Life: Pack Only What You’ll Need!


Picture yourself going out on a journey. In the relative safety of your home, you look into the future and visualize what you’ll need to pack. After all, forget to pack it now and you’ll either have to do without or pick it up along the road and there’s a cost associated with doing so. If it’s a short journey; a weekend getaway; forgetting something and not being able to replace it might be inconvenient but hardly a disaster. In two days time, you’re back home and you can better equip yourself next time you’re out the door for a weekend.

The thing about a weekend away though is you know where you’re going and you therefore have a pretty good idea what to pack and take along. When the weekend comes to an end, you can assess your success or lack thereof in terms of planning and either repeat your success or make some additions and deletions; things you needed but forgot and things you packed and didn’t use.

Life however is a one-time trip. You never know the final destination and if we’re totally honest here, you don’t even have a map showing you the route you’ll take. How on earth do you prepare yourself for that kind of trip? (Incidentally, these are my favourite holiday trips; heading in a general direction, hitting the open road with a general idea of where I want to go but no planned itinerary; no having to be in a certain town on a certain day; heading down some sideroad because it looks interesting and there’s an unspoken promise of an amazing something not to be missed.)

Now the one thing that excites and invigorates one person will confuse and cause anxiety in another. Some people need to know exactly where they’re going; who they will travel with, where they’ll stay. These folks like to pay in advance where all is known and just not yet experienced. If this is you, excellent and enjoy your trip. Life for some is like this too. Careers are mapped out, school is a given and paid for, weddings are arranged, investments made in stocks and properties, funerals prepaid. It’s all so nice, neat, ordered and arranged.

Ah but for the rest of us life is nothing but flux. Change is constant, plans are made with good intentions but often chucked or amended as life brings us into contact with other people, other places, new information comes our way and stimulates us in new directions. Change for us is good! We do things we never imagined we would, we fall in and out of love with people we never imagined ourselves with, then never imagine ourselves without. We lose jobs, move to new places, get confused at times, live the highs and lows. At times we know what we want and then at others we haven’t got a clue. We’re hopeless one minute, on the right path the next, go years seemingly drifting and then bazinga!, we’re suddenly successful!

How on earth do you plan for a journey like this life you’re living? It’s easy actually. You pack as best you can with the information you have and you tell yourself right at the start that you’ll be needing to pick up more supplies as you go along. When the weather turns, you drop the shorts and t-shirts and pick up some sweaters and thicker socks. You adapt my friend. Although you knew this time would come, you were smart enough to know there was no need to pack the long underwear and mittens way back when the weather was hot, muggy and the streets were steaming.

Life is the same way. When you start out thinking of a job you don’t know where you’ll end up. You’ll get exposed to different jobs, meet people doing work you don’t even know at this moment exists. There’s no way you could prepare yourself now for those jobs you want in 10 – 15 years because they haven’t even entered your conscious thought or perhaps they haven’t even been created yet.

Some general direction is great but a detailed master plan with all the career changes and jobs timed and mapped out? Highly improbable and unrealistic. This might cause you some minor or major anxiety if you’re the type who must know everything in advance.

Life is organic and if you’re to fully thrive in it, embracing all the changes, influences, suggestions, advice and yes – warnings is required. There will be good and bad, highs and low points. You’ll meet good people and some bad unfortunately; those who will help you and those who will hold you back. Be wary but don’t cocoon yourself from the world or they win. Get out in it; breathe deep.

Your age? Inconsequential. You’re still living aren’t you? Your finances? Not everything expensive is worth having. At some point in your future, you’ll come to the Point Of Reflection. You know, that time when you stop, pause, slowly turn and look back from some vantage point on the path you’ve taken. You’ll forget many of the things you thought you never would, you’ll remember many faces you met and feel satisfaction over much of what you’ve done. Regrets? Sure. You’ll have some. Big deal.

