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Self-Preservation Techniques For The Unemployed


Looking for work can be difficult, frustrating, anxiety-provoking, and demeaning.

There are few situations we encounter in life where we feel so powerless. Not only do we have a sense that we have little control over the outcome, but we also feel judged. We become objectified, presented like a colt at a yearling auction or a slave on the bidding block. We walk, we talk, we run around in circles, while the "buyers" look us over, discuss our finer points and weaknesses, and make their decision to buy or reject. We are keenly aware of the competition. There are performance pressures: 30 seconds to make a great first impression, 30 minutes to define ourselves as a person, as a worker, to present a lifetime of skills, experience and knowledge.

We are acutely aware that every word we utter, every body squirm, every gesture, is being observed, assessed, recorded. Regardless of whether we really want the job or not, we want it to be offered as an affirmation that we have worth, that we count. If we attend interview after interview and receive no offers, the demoralization seeps into our subconscious, confirming our deeply defended but strongly entrenched suspicions that we are just "not good enough," that we don't "measure up," that we lack value.

The longer we remain out of work, the more tattered our self-esteem becomes. We start to exhibit that desperate "deer in the headlights" look that makes the likelihood of being offered a position ever more remote.

What can we do to halt this erosion of self-value? How can we survive the challenges of looking for work while keeping our self-confidence, self-value, and self-esteem intact?

Here are three approaches you may find helpful:

1. Don't blame yourself. Economic difficulties, job migration, corporate downsizing, and employer relocation are social realities. Being laid off does not adversely reflect on your personal worth, your skills, your character, nor your value. "If I had been smarter, I'd have seen it coming" thinking leads to self-criticism and a sense that your current plight is somehow of your own making. Put the blame back where it belongs - on an economy that values profits above people and the short term bottom line over long term stability and steady growth.

2. Take time to appreciate yourself. Too often, unemployment carries not only financial pressures but leads to self-destructive thinking: I'm not able to support my family, I'm a loser, I'm not a man, I'm not the superwoman I planned, I don't contribute anything worthwhile to anybody, the world would be better off without me. Since we define so much of what we are by what we do, when we no longer have a title, we lose ourselves. Work, and the income it provides, is important but it is only a part of a whole life, reflecting only a portion of our character, our abilities, our worth. Take the time to remind yourself of your other life roles: husband/wife/significant other, parent, church member, community participant - any roles you play which are not directly related to work. Because you are not temporarily generating an income, and all that stands for, does not mean that you are not contributing significantly in many other areas: to your family, your friends, your community. While reminding yourself of your non-work personal value, make sure that your frustration with job search is not allowed to spill over and poison your other life roles.

3. Reclaim a sense of control. You may be powerless to ensure an appropriate job offer or line up employers who are champing at the bit to take you on, but you do have control over other aspects of your life. Exercising control over anything can re-assert your old balance and generate confidence in your ability to weather the storm. Set up a schedule for yourself which will give you control over your time and your activities, both job search and personal responsibilities, to avert the wasted energy of running in all directions without accomplishing anything. Examine your diet and exercise program and use your extra time to ensure that you are healthy and fit. Explore what the current stress is doing to your relationships and personal interactions and take the time to strengthen personal ties and sources of support, not drive them away in your misery. Review your household budget and identify ways to save, different patterns of spending, and priorities which can be changed.

Yes, being unemployed can be humiliating and depressing and often leads to anxiety, fear, and a permanent sense of insecurity and self-doubt. Using the above and similar strategies can help you emerge from this temporary crisis stronger and with a deeper sense of self and your value, not just as a worker but as a human being.

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a respected Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and emotionally supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.virginiabola.com


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