichever choice you make.
The longing is a given,
and that's what brings the ache
that only the good guys know.

The "ache" is there. Having it does not at all disqualify you from association with "the good guys," nor marginalize your membership in the human race. You have to resist the temptation to give in to the pain and begin thinking of yourself as a "yesterself."

Authentic "yesterselves" are not still around; you are, and you are capable of drawing on your past education and experience to carve out a new career. Insisting that "my youth is not dead - yet," a 60-year-old marketing manager gave me his reaction to the very discouraging "you're overqualified" response he had been receiving to job inquiries. "It really means you're too old, or your salary range is too high, or simply: we don't want you."

When you hear "overqualified," he said, "accept the fact that it isn't worth your while to pursue it, but don't give up, just point your pursuit in other directions. Maybe you are too old for a particular job. But look at it this way: If you needed brain surgery, who would you rather have operate on you - an overqualified surgeon, or someone less well qualified? Package the skills and experience that make you 'overqualified,' and sell that package, at a bargain price, perhaps, to someone who really needs it. Your job now is to find that someone."

Searching for that someone, even by telephone, is never going to be easy. The single-day experience of one man I spoke to will not necessarily be typical. He made 35 phone calls one day and did not get past the receptionists to one live voice; he deposited messages in 35 separate voicemail boxes. Needless to say that can be discouraging.

When your job campaign brings you this close to the trees, the forest - the larger picture of life and its cycles and your place within them - recedes from view. A series of defeats can clamp your outlook into too tight a focus. You convince yourself that you've spent the first half of your life just warming up, and now the second half is being spent just wearing out.

You should know that you are experiencing, unconsciously perhaps, something that runs deeper than the rejection of an unanswered phone call or a frustration in your attempt to get an interview. You are experiencing downside discouragement. You are probably experiencing it without examining the slope of the downside, its dimensions, its natural contours, and the appropriateness of your position there.

don't let the math get you down

Chronologically, as you go through life, your position on the up, top, or downside can be arithmetically established by multiplying your age by two, and then asking yourself how many people you know who are alive and active in careers at an age double your own.

People over forty cannot come up with many names or impressive numbers. So do the multiplication and then admit it: you are on the downside. You are closer to the end than the beginning. Note, however, that the chronology of your working life did not begin to run until two decades or more after your birthdate. Multiply your working years to date by two, and look at that number. You will surely know many productive persons who had satisfying years of activity in the space that fits in the bracket between the total number of your years at work and the target number you associate with your own expected retirement.

Sure, you are on the downside, but there is a block of productive worktime in front of you waiting to be filled, by you. Some discover with regret that the old saying is really true: "In middle age, we become the person we always were."

Others see this truth as pointing to a storehouse to be drawn from, a natural deposit to be mined, an endowment to be tapped. How well do you know the person you always were? Your search - in solitude, support group, or interspousal communication - for that person can open up avenues to re-employment and dampen down feelings of discouragement.

Even if you think novelist Eugene Fitz Maurice had you in mind when he described a character in The Hawkeland Cache as "a man with little of life left before him, and nothing of value to be left behind;" and that you are the Londoner he knew who "was a man of no depth and a negative position in intellectual reserves," your conversations with supportive counselors and friends will uncover genuine personal assets upon which you can base your job search and build your future.

give yourself a chance

In 1983, Dorothy Brier, then assistant director of the social work department at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital, conducted a seminar there on The Middle Years of Life. Her advice to participants: "Middle age has to be self-defined. It is a combination of your age, your psychological state, and how you feel about things. But if the issues you face are midlife issues [related to teenage children, aging parents, career uncertainties, health problems, and conflicts between spouses] then you have midlife problems - no matter what your age."

No matter what your age (about which you can do nothing), there is a lot you can do about your psychological state and how you feel about things. One thing you can certainly do is keep hope alive in your mind and heart. As William Faulkner saw the choice, "Between grief and nothing, I'll take grief."

But you've got to work at it; you've got to choose positively. This doesn't mean you will feel great all the time. Nor does it mean that as you look back, there will be no regrets. But you should realize, as the famous trial lawyer and professional sports entrepreneur Edward Bennett Williams learned in his midlife years and always reminded others, "The two great culprits in the theft of your personal time are regret and indecision."

They are also barriers on the road you need to traverse if you are going to get on with your life. Mention of Washington lawyer Ed Williams, who was influential politically and also owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles, opens up a line of reflection for me that brings both athletes and politicians into view as I examine the way we humans manage discouragement.

