Making Bad Choices, Then Feeling Bad


Out of control; moving from one chaotic event to the next, over thinking things and then having everything you do questioned, analyzed, evaluated, summarized and judged; these the things you do to yourself.

Sometimes the one who judges us the hardest isn’t a stranger, family or friend, but rather the one who greets us each morning when we look in the mirror; ourselves. After all, we know ourselves more intimately than anyone else. Only we know each thought we have, why we do the things we do. Check that last one… there are times we haven’t got any explanation for the things we’ve done. Could be we often ask ourselves, “Why on earth did I do that? What was I thinking?”

Living daily in chaos and under constant pressure and strain stretches our resources to the point where our thinking becomes skewed so the decisions we make are flawed. We end up making bad choices we then regret; lowering our opinion of ourselves and feeling worse than before. Rather than learning from our mistakes, they get repeated, and later repeated yet again, and how we perceive ourselves sinks each time. The pattern of feeling bad about ourselves a lot of the time can lead us to make even poorer choices.

The funny thing is (only it’s not funny at all), when we make all these bad decisions, they seem so right at the time. That’s the hardest part for us to understand later. Trying to explain this or justify this to someone else who questions us is just impossible. We can’t help feeling so small; like a child being scolded by an adult who catches us doing something dumb. But as a child, at least we could be forgiven for not knowing better. By now, we should have grown up, matured, learned to make better decisions and have our stuff together. Instead, we can’t even make simple decisions without a struggle; like what to pack the kids for lunch.

You’d think that asking for help would be easy; a logical step to make sense of all the chaos, but think about that – if it was easy, you’d think you’d do that – so is not asking for help just another thing you’re doing wrong? Figures!

If everything above sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. If you struggle to do things that others find simple, like find something on the internet, open a bank account, file your taxes or get your child tax credit, don’t feel you’re the only one so there has to be something wrong with you.

The thing about making decisions is that when you make a good one you feel better. Make a second and a third good decision and you develop a pattern. Repeat the pattern and you start to gain confidence and view yourself as having good decision-making skills. The same however is true when the decisions you make don’t turn out the way you’d hoped. One bad decision on its own is exactly that; just one bad decision. A second followed by a third etc. establishes a pattern and you can easily feel that based on results, you make poor choices.

Decisions we make are always based on the information we have at the time. So when trying to figure out what to pack the kids for a school lunch, we look in the fridge or the cupboards and what we pack is based on what’s available. We can’t send what we don’t have. While it’s clear to someone else we sent something inappropriate, it was at the time the best choice we had, avoiding sending something worse or nothing at all. Unfortunately, other people only see what we sent and judge our decision-making solely based on what they see, not what possible items we rejected. In other words, you may have actually made the best choice anyone could have made based on what you found as options.

The same is true for the big decisions that go wrong in the end. You might choose a job that doesn’t work out and then another; then start to question why you make such bad choices. It could be that you just lack the right information in the first place about how to go about finding a good fit. The thing is, at the time, the choices you made – and continue to make – seem right. You’re not dumb or stupid; you lack the knowledge to make a better informed choice. Without that necessary information, its like a game of hit and miss; with a lot more misses.

Getting help with making decisions from people you trust is not a sign of weakness, but rather wisdom. But I get it; people you’ve trusted in the past, abused your trust and things didn’t go well. That’s led you to only trust yourself, and as things aren’t working out any better, this has you feeling worse, with no one to turn to.

Decide for yourself of course … but you may want to find one person you can share small stuff with and see if they can help you. If they do help you make good decisions, they might help you with the bigger things later.

Good decisions are hard to make in times of chaos – for anybody. Learning how to make better decisions, like any other skill, can be learned and could be exactly what you need.

Regretting The Words Left Unspoken


Remember that special person you never told how you really felt? Of course you do because after all this time you just can’t get them out of your head for very long. You wish now you could go back and tell them how much they had an impact on you, how much you loved them perhaps, and you wonder if/how things might have worked out differently if you had.

It’s wondering, ‘what if’ that tantalizes; because it ignites possibilities of what might have happened had shared your thoughts openly. Ah, but you were scared, nervous and afraid of blurting something out you’d come to later regret. Ironically, after all these years, here you are now regretting the words you left unspoken.

It’s very much like that in other situations too; although the people we neglect to say what’s on our mind to aren’t just potential sweethearts. No, sometimes we find we lose job opportunities to others and later wish we had said a few more things at the job interview. This is often especially the case if we sincerely wanted a job bad. It would have been perfect and you have wanted a job like that in a long time, so when the news came that they went with someone else, it hit like a truck. If only you had said what you were feeling, things might have worked out differently.