Get going. That’s the sum of it in two words. Job? Career? Relationship? Travel? No matter what you want, get going.

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Mental Health Issues At Work


A lot of people don’t get it do they? They may be sympathetic alright, but their sympathy doesn’t translate into fully appreciating or understanding why you falter. When they see you running late, having to leave early, missing days entirely, they wonder how much you really want it in the first place. To be fair, they only see you when you’re experiencing days that are good enough for you to get out in public. If they could see you on your worst days; the ones where you can’t even get out of bed, they’d have a different point of view – perhaps – and maybe their sympathy would turn to empathy.

These mental health issues aren’t what you want in life. It’s not like you go out of your way to take time off. When the anxiety and panic sends you running for the security of your home surroundings; one of the few places you can actually breathe and feel somewhat safe and protected against what assails you, you’re not bolting because you want to, you’re leaving because you have to. When you do get home and shut that door with your back leaning against it out of sheer relief, you don’t always feel happiness at being home but rather, sometimes great frustration that once again, you couldn’t finish what you’d hope would be putting in a full day.

Being normal; it’s not too much to ask for is it? Just getting up, feeling good, having a shower and washing away all the remnants of bad dreams and thoughts along with the water. Dressing, looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see as you lock the door and head to work with confidence, looking forward to meeting people, being productive, getting things done. Normal. Sigh… “Why can’t that be me?”, you wonder. Just a normal, average person living free of these constant mental health challenges. Oh to have a day free of meds, free of worry and fear, no anxiety – “do I remember a time when I didn’t have these things?”

Now we all have times in our lives when we experience anxiety and worry. We’ve had moments of panic, a few days or maybe a couple of weeks when something has caused us to feel added pressure and stress. Some major project at work, year-end inventories, staff shortages, some invasive dental work etc. The pressure and anxiety we feel in these moments gives us a small glimpse into what others with mental health issues feel; a good thing of course. However the downside of these moments is that we might feel we know exactly what someone with constant anxiety and depression feels. This can cause us to expect them to snap out of it eventually, put in the effort to pull themselves past the panic attacks and be stronger than their mental illness. After all, if ours passed, theirs should too.

Like I said, this is the downside of having moments here and there where we all experience stress, anxiety and sadness. Oh it’s completely understandable that we evaluate others behaviours based on what we’ve experienced ourselves. As humans, we all do this. We try and understand the behaviours and actions of others using whatever we’ve experienced that comes closest to what we see and hear. The problem in this case is when we see our own short-term challenge; one we’ve overcome, and we compare it to someone with an ongoing mental health challenge and expect them to put it behind them as we’ve done. That’s just not realistic. If these are the expectations we hold, we’re really not being empathetic.

It just may not be possible to fully appreciate and truly understand what we ourselves have not experienced. And many a person with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and constant pressure has told me they wouldn’t wish on anyone what they struggle with every day. I for one can only imagine the strength of character, determination and immense mental and physical effort it must take just to show up some days and then on top of that, work with a smile, look like you want others to see you as. What I can’t imagine is how hurtful it must feel if you were present on the job, thinking you were blending in (finally!) and then someone said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to smile.” It would have to feel like a dagger bursting what you believed to be a pretty impressive rebuilding of your self-esteem.

This blog today is therefore meant to be for both you who struggle with mental health and those of us who work alongside you and are fortunate enough to live free of. Show some compassion; what you can’t understand do your best not to criticize or judge harshly. When your workload goes up because someone is absent again, be mindful that they aren’t, ‘goofing off’, or ‘having a good time lazing about’. Keep them in your thoughts and welcome them back with words of encouragement.

And you who have mental health challenges, problems, struggles – choose what you will – all you can do is your best and your best is all that can be asked of you. May you be surrounded by considerate, compassionate people who lend support, have your back and excuse/forgive us if every so often we fail to act at our best with words that may hurt unintended.

