Death And Moving On

You may be wondering why an Employment Counsellor who blogs about how to get and keep work would be writing about how to move on when someone close to you passes away. Simply put the two are interconnected and the one affects the other. Like any other post, if you find something useful or helpful, I’m happy to have shared my thoughts with you.

Let’s first acknowledge a few things: 1) We will all experience death 2) Unless we lose our life as young child it is inevitable that people we know will die before us 3) We do not all experience events in our lives exactly the same as other people; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to act. Can we agree on these three things?

When we’re young we might first experience death in the loss of a family pet; a goldfish or hamster that one day isn’t moving. How we first react to this is often shaped by how our parents respond to us. Do they tell us the creature is sleeping and won’t wake up, do they bark at us and tell us it died so deal with it or perhaps they suggest going out to get a replacement so we don’t have to grieve (and they don’t have to deal with us being overly sad)?

Eventually we find ourselves learning that a person has died. Again, as a child or teenager we look around for clues as to how to act and we instinctively learn that some people cry, some sob uncontrollably, others seem outwardly unaffected, maybe some even look stone cold. Among the various reactions we may find others who have balanced their loss better than others – whatever ‘better’ means to us personally. For  purposes here, better means being able to move forward, and deal with death in a way that doesn’t paralyze the living.

When close to someone, especially someone you’ve shared much of your life with such as a parent, a child or a partner, the bonds between you and that person or those people can be very strong. You have so many memories of doing things together, you may have tremendous gratitude for the relationship and how you feel put into words comes out as love. Who you are as an adult is in part great or small shaped by those around you, and so it is often the case that these people mean a great deal to us; we want them there always.

Whether its unexpected or we can see it coming, sooner or later we find ourselves learning of the death someone special to us. For most people the news of the death comes as a shock itself. It’s hard to believe, we beg the source of the information to tell us this isn’t true, we say we need to go see them immediately and our minds rush back to when we saw or talked with them last. If we happened to be at their bedside, we know intellectually they are gone from this life but even though we were there as they eased away, we’re still faced with that moment when they were here a second ago and now they aren’t.

Now how to move forward? Some people appear to move forward pretty quickly; they know that life means death follows at some point, they’re realistic and know that for themselves life goes on. They mourn losses internally and for them it may be healthy and natural to have no tears to hold back. They are not cold and hard, they are not impervious to feelings nor unmoved.

At the other extreme are those who are themselves debilitated with another’s loss. It’s as if they have shutdown; as if a large part of them died along with the other person. They may for example quit work and 6 years later still claim they can’t take jobs because they aren’t ready. The idea of having an employer offer a single week off to grieve a loss and then go back to work is literally impossible to do and bewildering to imagine.

Conflict, (and I don’t mean fighting but rather tension and being at odds with another’s behaviour) comes when people who are closely tied to the death of a person deal with death in the different extremes. They wonder, “why don’t they deal with this like I am? Don’t they love them the way I loved them?”

Moving on however is healthy and we weren’t meant as humans to die ourselves when others around us do so. So we must eat, sleep, breathe, drink – the basics of living and then do more and more of whatever is our normal routines like cleaning the house, grocery shopping, cooking meals etc. Ever notice how neighbours often come by with meals to support the living?

It’s impossible to move forward with direction if your head is turned looking back. Therefore moving ahead means creating new memories with the living around us while appreciating the time we had (brief or long) with those departed. When you care and love others you also know the day will come when death parts you both with finality; this is no reason to isolate yourself from connecting, caring and loving with the living.

We are all different and how we choose to deal with loss is personal. Be it a goldfish or a person, may you move on as best you are able.


Looking For Work Means You’re Working

Are you the kind of person who has had to work hard for every job you’ve had in the past? Have you had the good fortune to perhaps on the other hand had jobs land in your lap; a friend of your dad’s, a connection of your mother’s or some other family member knew someone who hired you and all you had to do was agree to take the job?

Well having a job handed to you might have been seen as good fortune at one point but, if it led you to think that finding a job isn’t so tough, what might have been kindness on someone’s part actually did you a disservice. Looking for a job like anything else in life takes skill, tenacity, knowledge, determination and resilience.

A lot has changed in how to look for employment over just a few short years; the emergence of online applications as not just one way to apply for a job but in more situations the only way to apply for a job. Applicant Tracking Software is thinning out applicants long before human eyeballs ever look over individual resumes; a process many job seekers have no idea even exists.