Washington Post columnist Chuck Conconi wrote (October 17, 1983): "Washington is a town filled with ghosts. Mostly, they are the ghosts of offices past. You can see them everywhere around town: at receptions and parties, at restaurants such as the Monocle, Duke's, and Mel's, and especially on Capitol Hill. They are the senators, representatives, and cabinet members who have the word 'former' in front of their titles. They are the senator who never goes back home; they are the defeated candidate looking for one more campaign."

After his 1984 presidential defeat, Walter Mondale asked his party's unsuccessful 1972 standard-bearer, George McGovern, "When does it stop hurting?" to which McGovern replied, "I'll let you know, Fritz." Former Senator Tom Eagleton is remembered for his involuntary departure from the vice-presidential slot on McGovern's 1972 ticket in consequence of publicly acknowledging, "on three occasions in my life I have voluntarily gone into hospitals as a result of nervous exhaustion and fatigue."

Once the press and the public learned that he had bouts of "depression" and submitted to "electro-shock treatment," he was off the ticket. Twelve years later in announcing his intention to retire from the Senate and return home in 1986, and not remain in Washington, Eagleton said in an interview with The Washington Post (June 20, 1984): "Having made the decision I wanted to get out of politics, I decided I didn't want to hang around the fringes. Occasionally I see a former senator in the corridors or maybe the steam room and, well, it's a little sad."

Two glum but insightful Washington maxims are: "What goes around comes around," and "Inside every winner is a future loser." Former Democratic Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, often quips: "Being a successful politician is like being a successful football coach; you have to be smart enough to win and dumb enough to think it's important."

Of course he's not serious. It hurts to be "out," so why not joke about it?

Less well known are the political writers. They easily accept inflated estimates of their importance as their bylines meet hundreds of thousands of inquiring eyes searching for news and opinion. One of them recently wrote: "Our bylines reveal nothing. Our anonymity is complete as a bylined friend discovered after retirement a few years ago. 'I have found,' he said, 'that I am not a has-been; I am a never was."

Sentiments like these abound in the athletic domain where glory fades and people wear out early. An insightful high school teacher, Sylvester Conyers, himself a fine athlete and later a coach, sees it this way: "Very good athletes lead a different sort of life than most other people. At a very young age you're well known, you get a lot of publicity. It's almost like being in the womb, in that everything is given to you. But once the career ends, a lot of athletes have trouble adjusting to real life. They find out that nobody pampers them."

The adjustment is easy if the athlete "never really had things out of proportion," says Conyers. "The adjustment is only tough when athletics is the biggest things in your life, when you lived every day to be the star, to play the game, rather than taking care of your education."

Fine advice to the student athlete, but, omitting the reference to education, it describes perfectly the typical life of the pampered professional athlete and points to the difficult days ahead after retirement. Joe Gibbs ended his playing days only to begin a successful coaching career that took him to the top of the National Football League as head coach of the Washington Redskins for 12 years. He led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles and an impressive string of wins.

When no one else except his wife wanted him to quit, at age 52, Joe Gibbs abruptly resigned for an array of reasons that related to family, keeping things in perspective, values, and a balanced life. His decision prompted Washington Post sports columnist Tom Boswell to write (March 6, 1993): "Millions of people face the problem, not just Joe Gibbs. It is so basic that William Butler Yeats just called his poem The Choice."

And Boswell lifted the line that fits the Gibbs situation as it applies to the rest of us: "The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life or of the work." As the sportswriter pointed out, "The best poet of the 20th century knew that the idea of having it all was nonsense before anybody ever dreamed up such a fatuous phrase." Yeats saw The Choice as an insoluble problem. "In luck or out the toil has left its mark," wrote Yeats. Those who put family and friendships first were left with "that old perplexity of an empty purse."

Planning for a move like the one Joe Gibbs took will entail some provisions for the purse. That was certainly no problem for him. Although it will not necessarily "empty" a person's bank account, a decision in favor of a balanced life will, in all probability, mean less income but more life. The Choice is always difficult. Sometimes it is compounded by accompanying guilt.

You chose to move on, but now you feel adrift, out of control, and guilty. If someone else chose to move you on (or out, or down), it must have been because of something you did, or didn't do, right? Maybe right, maybe wrong. In either case you feel guilty and in virtually all cases the guilt is without foundation. Many discouraged job-seekers have their backpacks loaded with guilt.

Guilt, conscious or unconscious, can deepen the discouragement and push it toward despair. Listen to the wise distinction made by a client to a counselor (not the other way around); the counselor is a friend of mine who recalled for me his client's words: "I made a mistake is the admission of normal guilt; I am a mistake is the expression of neurotic guilt, even despair."