Giving 100% Might Still Not Be Enough


Has this happened to you? You’ve just sat down to eat and you reach for the salt and start shaking it only to find all you get is a few grains of salt. While you did get every last grain you could out of the container, it was still inadequate. So you got up and grabbed a second salt shaker and got the quantity you wanted.

Whenever a group of people come together to learn, you’ll find those in attendance have varying abilities to receive, comprehend, internalize and then use the new information in the way it was intended by whomever gave it to them. Just like that first salt shaker, one person might give it all they’ve got, but it’s clearly not enough to term their experience successful. Others in the group might be more like the second in that they don’t need to invest 100% of themselves to grasp the lesson; they’ve got so much more to give and aren’t taxed to their limits.

This is something that you should remind yourself if and when you find yourself instructing any group. It’s easy to misread someone in attendance and openly question their level of commitment, their self-investment and how bad they want to learn whatever they’ve signed up for. It could be that other things going on in their lives have robbed them of what they would have otherwise loved to pour into your instruction. Yet, the multiple things that are occurring around them outside of your own awareness has them distracted, consumed with worry. As a consequence, they find it difficult to process what you’re sharing and then demonstrate they have mastered the learning.

This is true whether we’re talking about children, teens or adult learners. The major difference experienced by those in these three groups is only the things they worry or stress about; but the experience of being distracted itself is shared. So you may see a child unable to focus or pay attention in elementary school and make the error of assuming they are a daydreamer or assume they just wont’ concentrate. A teenager might walk into a class and look sullen, withdrawn, unmotivated etc. but really they are fixated on something they are experiencing in an all-consuming way. As for an adult, it’s not hard to now understand that while a person might tell us they are committed 100% to learning, what we might observe is skipped classes to work on solving outside issues that they feel take priority.

I suppose then it’s ourselves we have to look at when at the start of a class we tell the those before us to give 100% of their focus to the materials. While we assume our meaning is clear and direct, upon reflection, we might be failing to lay out what’s required in order for each person to ultimately be successful. Why? Life gets in the way is how I put it.

Let me use my own experience this week and last as an example. I started with the expectation I’d have 12 unemployed people and over the course of two weeks I’d share with them much of what it takes to successfully land a job. Cover letters and resumes, interview preparation and job applications, all crammed heavily into 10 consecutive days of 9:00a.m. sharp to 2:30 p.m. Before being accepted into the class, I spoke individually with each of the 12, going over their expectations and mine; specifically asking them if they were prepared to commit to these days and times. All 12 told me what I wanted to hear and accepted the invitation.

What I’ve observed is not all 12 have the capacity to keep to that commitment. It’s not that they are lazy, combative or don’t want to get the most out of time together; it’s that not all 12 are actually capable of being present for the 12 days. So what’s got in the way? Life. What does Life look like? It’s mental fatigue, mental illness, a threat of eviction, a bad decision to stay home and await a phone call with a job offer when they could have attended with their cell phone in hand. For some, it’s the trigger of something raised in class that’s brought back a haunting memory from the past of failure, shame and the need to, ‘take a day or two to work things out’.

What we can’t tell just from looking at someone, is how much they’ve got inside themselves to give. If I could line the 12 up and see them like 12 salt shakers, I could easily see how much they each have to start with, and I could also see how close they are to emptying everything they’ve got. The expectation I have for how much they need to invest in the first place to succeed and perhaps their own ability to accurately self-assess themselves may be unrealistic.

Maybe I should get a few salt shakers of various quantities and sizes and illustrate this point to the group. Perhaps it might save someone from feeling bad about not meeting my expectations or those of the course. Hey, when you give it all you have, it doesn’t matter how much is expected of you, you’ve emptied the tank. Demanding more of someone who has nothing less to give is unrealistic and does them a disservice as they are set up to fail.

Hmm… maybe this would be a good read for anyone who helps people.