However, there are some aspects of looking for work that are essentially the same; before you can convince an employer you’re right for the job, you have to know why yourself. You’re going to need to understand how your skills, experience and personality are the right combination the employer requires, and you can’t rely on just your good looks and ability to wing it in interviews anymore. If you plan on winging it in today’s interviews, be prepared to be exposed in the interview as having put little effort into your preparation and be sent packing. Too bad too, because if you sincerely want to work for a particular company, you may never be offered that second chance to impress.

Looking for work is work. I have to admit that as an Employment Counsellor I am surprised by the number of people out there who still think making a generic resume and photocopying it 20 or 30 times and doing a mass handout is how to find work. Does this work anymore? Sure, in entry-level jobs with an employer who may be in a desperate situation and in you come and you’ll do for the short-term until they can find the right candidate. You might even stay right up until a few days before your probation is up only to be let go and replaced by someone who is better qualified when the employer goes through their proper hiring practices.

The thing is most people – and I mean a large number of people – don’t practice their job searching skills when they aren’t looking for work. Then when they start looking for work, they trust to their own abilities based on their past experiences, make a minor change or two on their resume and figure that’s it. Those same people are then frustrated that looking for a job takes longer than they remembered and eventually when they do seek out help, they are surprised how  much has changed from the way they recall looking for work in the past.

All things evolve and job searching is no different. Just yesterday I was looking at a job with someone who was interested in working for a large retail chain. After reading the job posting, we put together a resume specifically targeting all the key requirements the employer was looking for. Sounds like all we need to do now is get it in the hands of the employer right? Send it off electronically by clicking on that ‘apply’ button on their webpage right? Wrong!

No, in addition to crafting this resume, there was then a 9 step process to complete. There were questions to answer which would determine personal suitability and knowledge of the job. They wanted references right then and there plus what amounted to breaking down the contents of the resume and asked for the reasons behind moving from one job to another in the applicants past. There was a lot of other information they requested as well, and it looked like about a solid hours worth of work to even get through the application process.

So now in addition to being able to work in retail, any applicant applying for this company needs computer skills , access to the internet and a lot of patience. Get yourself all glammed up and walk in the door expecting your looks and winning smile to get you the job and you won’t even make it to the Hiring Manager’s office. You’ll be sent packing with your resume still in your possession because they won’t even take it anymore in person. “First step is apply online.”

Frankly, entry-level jobs are generally easier to obtain than middle or upper level positions. That much hasn’t changed over time. However, what has changed is the process of applying for entry-level jobs; the process is mirroring the same process those higher level jobs require. If you don’t move with the times you will be left behind; unemployed and out of work until you realize that finding work is a job in and of itself.

No computer skills? Take a basic computer class. Out of date resume? Update it now, especially if you are working. Hope you’re ready to invest in finding a job; it pays off only after you put in the effort.


A New Hope (And No It’s Not Star Wars)

Hope; it’s what looking forward to flipping over the calendar at the end of December every year is all about really isn’t it? I mean, it’s a new slate, a fresh start, new beginnings with raised expectations that you won’t screw this one up; that things will be better than they were the previous year.

Throughout the year we all have those moments when things start fresh. We may start reading a new book, start work on a new painting, a renovation, maybe a new job; why I can recall in public school just being excited when I wrote for the first time in a new workbook and vowed that my printing and writing would be neater and with fewer mistakes to rub out with an eraser.

However a new year is when everybody we know gets a do-over all at the same time. I think to be honest this what we really celebrate; the chance we all have to put things right and get our act together and we’re supported by all of those we come into contact with because just like us, that’s what others are trying to do too.

Now for things to be better, we have to acknowledge first what didn’t, or isn’t going so well at the present time. For many of us that’s ridiculously easy to do of course because so many of us are continually facing problems and challenges. If you’re going to look at 2017 as the year you get hired by a good company doing a job you enjoy and making a decent wage doing it, no doubt you are pretty much well aware of the fact you are currently unemployed or unhappy in your current job. This is an easy one; not to fix of course but to understand.

On the other hand, there are some things in our lives that we want to set straight, deal with or put behind us; and if it was as easy as flipping the calendar to January 2017 we’d all be doing it. I’m talking about the things we want the new year to bring us that require us to first acknowledge and articulate what we currently have but want to change which we don’t want to think about or talk about. If we keep saying to ourselves and others, “I don’t want to think or talk about ______”, it’s not likely that a new year will bring the results we want – certainly not in any lasting measure.

So let’s say it’s a goal to be a better person. As good as that is, it’s rather vague isn’t it? I mean, better in what way(s)? Before we can decide how to be better it would be appropriate and necessary to examine closely and honestly the kind of person we are right now and have been throughout the year; knowing how we are at present and how we’d like to be can lead us to identify the distance between the two. How we go about enacting the change we want to bring about the desired end results is the next step but too many people make it the first step.

