Resuscitating Your Future

Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

If you are willing to change, some people will have the delightful surprise of landing a job opportunity, but most probably won’t.  For the latter group I’d like to say things are probably not as bad as you think…

Alas, as we all know only too well, these are hard and frightening times.  Economic uncertainty is amplified by a very visible doomsday scenario repeated in endless loops in every media.  It’s scary and it’s depressing.  And yet just as good times fuel inevitable bubbles, bad times create the impetus to make things better.  That’s true for individuals and for the organizations in which they work.

Admittedly, this blog sails perilously close to Pollyanna’s famed line, I’m glad I broke my leg for I might have broken two.  But red ink, hard times, and a life that’s clearly not working can be one’s best ally if it creates enough motivation so we change a familiar and comfortable but deeply flawed status quo in ways that revitalize our work and our lives.

In some circles it is widely accepted that change is easy, requiring only encouragement and praise.  That’s sometimes true, say in the case of getting rid of a bad habit which mostly takes being aware of it.  But basic change is neither simple nor easy in part because most people love the benefits of denial, that magical not-seeing which smoothes out life’s harsh and rugged terrain.  Few of us want to be on alert and at battle stations all the time so we turn down the volume of awareness of what’s not working.  Millions and millions of people manage to remain functional that way.  But they never get to learn how much better things could be.

A crisis of disappointment and frustration heightens our awareness of the gaps between what was hoped for and what was realized.  That gap may motivate us to move out of the comfort of habit and become willing to be aware and to change things. 

Even when the gap is large and well known, most of the time nothing much happens.  Griping and venting allows lots of us to avoid taking any action.  Why does that happen?  Basic change is not like giving up a simple habit. It involves moving into the unknown with consequences that are usually unpredictable.  People don’t make major changes in what they do or how they live until and unless the fear of the consequences of not changing is greater than the fear of changing.  Major change, therefore, takes courage and those first steps benefit from the kick in the small of the back that crises create.

It’s very hard to look for a job when you really need one but nobody’s looking for you.  Then, inevitably, every rejection feels personal; they didn’t like me.  If we plotted your emotions chances are very good that the graph would look like a series of jagged peaks and valleys with very few plateaus between them.  Economic need and your own confidence is what enables you to start the process of searching but it is your resilience that allows you to bounce back and keep going in the face of disappointments.  Though the process of finding work can assault one’s self-esteem, the outcome can be great. And it only takes one Yes.

Therefore, remember all the other times in your life when things were very bleak but you pulled yourself together. Never forget the media focus on what’s terrible and rarely report good news.  Naturally this strengthens a half-empty, pessimistic view.  The bottle is at least somewhat full.

Make it Happen!

  • Do your research:  Even in the midst of this current crisis of confidence and deep recession, there are places and industries and companies that are hiring.  Then, the question becomes, are you willing to move or retrain and start again?
  • Broaden your horizons as to the kind of work you do or the customers you could serve. 
  • Imagine who might need what you offer whom you’ve never thought of as a customer.
  • Online networks, alumni associations, friends, family, colleagues… Since there are only six degrees of separation between you and someone you want to contact, no one is out of range.
  • Get help.  Many people find it very hard to acknowledge to themselves much less to other people, that they can’t manage their problems on their own.  If you find yourself stymied and don’t know what to do, or you’re paralyzed by fear of rejection and defeat, or confused by the responses you are receiving in your search, reach out.

At some point or another, the majority of people have had the experience of having reached the end of their rope without any idea of what to do next or why that’s been happening.  That’s when you need help and there’s lots of it around if only you look for it.  Some help is informal and typically involves small groups of people in the same boat who share experiences and support each other.  A lot of help is provided by professionals and includes career counselors, coaches, and mentors.  All of these sources of help will get you a more balanced perspective, new ideas, less extreme emotional responses, and active support.  There’s everything to gain – and nothing to lose.

While there are still many organizations in which people are employed for all or most of their working life, a very essential change since the 1980s has been the disappearance of absolute job security.  This means that essentially everyone is a business with one employee.  Therefore, everyone needs to remember that no one cares as much as you do about what happens to you.  Creating your future is your job.  Best of luck!

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