Hope for the Hopeless: Fighting the Feelings

In one of the last posts I recently wrote I began to discuss job-hunting and quoted extensively from one of my favourite books: Richard N. Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute?.

(See Hope for the Hopeless: Brave New World of this blog.)

I have begun doing this in the hope that what I am experiencing in my own employment search, as well as tips Mr. Bolles and others have to offer, may assist others in their present or future struggles with one of the most stressful periods of our adult lives.

Now, for those folks easily impressed by qualifications and letters behind a name or titles in front of a name, let me save you some time and tell you that I won’t be the person to impress you in this manner.

All I will say in my defence is I will write about what I am experiencing and will share ideas that have struck a chord with me in the hopes that you will see some wisdom in them for you.

Fair enough?

In my own limited experience, I have found that the hardest part of being unemployed or underemployed or inappropriately employed is dealing with feelings.

This situation takes a terrible toll upon the human spirit.

(As for my particular spirit at times, see Taming the Black Dog of this blog.)

“In a recent study of over 6,000 job hunters, interviewed every week for up to 24 weeks, it was discovered that many workers become discouraged the longer they are unemployed.

In particular, the unemployed express feeling more sad the longer they are unemployed.

Sadness rises more quickly with unemployment duration during episodes of the job search.

In addition, reported life satisfaction is lower for the same individual following days in which comparatively more time was devoted to the job search.

These findings suggest that the psychological cost of the job search rises the longer someone is unemployed.”
Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?

Granted, these findings probably surprise no one.

Part of the problem is that we spend so much of our adult lives working (80%, in fact) that many of us identify ourselves (and others) by the jobs we do.

It is reflected in the very words we choose when we talk about how we earn our living.

Most engineers, as an example, would respond to the question “What is your job?” with the answer: “I am an engineer.” rather than with “I work as an engineer.”

In the first sentence, the job is the person.

In the second, the person does a job.

A small difference maybe, but I think an important distinction, for it shows that many of us believe that our value as people is determined by our job performance, rather than our job performance determined by our value as people.

“I know the truth of this (the toll upon the human spirit) from my own experience.

I have been fired in my life.

I remember how it felt each time I got the lousy news.

I walked out of the building dazed, as though I had jus emerged from a really bad train wreck.

The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky.

The streets were filled with laughing happy people, who apparently had not a care in the world.

I remember thinking, “The world has just caved – my world at least.

How can all these people act as though nothing has happened?”

And I remember the feelings.

The overwhelming feelings that only intensified in the weeks after that.

Describe my state however you want –

Feeling sad, being in a funk, feeling despair, feeling hopeless, feeling like things “will always be this way”, feeling depressed –

It doesn’t matter.

I was terribly unhappy.

Unemployment was rocking my soul to its foundations.

I needed to know what to do about my feelings.

I have since learned that my experience was not the least unusual.

Most of us when we are out of work for a long time feel weary and depressed.

Our greatest desire is to get rid of these feelings.”
Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?

I have been an ESL teacher for many years, unofficially since 1984, officially since 1999.

But Switzerland and the Great Recession have not been kind to my career these past few years.

I believe that I can occasionally string words together and have begun baby steps through this blog.

Maybe, just maybe, I might learn how to actually make an income from this impulse of word-smithing.

To prove to myself that I can do more than teach, I have worked as a Starbucks barista for the past year, with a little teaching on the side.

My wife’s decision to accept a training post in Zürich, absenting herself and living apart much of the week away from home, gave me the resolve to change my situation, rather than wait for my situation to change.

I have grown tired of being reactive and have resolved to be proactive.

But, God help me, resolve fails me from time to time, and I know that without the loving support of my wife and my friends I would be less able to “dust myself off, pick myself up and start all over again.”

As Canadian Thanksgiving approaches, they are what / who I am most humbly grateful for.

So, how to fight the feelings?

Let’s see what Richard has to say:

“Things We Can Do to Deal with Our Feelings When We Are Unemployed

1. Catch up on our sleep.

We tend to feel depressed if we are short on our sleep or our body is otherwise rundown.

2. Keep more physically fit while unemployed.

Get regular exercise, involving a daily walk.
Drink plenty of water each day.
Eliminate sugar as much as possible from the diet.
Take supplementary vitamins daily.
Eat balanced meals (not just pig out on junk food in front of the telly)

(Blogger: guilty as charged!)

3. Do something about the physical space around us.

Our surroundings often mirror how we feel about ourselves.
If our physical environment looks like a disaster area…

(Blogger: guilty as charged!)

…that in itself cam make us depressed.

(When) neatness will start to appear in our physical environment, this can help lift our spirits immensely, as our physical space mirrors an upbeat life.

4. Get outdoors daily and take a good walk.

Hiding in our cave…

(Blogger: guilty as charged!)

…will only make us feel more down.

Seeing trees, sunlight, mountains, flowers, people, will do your heart good, each day.

5. Focus on other people and their problems – not just your own.

If we determine to help someone else in need, we won’t feel so discarded by society.

6. Renew your acquaintance with old friends.

Explore the friendships you already have, not because they are useful in your job hunt, but just because they are valuable human beings.”
Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?

“There are two kinds of exploration:

One involves going out to explore new country.

The other involves digging down more deeply into the country we already occupy.” (Phillip Brooks)

“7. Go on fun mini-adventures.

Often there are portions of our surroundings that we have never explored, but a tourist would.
Set out to visit places you have never seen.
Stop obsessing about how much you lost from your past.
Turn your face toward the future.
There are new worlds to conquer.

8. Deal with your feelings by expanding your mental horizons and learn something new.

Read up on subjects that have always interested you…

(See Underdog University of this blog.)

…but you never took the time to explore before.

There are a million FREE videos online where you can learn just about anything.
There are videocasts, podcasts and every other kinds of -cast.

(Blogger: including Broadway casts!)

There are also, of course, books.

9. Talk with your loved ones about the feelings you have.

(Blogger: As many of my women friends will attest…)

It’s amazing how giving voice to thoughts and feelings, particularly when we don’t much care for those thoughts and those feelings, causes them to lose their power over us.

We should do this, because otherwise stuff bottled up inside us tends to fester and grow.

10. Pound a punching bag or some pillows to get some of the angry energy out of us.

(Blogger: better than wife beating or kicking the cat!)

11. Make a list each day of the things that make us grateful / glad / happy day by day.

There is a habit of mind that is deadly while we’re out of work and that is spending too much of our day, every day, brooding about what is wrong in our lives.

By listing the things we are thankful for, we teach ourselves to focus on what precious gifts we are thankful for, we teach ourselves to focus on what precious gifts we still have.”
Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?

I am thankful for this blog.

I am thankful for your attention.

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