Focus On The Good; Not The Bad


It may have started at home as a child:

“You brushed your hair nicely and I’m glad you brushed your teeth, but your room is a mess.”

Then in school it was:

“Gets along with others, does excellent in Math but could be better in History.”

As a teenager dating:

“You’re kind and thoughtful, but I wish you were taller.”

Finally as an adult the boss says:

“You’re hitting your targets and I’m pleased with your energy, but you could participate more in team meetings.”

Many people will identify with having heard comments such as the above. When you look back at each of them, there’s two positives and one to work on; two good and one bad, two strengths and a weakness. Depends how you hear it, interpret it and understand it.

These comments and their impact divides people into two groups: those that heard the positives and are uplifted and feel good about themselves, and those who zeroed in on the one thing that they aren’t doing well and need to improve upon. Which type are you generally?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been instructing a class of a dozen people who are just learning to use the computer. It’s computer basics, starting pretty much with how to turn it on. We’ve covered terminology, creating and using email, crafting a resume using MS Word, exploring the internet, using job search skills, working with a USB Flashstick, navigating employment websites, and applied for jobs. For absolute beginners, we’ve accomplished a great deal.

Yesterday I gave each person a 13 step assignment which would give them a chance to independently use their skills. Everyone found they could do more than half of the assignment entirely unaided. I’d guess it was around step 8 or 9 where the majority had to pause and ask for help from someone. No shame in that by the way; asking for help with the computer is something I see all the time in workplaces. Eventually the whole class did complete the assigned work, and I made sure to remind them to focus not on what they failed to remember and needed help with, but focus rather on all the things they did correctly and did remember on their own. What each accomplished far outweighed where they struggled.

You see, I believe that people don’t hear the good in themselves as much as they need to. Some in fact, have gone long stretches of time without hearing much at all from anyone when it comes to positive feedback. I think successful people hear and internalize the good when they get mixed feedback, whereas those who tend to only hear the suggestions for improvement tend to have a lower self-image of themselves. Sure we can all improve, but my goodness, there’s so much I see to praise in people.

But surely some of you are thinking, we can’t go around telling people how awesome they are and how great they are doing when in fact they aren’t! If we don’t point out their shortcomings and their faults how are they to improve? I had a boss like that once. He told me it was his job to point out all the little things I was doing wrong when doing one of my yearly performance appraisals. Yet on a daily basis he was happy with my performance. That comment he made during a 3 hour (yep, he thought a 3 hour appraisal was how best to motivate people) meeting where he did nothing but point out little things I could do better resonated with me then and still does 25 years later. His words were, “It’s not my job to point out what you’re doing right, but to point out all the things you’re doing wrong so you can improve.” I started job searching the next day and soon got a better job, more income, and worked at a higher level in the new organization. Oh he motivated me alright.

Perhaps it is the consistent memory of that bad experience that has given me great empathy for people I lead, partner with and instruct. If like me, you are in a position of some authority or influence in your job, it is a responsibility of ours to build up rather than beat down. It’s far too easy to point out what others are doing wrong, where they can improve, how to be better. It’s just as easy to point out successes, achievements, label and reinforce accomplishments. Why not choose to emphasize the good?

The thing is, you and I; we really don’t intimately know the past of many people we interact with daily. We can read notes in a file, but the person is so much more rich and layered than some file. We don’t know how many times they’ve had people they trusted and respected tell them they could do better, BE better. Could be they honestly feel they’ll never measure up; they’ll never be good enough.

Imagine then – and it’s not too hard really – how impactful you and I might be if we built people up with genuine positives. Genuine of course, not invented, but positive comments and praise. Then imagine if that same person heard some good from someone else, then a third person. Why we might actually see people believe more in themselves, like themselves better and build successfully on their successes.

And that my reader, is pretty cool.

Tomorrow I’m 60. Yahoo! Yippee!