I suppose it’s also essential to ask yourself, “What’s my motivation for wanting a change in 2017?” Are you looking for more money, security, travel, a lasting relationship, perhaps ending a relationship? Goals for the new year can include endings as well as beginnings and not just in personal relationships. You could decide to finish 2017 no longer employed in your present job; break your addiction to social media and your cell phone, or your relationship with a creditor by getting out of debt.

A new year is like everybody received a brand spanking shiny new lottery card. There’s hope with every one issued and produced; a few will be major winners, some reveal happiness and give us reason to smile and for others there will be disappointment and a dream unfulfilled. However, unlike a lottery card, the result isn’t predetermined. When you scratch the lottery card, there are a fixed number of winners and losers. In life, I think we could all find 2017 brings us improvement, fulfillment and happiness – it’s within our control whether we have a good one or not.

I’ve a suggestion to put before you and that is in addition to the big one; the really significant thing you are hoping 2017 brings your way. Set yourself up for success with some relatively small or minor hopes too. If you hope to lose 50 pounds; a fairly big hope for many, maybe start with an obtainable yet small goal like replacing your white bread with some 100% whole grain bread, or forgoing the bread entirely for the first two weeks when you’re out shopping. Not a big deal; chances of success are pretty good and you can certainly mark whether you hit the goal or not.

If it’s a better you, maybe something tangible like, “being better means being friendlier and friendliness starts with a smile” becomes your motto and you set out to smile consciously at everyone you meet for the first few seconds. Unnatural as it might be now, you’re hoping to build new patterns of behaviour that you can carry on with over the long-term.

So what’s important enough to you that you’d like to work on to bring yourself the gift of hope realized in 2017? Share it if you will here with us.

Take The Advice Of Professionals

There’s a black t-shirt that keeps showing up on my Facebook page with writing on it that says, “If at first you don’t succeed do what your Employment Counsellor told you to do in the first place.” Yes those brainy folks at FB have found a way to send me a feed that fits perfectly with my line work – lo and behold I am an Employment Counsellor and yes many a time my colleagues and I say to each other, “If they would just do what we suggest things would be so much better!”

Maybe you’ve got something similar showing up on your social media pages and the job title is specific to what it is you do too? I wonder. It does go to show how the information we provide online helps others target us directly with their marketing all the way from products we can buy to ads we view on our pages. Be careful what you search for online. Am I buying myself one of these t-shirts? No, but I do kind of want one even though I wouldn’t wear it to work!

Think about the message though and you can view it two ways; the first is of course to see ourselves as the expert; the all-knowing wise ones who hold all the secrets to happiness and success. It can come across as sanctimonious, smug, cocky, perhaps even arrogant. On the other hand there’s a lot of truth in that message. After all, anyone who is an expert in their field and has been in it for a period of time has to know more than the average dabbler into the field.

When the brakes need fixing on our cars we typically head out and seek the services of a brake professional; it’s just too important when you’re driving down the road at 90 km and have to stop suddenly to put your life and the lives of others in the hands of anyone else. I know I certainly wouldn’t go to my neighbour who happens to work at a cemetery and expect him to knowledgeably and expertly fix my breaks. I could of course, but I might find my family needing his professional services for my own funeral and the last thing they would do is leave my burial and final send off to a brake professional. That’s ludicrous.

Yes I am often perplexed and amazed when, in my line of work, I encounter numerous people who have trusted their job search tactics and specifically resume and interview help to friends, family and friends of family. “Who did your resume?” I sometimes ask at the outset to see if the person did it themselves or got assistance – and this before even looking at it. “Oh I got help from my sister”, is the kind of response I often hear. “And what does she do for a living?” I might ask only to be told any number of jobs – all of which I trust the sisters of this world are pretty good if not great at – but alas, resume construction and crafting is not numbered upon the areas in which they have expertise.

What gets more interesting is that as the critiquing starts when doing a resume consultation, the owner of the resume often gives up all ownership and responsibility for the content and design, blaming the person who made it for them. In fact many are quite happy and ready to tell me that some other, “professional” did it for them. Well, as I point out to them at this point, no matter who did or does a person’s resume, if your name is at the top of the page, you have to take full responsibility for content, design and how it markets you overall.

Just like in any profession, some people are better at it than others. You’ll find the professional who is on top of their game, using best practices, changing with the times who updates their skills and is the go-to person getting top results. You’ll find the professional who used to be engrossed with striving for the best but who is now coasting on their record and riding into retirement no matter how many years off. You can find the young professional who has all the right intentions and knows some of the latest and greatest but who lacks life experience and who’s gusto and energy outmatches their actual skills.

