He that lives in hope dances without
- 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.
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.
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
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
So the poet prays "to a god who would have nothing to do with a stained
glass window," and gets this reply:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
You gain a sense of trust in your ability to handle the most difficult
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,
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
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."
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.
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
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."