A friend recently shared with me how her husband fell into a yearlong depression after he was laid off from his finance job during the global economic meltdown of late 2008. He’d worked hard all his life, thrived on the pressures and challenges of his work, and enjoyed the money he earned. Becoming unemployed for the first time in his mid-forties was a huge kick in the gut, and one he didn’t cope with very well.
There are no two ways about it—losing your job is hard. Whether it has everything to do with your performance, or nothing at all, it’s still hard. However, if you look at job loss, like any setback, from an enlarged perspective, you realize that success in life is measured far less by our opportunities than by how we respond to life’s setbacks and challenges.
The story of my friend’s husband is one I’ve heard many times. The challenge people in that situation face is how to handle not only the loss of their job, but the many emotions that arise. These range from humiliation and a sense of failure and vulnerability, to anxiety, resentment and self-pity. Sure, losing your job can be a blow to your wallet, but it’s often an even bigger blow to your ego and self-worth.
When it comes to a successful job hunt, attitude is everything. A proactive and positive mindset will differentiate you from the masses, making all the difference in how “lucky” you get in an unlucky economy. It will even determine whether you one day look back on this time with some measure of gratitude for what you gained from it—whether it was a chance to re-evaluate your life, or spend extra time with your family, or teach your kids about budgeting, or simply re-affirm what matters most.
Confucius said that our natures are alike (i.e., no one likes being sacked), it’s our habits that separate us. Below are seven habits to help you stand apart from the pack, move your job application to the top of the pile, and land not only a job, but perhaps an even better one than you had before.
1. Stay future-focused.
It’s easy to get stuck in the past and what shoulda-woulda-coulda happened, but didn’t. Doing so only perpetuates destructive emotions such as anger, self-pity and a sense of powerlessness. Focus on the future and on what you need to do to effectively establish yourself on the job front. Budget your money wisely, and nurture relationships with people who can help you find a new job. What you focus on expands, so focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
2. Don’t let your job status define you.
Try not to take job loss too personally. Who you are is not what you do. It never was and never will be. Research by psychologist Marty Seligman found that the biggest determinant of a person’s success after a setback of any kind is how that person interprets the setback. People who interpret losing their job as a sign of personal inadequacy or failure are less likely to “get back on the horse” than those who interpret it as an unfortunate circumstance that provides a valuable opportunity to grow in self-awareness, re-evaluate priorities and build resilience. You are defined by you, not by your job or a company’s decision whether or not to employ you. Don’t take job loss as a personal rejection. It may well be due to economic forces far beyond your control.
3. Make self-care a priority.
When you’ve lost your job it is all too to easy plant yourself on the couch, remote in one hand, beer or bag of chips in the other, and wallow in self-pity. Many do! But mental and emotional resilience requires physical resilience. So be intentional about taking care of YOU and doing whatever it takes to feel strong and fit. (After all, you can no longer uses lack of time as an excuse for not exercising.) Studies have found that exercise builds resilience, leaving you more immune to stress. Get outdoors, go for a run, do some gardening, or just do something that lifts your spirits – whether building your kids a cubby house or taking your dog to the beach – and helps to shift the negative emotions that have the potential to keep you from being proactive in your job hunt.
4. Surround yourself with positive people.
Emotions are contagious. The people around you impact how you see yourself, your situation and what you do to improve it. Be intentional about who you hang out with and don’t get sucked into the vortex of those who want a marathon pity party. It wastes precious time and energy far better spent getting back into the workforce. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, and avoid those who don’t. Read positive books, watch inspiring movies, and remember that your family will take their cue from you. Let them know that while you may not have chosen your circumstances, you are confident that with time and effort, you will all pull through together, and be stronger and wiser in the end.
5. Tap your network.
The more people who know what you want, the more who can help you get what you want. The vast majority of jobs are never advertised. So the adage, “Your network is your net worth,” is particularly relevant when it comes to finding those jobs that are filled via word of mouth. Reach out to people you know and enlist their support in making any introductions or connections that could help you. Whatever you do, never underestimate the power of your network to open up opportunities and land you that “lucky break” you were hoping for.
6. Treat finding a job as a job.
If you feel the need, and can afford to, give yourself a break for a few days, or a week or two. But assuming you can’t afford a year sailing the world, don’t take too long before returning to your familiar routine. Create structure in your day. Sure you have more time on your hands than you did before, but you will be amazed how little you can do in a day if you aren’t intentional about what you want to get done. Create a job search plan with goals and small manageable steps. Then prioritize, structure your day and treat finding a job as a job.
7. Extend kindness.
It’s pretty simple really: extending kindness toward others makes us feel good. It’s not just nice to do something for others – whether helping a neighbor or volunteering at a local soup kitchen – it’s actually a helpful thing to do for yourself. Yes, scientists have found that acts of kindness produce some of the same “feel good” chemicals in the brain as anti-depressants. In addition, when we give our time to help others, it helps us stop dwelling on our own problems, and makes us realize how much we have to be thankful for. It can also be an effective way to build your network, and show potential employers you are not sitting idly by waiting for work to come your way. There’s no better mood booster than making a difference for someone else, even when you wish your own life were different than it is.
Margie Warrell, best-selling author of Find Your Courage: 12 Acts for Becoming Fearless in Work & Life(McGraw-Hill Professional), is an executive life coach and keynote speaker who is passionate about empowering women to think bigger, expand their vision of what’s possible, and to live and lead more courageously. With her down to earth Australian humor and working mother-of-four pragmatism, Margie draws on her background in psychology and Fortune 500 business to show others how to leverage adversity and take their lives to new levels of success and fulfillment. The “Resident Coach” on Let’s Talk Live (Washington, D.C.’s daily talk show), Margie also shares her expertise regularly on national media including The TODAY Show, CNBC and Fox News. To get her free Live Boldly! newsletter or other great resources please visit www.margiewarrell.com