So getting help from a professional doesn’t guarantee the result you might hope for. Good advice is to ask professionals – no matter the field – about their credentials. How long have they been doing what they do? What’s their track record for success? Can they provide references you could contact? How do their fees stack up against others doing the same work? Not all professionals are the same nor are they…ahem…professional.

I have had two people in the last two weeks tell me they paid a professional $500 for their resumes. $500?! They looked slick and shiny and hadn’t in either case yielded the hoped for interviews for jobs applied to. Both resumes had mistakes; not things I personally prefer but outright errors. $500? In both cases I offered to revise what they had – no charge. I wish my brake specialist would do my brakes for free – even once!

Seek out and listen to professionals no matter the trade is good general advice; they, (we) know our stuff.

There Is Always Work To Be Done

Do you have the kind of job where you’re in full view of the boss or other co-workers from the time you arrive until you leave at the end of the day? If so, you’re probably having your time at work scrutinized pretty thoroughly. Management has a pretty good or excellent idea who pulls their weight and who isn’t performing as well as they should.

However in many workplaces, individual workers are often working out of earshot and out of eyesight of their Supervisors and Managers. If you work in this kind of environment, you’re trusted to be actively engaged in whatever it is you get paid to do; you’re expected to be productive and accountable.

When there are files waiting on your desk to be examined, actioned and passed on it’s easy to see at a glance who has cleared their desk and who has work piling up. If you’re on the road traveling from one location to another, someone presumably could track where you’ve been and how long it takes you to get to your next appointment, the mileage you’re claiming to have driven etc. Some workplaces have security cameras which not only protect the premises but can inform management of the work habits of their workforce.

If you have the kind of job where others rely on you to do your bit and pass on items so that others can do theirs, your productivity can be measured if others have to wait for you on a regular basis or not. Ah but what about the many people who work behind closed doors or in relative isolation? What about those who are largely working independently and don’t produce goods that can be graded for quality?

We shouldn’t be surprised to find there are some – perhaps many – people who drift from time-to-time; who play the odd game of Solitaire or Minesweeper. Maybe it’s not as obvious either; maybe you’ve got someone in your office that routinely walks around and seems to always be socializing. You know, they walk around three or four times a day up and down the corridor chit-chatting, and you suddenly wonder to yourself, “Don’t you have any work to do?”

We’re all built different though aren’t we? When the workload is heavy we all tend to get at; bear down and roll up our sleeves and put in a solid effort. Well, most of us. However, when the workload is lighter you can spot the workers who look for additional work to be done and those who don’t.

Walk into a mall when customer traffic is relatively light for example and if you’re observant you’ll see what I’m referring to in the work ethic of staff in the stores. Some will stand in clusters chatting amongst themselves as if there is nothing to do until customers come in. Others will re-fold clothing, dust shelves, take products and become familiar with what they do, how they work or the guarantee that accompanies them. This product knowledge makes them a better salesperson.

Employers are impressed with staff who take the initiative to better inform themselves on their products and services. They like staff who look for work to be done whether it’s cleaning or ensuring the merchandise is attractively displayed and accessible to potential buyers. Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour can’t always be taught. Oh I agree people can be told or shown what to do when it isn’t busy but to actually take the initiative to do it when you’re not being watched? There are many who only perform when they are seen; who reckon, “What’s the point? No one is going to notice.”

There’s always work to be done; be it big or little. Here’s something to ponder…if there isn’t any work to be done, why are they paying you? To get ahead and distinguish yourself from other workers and just possible angle for a future promotion, you’d be wise to be on the lookout for the little things you can do that improve the experience of those around you.

Work in a restaurant? Polish the cutlery, fill the salt and pepper shakers, read the specials menu so you remember what to promote. Work in a customer service role where the public stands before you? Check the stapler so it doesn’t ever run out, fill the paperclip holder, make sure you’ve got the hand sanitizer bottle at the ready and full. Small stuff that on the whole might just go unnoticed until somebody asks why you’re filling up the stapler because it never seems to run out – only to be told by you, “That’s because I check it a few times each day.” Hmm…

Look ahead at the calendar and see what you’ve got coming up in the next month or two. What can you do now in some down time that will make that busy time just a little less hectic? If you have the time and you are permitted, can you help someone else out in your workplace and in so doing essentially make a deposit in the bank of goodwill so that they might return the favour down the road. Just make sure you do your own work completely before leaving it to assist others.

The best employees always look for things to do and stay busy, justifying their employment and getting themselves noticed in the process.



Gratitude For That Which We Receive

How grateful are you for the things you receive and I believe more importantly, the people you interact with that put them into your hands? Here’s a brief tale of two men with whom I had a short interaction with yesterday; both of whom reminded me to be grateful to others but for different reasons.