It was a personal struggle that produced this insight for a person who had been on a downward spiral that just about convinced him that he, not his action, was the mistake. Although unable to identify it, the president of a printing company said, "I struggled greatly with the 'failure' that must have been the reason for my termination."

The struggle, he told me, was to maintain "self confidence and pride." Even if you did make some mistakes that triggered your separation, that doesn't say you are a mistake. You are the answer to someone's problem and you will earn money and find fulfillment in solving that problem. You have to believe not only in yourself, but in the emerging fact that you will find another job eventually, and a very good one at that.

You simply cannot permit yourself to fit the description of despair sketched out for me by the wife of an ousted trade association president. She was in the unusual position of doing personnel work for a federal agency and "feeling guilty" that she was interviewing candidates for employment but was unable to do anything for her husband.

The problem was compounded because she felt she couldn't talk about her work to her unemployed spouse "because of the anger and pain they would cause him." "It was especially painful for me," she told me, "to recruit at two job fairs where I was interviewing candidates for a variety of positions all day." Many of them were unemployed and she saw (and identified with) their various stages of unemployment:

1. Denial  "I'll find something at the same salary or greater very soon."

2. Panic  "I've been out of work for three months!"

3. Despair  Virtually catatonic with a look that says: "I don't know why I even tried to apply for the job, it is the same old story - no one wants someone as worthless as I am."

But she was careful not to communicate that depression to her husband, he was feeling bad enough. Here is an excerpt from a letter Donald Nunes sent to his daughter on the occasion of her graduation from college; it was later published in full as an article in The Washington Post (April 27, 1993). He provided her with fatherly advice to carry away from home and into her first job. One of his nine points deals with failure.

"Of this I am absolutely positive: Over the course of your long life you are going to fail. Many times. Miserably. Horribly. There is no avoiding failure. If you don't fail, it's absolute, pure, blind luck. And that's very dangerous. Because, while failure enables you to grow, success just makes you cocky. Arrogant.

You learn nothing from success.

Obviously, failure teaches you what not to do again. But that's not the most important thing about failing. When you fail and you calm yourself down and make yourself examine the reasons for your failure and then fix the problem or write it off as a cross you'll have to bear, you grow personally.

You gain a sense of trust in your ability to handle the most difficult situations.

You learn that you survive failure.

From those experiences comes self confidence. You only get that when you fail and pick yourself up from calamities and have at it again. People sense it when others have that kind of deep, solid self-confidence. It's the one thing that sets people apart. It makes them leaders. Forget how much you know. If you have experienced failure and grown from it, it shows.

That inner strength is what I look for when I'm hiring senior managers. Do they refuse to fold under pressure? There's always pressure. Are they not afraid to fail? They're going to fail a lot and have to keep going. Do they know what they can do and what they can't? If they do, they'll make more right than wrong decisions. Never, ever, be afraid of failure. Nobody wants it, of course. But, in the end, it can be your friend. It helps you develop a sense of what you can do and what you can't do.

Success never teaches you that."

If you take this perspective on failure, even if you do not view your separation to be a personal failure, you will have the right disposition for managing the normal discouragement associated with job loss. You just have to pick yourself up, wounded perhaps, but wiser for the experience, and "have at it again."

constructive thinking

How, then, do you deal with discouragement in that in-between time, during those days and weeks of waiting and uncertainty, during that ambiguous span of time with no end-point in view? A female corporate attorney told me, "You have a choice - negativity or a positive attitude. Since a negative attitude adds neither value nor quality to your life, choose to be positive!"

How does a 59-year-old former vice president of manufacturing, who has been out of work for two years, deal with discouragement? "I spend full-time at my job search. I get up at 6:00 every morning and start at 7:00, and work until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening."

This is consistent with the prescription offered by William Morin, the outplacement specialist, when I asked him about his advice to clients on dealing with discouragement: "You have to bring yourself to the realization - and this may be for the first time in your life - that you are in business now for yourself."

And the business, of course, is finding a job. You deal with discouragement by not giving up. You simply decide not to live your life "back there"; dredging up the past can be a real depressant. You decide to take life one day at a time. You ask yourself: what is most important in my life right now? And you know, as you look at your potential, your family responsibilities, and the economic realities of your existence, that the most important thing for you right now is getting a job.

And so you act. You "keep going back," said the man who explained to me this strategy for dealing with discouragement. His expertise was corporate tax management. He had his priorities lined up correctly - his Higher Power and family well ahead of work and income.

