There are 12.8 million people out of work in the United States according to the latest statistics. I receive calls every week from a number of candidates who have been out of work so long that they are just downright depressed. And these are professionals who never dreamed that this kind of thing would happen to them. It doesn’t take long for many of these people to start asking, “What’s wrong with me? I’ve never had this much trouble finding a job. There’s got to be something wrong with me.”
I was reminded after a number of these calls of the psychologist Martin Siegelman’s studies which led to the theory of “learned helplessness.” Its basic definition is that people, often after some kind of difficult event… death of a loved one, a divorce and especially, a loss of a job… after a while begin to see the event personally, pervasively and permanently. This is especially true with loss of a job and the very difficult time and effort it takes to find a new one. After a while of being unsuccessful in looking for a job, many people have a tendency to take it personally… like the quotes above, “What’s wrong with me,”… pervasively…. “It’s always been this way with me,” and…. permanently, “It’s always going to be this way and there is no hope that I’ll ever find a job.”
According to Seligman, “Many things in life are outside of our control. But one thing that is within our control is how we explain the things that happen to us.” Our “explanatory style,” according to Seligman, the language we use to explain our experiences, can have a debilitating effect on our psyche if we don’t deal with it in the right way.
I’d say that most people who get laid off or fired or downsized don’t take it personally unless it’s happened to them a number of times. Most people think that it’s going to be easy for them to find a job. After all, they’ve always found a job before. Most of these people forget how long it really took them to find the last job and how difficult it was. So, even those people after a while of unsuccessfully looking for a job, start seeing things very negatively. Their spouses or friends or relatives who are gainfully employed have a tendency to imply that it was their fault that they have to be looking for a job. This may not be true at all but the job seeker “feels” their thinking…even if it isn’t true.
After four or five months of looking for a job many of these people become depressed. And yes, I’ve had a few candidates over the years that took their own lives because they were so depressed. (I’m sure that having to look for a job was not the only issue in their depression, but nonetheless, it has happened.) But even minor depression during long periods of unemployment can cause a person to take the whole thing personally, pervasively and permanently.
Now it’s really easy to simply say, “You just shouldn’t feel that way.” That’s the last way, the very worst way of helping someone to overcome this kind of depression. Having empathy for these people is one of the first things that a third-party can do. Simply listening to what they have to say is a great start.
I devote a whole session in www.thejobsearchsolution.com
on how to deal with, even avoid this kind of psychological state. But here are some quick bromides:
- Know that you are not alone. Lots of other people are in the same position and some of them are dealing with it really well. Find some of those people, but do try to avoid pity parties.
- Know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t control. Focus on what you can control.
- Take massive action. Start reading motivational books and take courses like thejobsearchsolution.com. The faster you start taking massive action, the better.
- Expect your job search to be hard, because it’s probably going to be. If it winds up that it’s not, consider yourself lucky.
- Write out everything about how you lost your job and start a journal about your job search. This helps alleviate negative emotions.
- Do not postpone actively job searching for a month or so because “I haven’t had a vacation in a long time.” No matter how much you relax, the longer you put off starting an active job search the harder it’s going to be. Take a vacation after you’ve found a job.
- Be grateful for all the blessings that you have …write them down… every day
- Acknowledge your fears, but remember you’ve had them before and you overcame them
- Small wins… the things you can control like: contacting lots of people often about interviewing you, making a daily plan and sticking to it, practicing interviewing, getting interviews…(many more in thejobsearchsolution.com).
- Volunteer…find people who need your help…who are worse off than you and, if nothing else, just listen to them without complaining about your own situation.
- Develop a daily routine…and stick to it (don’t succumb to the temptation to go play golf with your friends or go shopping instead of doing real job search activities).
- Approach finding a job like it was a job.
- Figure out your “numbers”…. how many negative events are you going to get before you get a positive one (for instance, even after doing this for so many years…since 1973, before the pandemic, it took me, personally, about 100 cold calls to discover one job opportunity. In this market it takes me 210. It does no good to complain about this. I simply have to do it.)
- Be compassionate…. with yourself and with others, especially with others who brush you off, don’t call you when they say they’re going to, lie to you about the fact that you’re a great candidate, etc.
- Hold yourself accountable… When you don’t do well on an interview, take responsibility. Don’t just blow it off and convince yourself that the folks you were interviewing with are stupid, insane or downright crazy not to hire you.
- Go to thejobsearchsolution for more.
It’s really easy to accept the job search and the emotions that go into it personally, pervasively and permanently. It doesn’t have to be that way.