I found myself covering the mid-morning break of a colleague in our drop-in Employment Resource Centre; a place exclusively reserved for those in receipt of social assistance; welfare or disability support. Here those in receipt of either can come in and either work independently or receive support for the asking with respect to looking for housing, jobs, general advice, community resources or maybe just have someone listen. For some it’s their outing of the day; time to be surrounded by others and connect.

At the start of the day I had gathered a number of winter clothing items such as scarves, hats, gloves, throws and socks; all new and newly arrived. I brought them there for my colleagues to get into the hands of those that need them – free for the asking and the taking. So there I was when one gentleman approached me and asked if he might be allowed to have a pair of socks.

“Absolutely” I replied. The fellow was grateful, expressed his thanks and said that these made his day. There were two pair actually in the bundle and being winter socks for the outdoors, they are thick, warm and the kind I myself wouldn’t mind finding under my own tree this Christmas. It struck me how much happiness he visibly showed on his face; again the gratitude he expressed and the words, “Thank you”.

As he was standing there before me, there was a second fellow within earshot of this brief conversation and I suspected that a similar transaction was about to occur. Sure enough, when the first man turned and left, the second stepped up.

“I’ll have a pair of socks. What else you got?” Quite a different tone in the voice, a change in approach from a request and gratefulness to a statement of fact and entitlement. Now less you feel I’m being judgemental and that I don’t understand or know the second man’s background, upbringing or the harshness he experiences day to day, I’ve worked long enough in the field to comprehend and ‘get’ that at both an intellectual and experiential level.

What I’m sharing is the two approaches and the impact of both on me as the common denominator; the receiver of both their messages. While my reaction may not be your reaction, the approach they each made is what I draw your attention to.

When I gave the second man the new socks he put moved them from the outstretched hand to the other and then extended his hand a second time waiting to receive more. In response to his question about what other items I had available, I asked him what he needed pointing out gloves, hats,  throws and scarves. I then asked, “Would you like a scarf?” “Give me gloves” he answered.

So I gave him a pair of gloves which he tried on and I asked if they fit him okay or whether he needed a larger size. The next words he answered were, “Got any hoodies or shirts?” Now I didn’t have either item he asked for and after saying so he took one final look and walked out of the building without another word. No thanks whatsoever.

Now you make what you want from this encounter and contrast it as you wish or not with the earlier one just moments before with the first fellow. You nor I know the circumstances which these two gentlemen exist in. We don’t know their past upbringing, how easy or tough their lives have been to this point. We don’t know if they learned about please and thank you, and we certainly don’t know… well…we just don’t have much information to go on beyond the information I’ve shared.

The items don’t come with strings attached; there is no requirement to say thank you. At other times when I’m in the area myself for the day, I typically put a few items at a time out for people to hep themselves; most do turn and ask just the same if they can help themselves and say then say thank you, others don’t.

I was raised to say please, to ask before taking and to express my thanks when I received something. I know that this is largely why I was struck with the difference in the two encounters. The need may be exactly the same for each fellow, or even greater for the second. Does it matter?

If you donate new items to those less fortunate, I’d like you to know that whether they say it or not, your generosity matters; goods end up in the hands of those that need them. They are glad to have them when the biting winds blow and the temperatures drop and gratitude may not hit them until they are huddled up against a wall up against a howling wind on a dark winter’s eve.

Maybe there’s a lesson here for me and for you to show our own gratitude in those we deal with be it Cashiers, the Newspaper Carrier etc. See if it doesn’t make a difference.

Grieving At Christmas

Are you grieving at this time of year more than usual and feeling out of sorts as a result? You know, there’s merriment joy all around you whether it’s songs on the radio, Christmas cards that arrive in the post, the humourous social media posts that land on your homepage; and somehow you just don’t feel in sync with all that carefree joy all about you.

You find yourself on this pendulum swinging between moments when you get caught up in those happy moments yourself and then feel pangs of guilt as you recall the loss of someone special in your own life. Your laughter and broad smile disappear from your face replaced with stress lines on your forehead and a sombre look of remembrance. One moment you feel happy, then you’re sad, and then you’re guilty again about bringing everyone around you down in spirit. Oh if you could just get back to feeling, ‘normal’; the normal you used to feel in years past!

Welcome to your new normal. The emotions and feelings you’re experiencing are valid, very real and yours to deal with and process to the extent you are able. While normally in control in most areas of your life, it seems like you haven’t yet mastered this specific one; dealing with the loss of someone significant in your life. Try as you might, you haven’t found a way to – as they say – get over it; deal with it; move on.