Way back in 1959 on June 13th at 2:30 a.m., I entered this world, born into a middle class family in Etobicoke, Ontario – then a suburb of Toronto, Ontario in Canada. Tomorrow will mark a full 60 year anniversary of that event, and I’m obviously not hiding it.

I’ve yet to have one of, “those birthdays”. You know, the one that you absolutely live for such as when you can finally get your driver’s licence, drink alcohol or legally buy cigarettes. Nor have I yet to have the birthday that shatters your self-image, like dreading turning 30, hitting the big 4-0, or turning half a century old! To me, every birthday has been something to look forward to. This past year, it occurred to me that I could say I am 59 years old and born in 59. Well, tomorrow I can no longer make that claim – ever.

I don’t feel 60. Wait a minute; I don’t know what 60 is supposed to feel like, so I can’t say that. What I can say is that I don’t see turning 60 as a bad thing; and a bad thing is what I hear a lot of others say as they blow out all those candles with both a paid up insurance policy and fire extinguisher near at hand. I think I’ve always felt younger than the number itself suggests from a stereotyped point of view. I’ll see that as a good thing.

So it was funny to me yesterday when a colleague at work popped her head in to ask me a question about one of our co-workers who also shares June 13 as her own birthday. I volunteered in our conversation that I was in fact turning 60 and she immediately tilted her head slightly, looked sympathetic and said in a sweet voice that would give you a cavity just listening to her, “Oh! I’m sorry!” and she meant it too. She’s less than half my age at a guess.

My reaction was to laugh and say how I relished the opportunity to celebrate another birthday. After all, those who don’t want to celebrate their birthdays eventually get their wish…think about that one.

No seriously, I see a benefit to be had in turning 60. As an Employment Counsellor, a lot of people I partner with and support see their advancing years as a negative. I wish I had a buck for every man and woman who has said to me, “Well my age is a problem. I’m 46 and no offence but that’s old.” Well if 46 is old, I’m fossilized!

One of the things I’m grateful for (and there are many) is my general health at 60. I have an excellent record of attendance – missing less than 3 days a year for about 8 of the last 9 years. I’ve got drive, creativity, energy to burn throughout the work day and still feel totally invested in the people I work with. I love the role I’ve got at present and I know I make a difference which gives the work I do so much meaning.

I see turning 60 as a good thing for those older folks I come into contact with. Maybe I’m some kind of inspiration to some, perhaps they even view their age as a strength and an asset as I do after we spend some time together. You see by now, I’ve got this rich history of a life lived including work spanning Retail, Manufacturing, Social Services and Recreation sectors. I’ve experience as an entrepreneur, Executive Director, front-line and middle management employee. I’ve worked with two large municipalities and the Province of Ontario in unionized settings, plus worked in Not-For-Profit and private profit businesses. It takes time to accumulate all these experiences, and I draw on each and every one of them often in the course of my work. It’s this diversity of experience that helps me relate with people and be relatable to people.

I guess I don’t fit the idea of a worker slowing down, putting in time until retirement, coasting through the day, being a passenger more than a driver of change and innovation. Geez I must be annoying for some who’d like me to pull out a white flag and say, “I’m old and I feel my age is a problem too.” Well I don’t.

I have come to believe that what’s going in your head (what you believe and how you see yourself) is your biggest asset or liability when it comes to interacting with your world. See age as your problem and you’ll move, act and use words that affirm you see age as your problem. So the world will acknowledge how you feel and agree. Don’t be surprised then when others confirm it. On the other hand, see your years as an asset to be revered and proud of and you’ll move, act and use words that show gratitude and pride  and the world WILL acknowledge how you feel and agree.

It starts therefore in your head. If I see my age as a problem to be hid, I’ll get sympathy, pity and commiseration. I don’t want that! I want people to be happy for me, maybe even re-evaluate how they see aging; well a tad anyhow.