But he knew that this particular crisis point in his career pushed work and income to the forefront of his personal agenda. He knew his past achievements. He knew there were corporations that could benefit from his capabilities; he had researched them in Value Line and Hoover's 500. "Then, I'd call them up. That was hard. I'd look for reasons to avoid it." I asked why. "Who wants to be rejected?"

And he went on to describe his "relief" when he called and heard the words, "He's not here right now." He would be advised to call back. "But, I'd put it off." And, he said, "there is a real temptation to say, I always wanted to be a consultant; now is the time."

He overcame that temptation with his simple device for dealing with discouragement; he kept "going back." Not "looking back" with regret, but "going" or "coming" back with persistence to the points of contact, one of which would eventually lead to employment. He lost job one on October 15; he began working at job two on the following April 29.

Discouragement could have turned the in-between time into a swamp capable of swallowing him up; persistence turned a painful experience into a successful job search. Repeatedly, I heard unemployed executives say what a 53-year-old ex-manager of research and development told me when I asked him to offer advice to other managers who were looking for work: "Be optimistic. Do what you have to do. Plan for the future. Focus. Keep busy."

This is a formula for dealing with discouragement.

A variation on that theme was struck by a technical manager in the chemical industry who decided to look upon his separation as a "graduation," an opportunity and a welcome change, not a "problem to be solved." "Keeping busy" will mean different things to different people. Whatever it means, it functions as an antidote to discouragement.

"In addition to job-hunting," a female manager told me, "I did lots of projects around the house, played golf, kept up on my walking regimen, took up a hew hobby of painting floorcloths, did needlepoint, got lots of sleep, started writing articles for professional publications, investigated how to get a children's story I wrote published, read a lot, did all the sewing for a revamped room (curtains, cushions, pillows, etc.), and spent more time talking to friends."

She characterized the transition as "stressful" but she came through it, by her report, as a stronger person in a stronger marriage. Much more sparing in detail, a male manager explained how he "kept busy" during a nine-month transition by "catching up on projects around the house. I did things I wanted to do for years. It felt good!"

Others, however, warn that this sort of catch-up work can distract you from the central task of looking for your next job. A marketing executive in Atlanta found that "the transition was the greatest time of my life. It was extremely difficult, but it was like a rebirth." How did he deal with the difficulty? He devoted full-time to building his network. "Most people simply want the pain to stop, but they do not seek an effective remedy - the right job. I spent my time using every conceivable technique to build my network of business associates. It is surprising that we don't build networks of business friends until we need them."

There will be times when the weight of discouragement will not fall easily from your shoulders (or, more accurately, from your psyche). You may want to see a therapist for a reassuring check-up. A male vice president for marketing and communications found himself on the street at age 43 and had serious doubts about himself and his future. He noticed that he wasn't looking for help, so he decided that he might need some. "I visited a therapist once during the six-month transition period, to make sure I wasn't repressing anything."

He was told he wasn't. "With that pressure relieved, I was less uptight and anxious. I found it easier to be with others and others found it easier to be with me." When I asked him what advice he would have for others in similar circumstances, he said: "There is no way to recommend that people prepare for termination by saving money; having a relationship with your Higher Power; going through therapy, as needed; having a loving and supportive spouse; or learning what it's like being terminated previously, but that's what it takes!"

An outplacement professional said to me, "When someone sits in here and cries, I say, That's good; go ahead and cry. But when you sit down across from a prospective employer, cut that out. Nobody buys weakness. If we can't steel you or get you to steel yourself, then go to a therapist and get some help."

But the need for that kind of help to overcome discouragement is, in his experience, rare. Get it if you need it, but only if you need it. You are much more likely to be like the character in the cable-television comedy series "Sessions," who is losing both hair and sleep, and laments: "I'm older and slower, and every day something new gives me gas."

Get some exercise, watch your diet, go to bed at a reasonable time, and get cranking on your job search every day. Be like the painter Philip Guston, who told novelist Gail Godwin that he deals with artistic dry-spells by going "to my studio every day, because one day I may go and the angel will be there. What if I don't go and the angel came?"

What if you cave in to discouragement just when the object of your job-search was coming into view? The National Mental Health Association USA buys newspaper space on occasion to print the following checklist along with a phone number - 1-800-228-1114 - and a simple suggestion: "If this sounds like you, don't ignore it. Because a counselor or therapist can help."