The fact that Christmas brings along with it words of good cheer from everyone from family and best friends to work colleagues and strangers is well-meaning but only seems to punctuate the feeling that things aren’t usual. “Usual” means that for the other 11 months of the year people aren’t wishing you happy holidays or merry anything.

Think of that pendulum metaphor again. Your balance point looking back seemed to be when the one you’re grieving now was still around. When they departed, you experienced a shift where sorrow, longing and heartache have moved the pendulum. Then at Christmas we see, hear, smell, taste and feel the good; it’s families gathering around singing carols, over indulging in rich foods, their gifts, bright lights in the night, decorations and traditions deeply steeped in family history brought out and on exhibit 24/7 until Christmas is over. All of this swings the pendulum in the other extreme; where you’d normally be happy to go and make merry of your own accord.

But whatever side that pendulum is on at a given moment, you’re private thoughts can’t seem to be a peace with. You’re feeling guilty when privately grieving and feeling remorseful when you catch yourself humming a Christmas song in your head let alone out loud. So yes, you’re feeling out of sorts all the time. Why can’t everyone around you understand this and give you your own space so you can get the pendulum back to the center?

Of course to others, they see mood swings and may feel they are walking around on eggshells trying not to set you off. They want desperately to be of help and support; they worry don’t they? And you of course are wondering why they themselves are seemingly handling things much better than you are. Don’t they miss the departed? Don’t they care as much as you do?

Everybody experiences loss and everyone processes the feelings that go with loss in a very personal way. The thing is there is no set timeline for doing so. People who experience long grieving periods might worry those who don’t, and those that don’t worry those who do because they may come across as unfeeling, callous, cold and detached.

It’s healthy to accept that we all process loss and figure out how to move ahead on our own at our own pace. We know intellectually that death is inevitable where there is life; the day we get a puppy we know a day at some point will come when the pet will pass away. Does this make it easier? Maybe for some but not for all. And things get magnified for many when the loss isn’t a family pet but a family member such as a mother or father; daughter or son.

So here it comes…Time is the answer. How much time? Who is to say? You can no better predict how long you’ll take to deal with your personal loss than you could predict how long you’ll live yourself.

Now this grieving process of dealing with the loss of someone special is identical to the process of grieving over a family pet for some and yes grieving over the loss of employment. That may seem trivializing your loss of a family member but to some people, the shock, anger, denial, bargaining and eventual acceptance which makes up the grieving process is just as real when losing a job and shouldn’t be dismissed as not just as real.

Give yourself permission to have your moments of pain and don’t apologize for your tears of remembrance. These are your own very personal moments and your thoughts are not to be taken as a weakness of character. You should never expect nor hope I imagine to entirely forget the person gone, the pet gone or the job lost.

You will eventually get to where you will give yourself permission to be happy without feeling conflicted or guilty. Your good mental health will return. Do accept wishes for a merry Christmas as they are intended; with only the best of intentions.

Taking Stock At Year End

Just in case you think this read is all about retail and having some inventory blow out just so the company has fewer items to count at year-end, it’s not. What it is about has to do with taking stock of yourself; what you accomplished, what new skills you acquired in 2016 and how you’ve grown. Ah so now you can read on and scroll down or click on the close button because maybe you were really looking for an article on counting inventory? Yeah, sorry about that.

Not many people I know really sit down and pause to think and reflect about how they themselves have changed over the passing of the year. Yes I agree many will think about the passing year in some respect; the well-known people who passed away, the top 10 lists, the material possessions they’ve come into and maybe the big events like a marriage, the birth of a child or hitting some big number on their birthday.

Let me give you some things to ponder and reflect on with the passing of the year to shift your thinking to what I’m referencing:

  • What new skills did you develop at work?
  • Name two things you learned
  • What did you do to address an area you’re weak in and did you improve?
  • Name 3 moments of triumph and success this past year
  • Small or big, name a risk you took no matter the outcome
  • Name someone you welcomed into your network
  • Recall 2 or more ways you shared your skills with at work with someone new

I find that although I am constantly meeting with and working with some very talented people, those very same individuals don’t often give themselves the credit they deserve. Beneath a very thin layer of outward confidence, they have a fragility that is rooted in self-doubt and uncertainty. This is manifested in comments or questions they’ve voiced out loud to me but in relative privacy like, “I’m not as good at that as you are and I should be shouldn’t I?” or “I goofed up big time so I won’t try that again.”

The benefit of the year-end inventory on a personal level is to recall moments of development over the year and in so doing, give yourself credit for growing, maturing or developing. Afraid you might recall some moment of failure and actually feel worse off? To fail my friend means you attempted something; risked something and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. If you failed, focus on two things; your willingness to make the attempt and what you may have learned from the outcome so in the future you can make further attempts but with your new-found knowledge work to a different outcome. When you do this, you’ve not failed but succeeded in acquiring new knowledge.