Having been diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes 3 years ago, there won’t be cake. Whatever! But presents? Oh yes, there should be presents! Yes, I’m still that little kid who loves presents. Best wishes will do as well; or donating to a charity. Now that’s cool.

60 is ‘gonna be great!

Woke Up Feeling Blah. Call In?


Whether you’re the Chief Executive Officer or working directly on the front line, one thing everybody experiences are those days when you wake up feeling like you’d rather call in and take the off. Hopefully those days are few and very far between, but for some they come more frequently than others. Oh let’s be honest here; for some they come way too frequently. The question is, what do you actually do? Get up, get going and go in or languish in bed, phone the sick line and take the day off? If you typically hit a snooze alarm and give yourself just an extra 10 minutes in sleepy land, it only means when you DO get up, you have to go from zero to super speed to make up the 10 minutes you’ve given yourself. Judge the trade-off for yourself.

Some employees are fortunate in that they work for organizations that provide sick days and mental health days; sometimes referred to as personal needs days. These personal needs days are really designed for medical appointments, the day you take off to see your child in a school event, or yes, you just need a break. These are few by nature; say two or three in a year.

It’s important to understand why you’re tempted to make that call in and take the day off of course. Is it a preference for staying home or is it a preference to avoid work on this one day? Not everyone who skips a day at work is actually intent on avoiding work; in fact some feel quite conflicted about not working when there’s nothing physically wrong to justify being off.

In addition to knowing why you’re thinking of taking the day off, know how often you actually do call in and take the day off unexpectedly. If you find you feel this way often, perhaps these feelings are symptomatic of some larger issue; you don’t like your job and should be looking at working elsewhere or perhaps even some growing mental health concern such as depression.

Whatever your personal reason, there’s bound to be some fallout. The work you’re expected to do is either done by others, or it’s mounting up and waiting for you upon your return. While it might be great to have others doing your work for you, there’s a cost to be paid if this happens too frequently in their opinion; they may come to doubt your reliability, be less sympathetic to your needs for time off, and all of this can cause tension in the workplace directed your way; most unfortunate of course.

The reasons you give the boss and others for being off fall into three categories; the truth, a lie or some version of both. For many, it just isn’t worth all the fallout for taking a day; the timesheets to fill out, the chat in the bosses office, having to call in and explain the absence in the first place, the looks from your co-workers when this absence seems to be a predictable thing.

Think seriously about why you feel this way in the first place as I suggested above. Is your inclination to stay home connected in some way with the weather? Is there some task at work you’re going out of your way to avoid? If you move around in the course of your job, are you feeling anxious about working with a particular person or feeling growing stress about where you have to go in the course of your upcoming day?

It may be that your feelings are directly connected to something at work. On the other hand, what you’re feeling may be more about what’s going on inside you and have nothing to do whatsoever with work. A genuine mental health issue such as Depression doesn’t have to have any direct connection with external factors such as work. If you find yourself just not able to get yourself up to take part in something you were really looking forward to, such as a family outing to the beach, this is a sign there’s no connection with avoiding work.

Mental health counselling, prescribed medications are two possible ways to address what’s going on so you can function better; but using Dr. Google to self-diagnose and self-medicating isn’t good practice. You might end up temporarily masking a symptom without actually addressing the root problem, and make things far worse in the long run.

For most of us, feeling sluggish wears off once we roll out of bed, have a shower, eat breakfast and get dressed. The commute in to work with some music or that first tea or coffee might be just the thing.

Some of us never call in and ‘take a day’ when there’s nothing wrong other than a desire to languish in bed a little longer. If you do take a day here and there, you’d be wise to restrict these to one or two a year. In other words, keep your absence to a bare minimum rather than establishing what might become a pattern of absences.

Look, if it’s the job, get that resume dusted off and updated. Start looking for work elsewhere. Most of the time, it’s not the work at all, just wanting a day to do whatever turns you on.

Let’s have a good day out there!

Getting Past, “So What Do You Do?”