Here is the list:

- Feelings of sadness or irritability;

- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed;

- Changes in weight or appetite;

- Changes in sleeping pattern;

- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless;

- Inability to concentrate, remember things or make decisions;

- Fatigue or loss of energy;

- Restlessness or decreased activity;

- Complaints of physical aches and pains for which no medical explanation can be found; or

- Thoughts of death or suicide.

"Sounds just like me on one of my better days," quipped a normal, healthy job-seeker whose sense of humor under stress suggested that he could afford to forget the 800-number. Someone who should have called, and didn't, was a banking executive under extreme pressure in 1990, who was described by a friend as "so depressed, he just couldn't do anything." He simply "sat in his office alone at night, smoking cigarette after cigarette in the dark." Patrick Nuttgens, writing in The Tablet of London (January 25, 1992) recalled the "unusually profound" comments a friend of his would make on occasion. "I asked him one night if he had a good definition of happiness. No, he answered, he had not. But he had a good definition of unhappiness. Unhappiness, he said, is the refusal to suffer. He was the happiest friend I ever made."

The comment is, indeed, profound. It will take a bit of pondering to appreciate the connection between suffering and happiness, or, coming at the issue from the other side, the link between unhappiness and rejection of suffering. Viewers of the play, and later the film, Teahouse of the August Moon, received a hint of the resolution of this riddle in the suggestion that pain makes one think, thought makes one wise, and wisdom "makes life endurable."

Many of the men and women I met in the course of this study simply remarked, "This, too, will pass." Involuntary separation from any job, but particularly from managerial responsibilities, forces you to accept the fact that, as one outplacement specialist explained it to me, "You only rent a job; you don't own it unless you own the company. So don't ever let yourself be caught with your resume down."

Your separation puts you, he said, "in the same rowboat with many others in this monsoon called executive severance." He likened the experience to "labor pains." And those kind of pains may well be the beginning of a working-world wisdom that can bring you an undefined, even undefinable, but no less genuine happiness.

So there you have a menu of metaphors to apply to your downside situation. You've been "evicted" from that job you've been renting; you can find a better one. Or, if you don't like the risk of renting, think about buying - i.e., owning your own firm. Monsoons and labor pains pass; so will your unemployment - if you remain alert, flexible, and active.

If you were to ask the staff of the Career Initiatives Center in Cleveland how to cope after job loss, they would pass along to you these ten steps originally outlined by Cary Arden:

- Find selective places to talk honestly about your feelings;

- Knowledge is power, so gain knowledge of the job-search process

- Learn about what you can control - yourself;

- Live each day fully;

- Have an attitude of gratitude;

- Do something for someone else;

- Volunteer time to worthy causes or organizations;

- Build your own support system through friends, online communities, job-seeking clubs, spiritual organizations, etc.;

- Ask for help;

- Exercise and practice good nutritional habits;

- Keep a high energy level;

- Do something creative;

- Maintain hope;

- Set realistic goals; and

- Look for the larger meaning in life's lessons.

Not infrequently, the principle embodied in the fifth point on this list was articulated for me by persons who successfully overcame discouragement. "I found that an interest in helping and healing others worked to my own benefit. By helping others, I found a way to diffuse both anger and hurt. Helping others healed my own wounds. It boosted my morale and reinforced my ego; it also opened up sources for job leads and advice that were useful to me." Another person I interviewed for this study - a female corporate manager who eventually began her own business, thus giving herself "a sense of purpose" - provided pro bono services to organizations and did some volunteer work "to offset the isolation between assignments."

Point ten found expression during a 49-year-old banker's transition in the form of competitive long-distance running. "It kept me in shape, released tension, and by winning my age-group races, I managed to keep my pride in tact!"

One man in my sample, an experienced project manager, offers this helpful insight: "Job loss leaves you with feelings of confusion, anxiety, and depression." To offset these, you have to take immediate steps "to locate and make use of a resource that will help you begin to plan your personal approach to reemployment. There must be a sense of order and progress in your life to balance out the feelings of confusion, anxiety, and depression."

You can also cope with the feeling of discouragement by lengthening your timetable, giving yourself more slack, lightening up on the self-imposed tyranny of expectations you yourself have raised and those deadlines you yourself have set. Beware of the tyranny of the promises you make to yourself. This is not a polite way of saying "abandon hope." It is a practical reminder that you are in a human predicament and you can deal with it only in human - i.e., non-mechanical - ways.

The human way is inevitably an imprecise way of more or less, of experimentation, success, failure, second, third and fourth tries, and both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Avoiding unrealistic expectations is both prevention and cure for normal discouragement. Be content with being human. And add your personal Amen to William Faulkner's line in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail."

Copyright 2006 HTDC

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