One of the easiest things to do when we are thinking about professional development is to recall the training events we attended. So you add a certificate course to your resume or the big conference you attended. However, I know a lot of people who go to many conferences and leave having hardly uttered a word to anyone; having only a passing interest in the topic and never bothered to take notes. Sure they were there physically, but I’d contest that attendance as a moment of development.

So think deeper than just courses you took. Recall moments where you had a breakthrough with someone you were imparting a new skill to. When you think about that moment when they gained that new skill or demonstrated that they did indeed get the point you were making, think of how you accomplished that. What words did you use? How did you get through in that moment when you had been less than successful only moments before? What will you do in the future when in similar situations to repeat that success and pass on more ideas in the future to others?

There are many ways to give yourself credit which builds on your self-confidence and proves you are continually developing. Maybe you discovered the value in listening more attentively to people when in the past you would have finished their sentences, been uncomfortable with silence as they struggled to think of a word to express how they are feeling. When you bit your tongue and allowed the pause to linger, it was them not you who discovered words to express themselves and they were the better for it as were you for allowing that moment of self-discovery.

To do this exercise come back to it 4 or 5 times in a quiet space where you can think in peace and for goodness sake don’t make this a mental exercise only; write things down. The benefit in writing things down is you can access these positives anytime you want. Accessing these statements of growth, development and accomplishments reminds us of skills we have, the good we are doing and has the overall effect of boosting our assertiveness because we have the necessary evidence.

This is not an exercise in boasting, bragging or self-indulgence. You’ve no doubt much to be proud of in 2016 and this is the process of taking stock of these moments so they don’t get lost and forgotten. When you can recall these things you know your value and that’s a healthy thing to carry with you always.

Try it out.


Unemployment And The Christmas Parties

If you are like a lot of people, you’re not feel particularly festive when you’re out of work. The idea of putting on your best clothes, hosting a party that will set you back more than a few bucks and smiling all through it all while you’re financially stretched and emotionally turbulent isn’t exactly enticing.

Well, I’m here to tell you friend that a Christmas party, a Winter gathering or if you are of another faith; well, whatever you’d normally get together and celebrate is just what you need professionally and personally. No don’t click the ‘close’ button and read something more in line with your brooding temperament; read on and take heart.

First let’s make the argument for those around you if you’ve got a significant other and/or children. Yes YOU are unemployed and yes what happens to one person in the family affects everyone and no I’m not expecting you or anyone else to fake sincerity the entire time you are hosting; pretending to be 100% joyful when you’re concerned about how long this unemployment will last. You owe it to others though to do your best to keep some things as normal as you can, and if celebrating with friends and extended family is something you normally do, keep your plans.

Christmas parties can be done on a budget much like many other things in life. It’s the people gathered, not necessarily what they are eating or drinking that is important; the socializing, the camaraderie, the friendships. I’m guessing you don’t want to feel guilty about cancelling things; something new to feel bad about in addition to being out of work. Of course not.

Now for you personally, this party you are hosting, (or perhaps one you are going to at someone else’s home) is a really good time for you to take one of two approaches. You may decide that this is just a really good opportunity to forget as much as you can about being unemployed and have some laughs, enjoy time with those around you and relax. On the other hand, you might decide to add to the mix some conversation regarding your search; put out some feelers without too much pressure and see if anything productive comes out of this in the days to come.

The one nice thing about sharing a little bit about your job search is that you can get some really supportive feedback from those people you open up to. These aren’t strangers after all but people who care about you and want you to be successful. If they can help you out they will; you know that instinctively. If they can’t do anything to actually help you track down a job, they sure can support you with positive and encouraging words.

Get over the feeling that you don’t want anyone to know about your lack of employment; you could have a lot worse things happening in your life and I refuse to give you examples; let your mind run silly. Now I know being out of work is a time of anxiety, added stress and pressure. I’ve been out of work over the course of my lifetime on multiple occasions myself and know of what I speak. Yes it was hard and at times I didn’t live up to the message I’m passing on to you. That doesn’t mean the message itself is wrong.

Look, staying home shut in with more than just your doors and walls keeping out the cold and wind isn’t healthy. It sounds entirely counter to what you might be tempted to do but talk with people. Get chatting and communicating. Work your interpersonal skills and there’s no better place to start than a gathering of people in good moods with good food and beverages. Go easy on the alcohol so you don’t start running on at the mouth; especially if you’re not so positive when you’ve had more than you normally do.