Within the first few minutes of meeting someone for the first time, you’re likely to be asked some version of the question about what it is you do. When you’ve got a job or career, it’s a comfortable question to answer, especially if you enjoy your job. However, when you’re out of work and can’t find a job, that question can be irritating because for many, it’s hard to answer and not feel some embarrassment or even shame. A solid answer and we feel good, a vague answer or stating we’re unemployed and we feel bad. Why? Because either way, we can feel that we’re setting ourselves up to be judged.

The work we do is of course only one aspect of who we are as a person, but it’s the one thing that keeps coming up early in those introductions when first impressions count so much. I suppose it’s asking about something that’s viewed as a social norm and not too invasive. However, if you’ve ever told someone you’re between jobs or out of work and had them quickly walk away and begin a conversation elsewhere, you know that feeling and isn’t a good one. You just know that you’ve been judged and deemed in some way not up to par.

Like I said though, our occupation is only one part of who we are as people. Some of our other pieces include the state of our finances, social life, housing, spiritual, emotional, physical or mental health. There’s our use of personal time, beliefs, personal philosophies, values, leadership styles, the way we interact with the natural world, places we’ve been, accomplishments, hobbies, intelligence IQ, However just imagine your reaction if someone introduced themselves and said, “Hi, I’m Dave. So generally speaking, how healthy is your investment portfolio?”

The curious thing is that people with what society might regard as a prestigious job – say a Family Law Lawyer, Chief Executive Officer, Coroner or even a Teacher, aren’t automatically better people than the rest of us. They have problem marriages, dysfunctional families, stresses, mental health issues and challenges just like you and me. But still we start those conversations with asking about what someone does for a living.

If you listen to people talk about themselves, you can clearly hear them share what they want you to know. If they keep bringing up their job and the work they do, they might be doing so because this is an area they feel comfortable and proud talking about. They believe that this aspect of their life is one you’ll judge them favourably by and walk away with a positive impression of them.

Now when you’re not working but would like to be, talking about your unemployment can have the reverse effect. This isn’t an area where you feel on solid ground in a conversation and your fear of being judged negatively and leaving a poor impression is heightened. We constantly hear how making good first impressions is important, and we know this ice-breaker topic is likely to come up, so consequently some people will avoid social situations completely to limit the number of bad first impressions they’ll make. This ‘feeling bad’ about not having an answer to share with confidence and pride just reinforces our feelings of not fitting in until we’ve found work once again.

There’s some irony however in that the percentage of adults who have at some time in their lives been out of work is quite high. Being laid off from your job is something typically beyond your own control. When a company moves or shrinks its workforce, it’s well beyond your ability to keep your job. Still, when at that social gathering, it would seem weird to say, “Hi, I’m Joan and I was let go 6 month’s ago for reasons beyond my control and I’m now unemployed.”

This is however, part of a great answer if you’re introducing yourself at a job fair for unemployed people looking for work. Imagine what a relief it would be to be in a room surrounded by others out of work, where everyone is in the same predicament. Asking, “What do you do for a living?” would be replaced with, “So what kind of work are you after?” The feeling is more positive – you’re after something – being proactive.

Wait a second…maybe we’re on to something here…

Just imagine you meet someone for the first time and they ask you, “So what do you do for a living?”, and you said, “At the moment I’m pursuing work as a _____. It’s a great fit for me personally and I’ve got the education and experience. If you have any connections or leads I’d appreciate being hearing about them.”

What do you think? Instead of feeling embarrassed or dreading the question because of a weak response, you’ve taken an assertive position. You’ve told them what you’re after and you’ve shifted their thoughts to whom they might know, how they might help you, and all it takes is one person to give you a name that could lead to that next interview that results in a job.

Why, you might even give them your contact information, or ask for theirs and follow-up in a couple of days with a call or an email. Try it once and it’s new and awkward. Twice and it’s easier; often and you’re an assertive networker.