You might find of course that someone at a party or gathering over the Christmas period can and does help your job search and if so that’s wonderful. More often however, you won’t get hired at a Christmas party nor will there be a phone call at 9:30a.m. the next day passing on a job lead. However, you might get help and support in other ways that show those around you care. You might find your driveway cleared one morning of the snow that fell overnight. Maybe it’s an invitation to join a friend at the gym, tickets to take the kids to a local hockey game, a call to fill in for a missing player in the mixed volleyball league. These are small but real ways friends help friends stay involved, connected and ways to say, “I’m thinking about you.”

You will feel better more often than not if you give yourself a chance. If you go places or host parties and make up your mind ahead of time to be miserable you will unfortunately predict your own demise and have a miserable time; not to mention those around you. Okay so you’re not at your best, so what? If it was a friend of yours you’d hope to see them at a gathering and you’d go out of your way to be supportive and empathize with them.

Give it a shot; or rather give yourself one.

Poverty And Parenthood

Many of the people I assist looking for employment have children and of those who do, almost all tell me how much those children mean to them. Most of the time they say, “My kids are everything” or “My kids are number one.”

What’s at the heart of why they are telling me this when we are discussing employment has everything to do with their prioritizing skills. What they are inferring is that factors such as work location, hours, pay and benefits will often outweigh other factors like job satisfaction, chances for advancement, even what the job actually involves in some cases. They are also saying, “Just like you, I’ve got my priorities in the right order”, because make no mistake, it’s important for them to align themselves with those they respect and who they see as able to help them. They know we are different in so many ways, but here we can be equals.

They genuinely want their children to have a successful life; which really means a better life with better opportunities that they themselves have had in the past and continue to have moving forward. That’s a pretty understandable hope. Whether it’s getting out of poverty, then moving beyond the ranks of the working poor or having better quality personal relationships, they generally want their kids to be better off in life.

Now even if you’ve never been in poverty yourself, you can I trust empathize with the parent(s) who have very little if anything in the way of surplus income; especially for those in receipt of government social assistance. By the time a person covers their rent and buys food there isn’t much left over. So you might assume the obvious thing to do would be put your child in care and get a job so they have more money to improve their children’s lives. That as it turns out isn’t how they always see it. Your forgiven and perhaps guilty of looking at this from a middle class perspective and assuming because that would be your plan if you were in that situation that it’s therefore logical that it should be their plan too.

Take some of their common realities into consideration. Not true for all of course, but there are some observable behaviours which can be explained completely by circumstances in which many find themselves. For starters, poverty is often generational. Those in receipt of social assistance may have been raised in families where poverty was the norm; their parents lacked financial literacy, discipline was harsh, parenting skills in short supply, education was undervalued and ambition was viewed as showing up your elders.

Now this isn’t the reality for everyone on social assistance but there are many who if reading this would say I was accurately describing their own histories. Now in the present day, this person who is a product of their upbringing lacks the benefits that come with good supportive parenting, encouragement in school. There’s no, “you can be anything you want to be” or, “follow your dreams” mantra giving them every hope of success in life.

So what happens? The reality for many is that despite their best intentions, those early years of growth and personal development have stunted their chances. Food might not have been the healthiest or available as often. There were limited opportunities to visit museums, art galleries, experience fine dining and theatrical productions. Socializing and vocabularies were limited and as a result they saw themselves as different. Some friends weren’t  allowed to visit where they lived, their clothes were hand-me-downs and never on the cusp of cool. In short, for reasons beyond their personal control, they were impoverished in ways that went far beyond money alone.

Okay so now as an adult, they have the best of intentions. Like you and I no matter where we are in life, they only know what they’ve experienced to date and hence despite their very best of intentions, may repeat many bad decisions; well, decisions you and I might look at objectively and consider bad decisions. No wonder than we might scoff and say, “Well if they’d only have some common sense” or “Well if they’d only do what I’d do”. But how can they make good decisions without the benefit of the tools and awareness that’s required to base those good decisions on?

So it comes as no surprise for example when they do find themselves with some additional funds that they quickly spend the money on their children seeking some measure of immediate gratification. Maybe it’s off to a fast-food restaurant which brings them and their children immediate if short-term happiness; a chance to do something beyond the norm and special.

You and I might have hoped they’d save that money and by clothes for job interviews, a bus pass to get around and job search, or maybe just save it for the child’s future education. That’s middle class thinking again.

Children are their number one priorities and their hearts are in the right place. Their intentions are understandable and should be applauded. What’s lacking for many is information, supportive learning, respectful role models, helping hands and non-judgemental interventions which meet them wherever they are in terms of their capacity to learn and their willingness to do so.

In many respects we are all not so different. Maybe something to think about today.