Or perhaps there was someone you really valued in your past; that person who made a big impact on you. Perhaps it was their influence that set you on the path you later took or are taking now. A teacher, a father or mother, a mentor or some person who inspired you to think differently, perceive things in a new light. You never said how much you appreciated them and now their gone. Whether they passed on, moved away, have dementia and don’t recognize you, or you moved away yourself, the opportunity to tell them how you feel is lost.

Now the only thing worse would be finding yourself in this situation here in the present. You know, feeling so strongly about someone you see in the here and now daily, but feeling timid, awkward, embarrassed or anxious about sharing how you feel. You’re so worried about ruining things or spoiling your chances that you go on being around them in silence. You wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just open my mouth, pour out how I feel? Tell them?” Of course in your mind you worry about creating a wide divide, making things weird, learning that your feelings aren’t reciprocated and as long as you don’t do anything…you’ll at least have what you have now – which is something.

Opportunities to step up and voice your true feelings pop up every day; but not forever. Take your work environment. You really value the support of a co-worker; they’ve passed on knowledge to you, covered for you when you weren’t at your best, listened to you share your frustrations, applauded your accomplishments and even motivated you when you needed it. There they are beside you every day, and having a real heart-to-heart with genuine sincerity, telling them how much they mean to you sounds both the right thing to do but maybe the weird thing to do.

Really though, what’s so weird? How long have you worked together? All those years and the hours you’ve spent in each other’s company? Why should it be weird to shut the door and say, “Hey listen, I want to tell you how much you mean to me, and I’m being serious.” You’ll likely catch them off guard, and they might use humour to deflect their real feelings, but they’ll likely also be grateful. What they feel in any event is up to them. You’ll feel better knowing you expressed your feelings and took that chance instead of regretting saying nothing. Then they retire, take another job, move or have an unexpected long-term medical leave etc. and you lose touch; opportunity lost.

I mentioned the job interview earlier. How many times have you walked out of an interview and suddenly said in your mind, “Oh, why didn’t I just say _____?Should I walk back in? Should I follow-up with an email or phone call? I really want that job! I’d LOVE working there so why did I find it so hard to tell them how bad I really want it!

Sometimes its convention and decorum that gets in the way. It seems somehow inappropriate to tell someone how we really feel. On the other hand we also hear that employers want people who are passionate about the work they do. So when you do find something you’re passionate about; a job or company you’re sincerely excited to work for and will invest yourself with fully, why not just open your mouth and express that.

Just like that mentor, potential love interest, teacher, co-worker etc., you’ve got a limited window to risk expressing how you feel. They won’t stick around forever, and the time will never be any better than it is now – today. If you’ve waited for a sign, this is it.

Look, hearing someone tell you how much they appreciate your support, your love, your encouragement, the opportunity to work with them etc.; it’s all good. We need to get better at telling others just how much they mean to us. Few things are better.

 

The Climate Dictates What You Hear


There are a lot of jobs where one person listens to another to offer a service. Mental Health Workers, Social Workers, Employment Counsellors, Teachers, Psychologists, Addiction Workers, Real Estate or Investment Brokers just to name a few.

In all these occupations, the degree to which the provider of the service creates a trusting atmosphere often dictates the length of time the consumer of the service needs to fully share and disclose. Most people are pretty good at keeping what’s really going on – the BIG stuff, sufficiently buried in a conversation, revealing the small stuff as a testing ground.

I know when I meet someone, I make the point of saying I’m going to do my best to earn their trust by creating a safe, trusting atmosphere. The quicker they come to fully trust me and share what’s really going on – the big stuff – the quicker I’ll be able to personalize the experience for them; addressing their experiences and making the experience richer.

In short, I can only help someone with what I know to be their issues if those same issues are shared with me. If a person gets around to opening up with me late in our time together, that leaves less time for an in-depth response if they’d prefer one over me being a sounding board or an empathetic ear only.

Now if words alone were all someone needed to open up and share their biggest, darkest thoughts, fears and struggles, “Trust me” would suffice. Yeah, most people have heard these uttered before and been burned trusting those they felt could be trusted, eventually to be let them down. Those same people are ironically, often part of the problems people present.

Actions which support the words spoken are much more effective at creating a trusting atmosphere. So when you’re in a job where listening to people and providing help is involved, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those same people before you are listening and watching. In a group setting, they want to first see how you respond to other people who open up a bit. Do you make light of what somebody shared? Do you seem interested or uncomfortable? If someone in a group shares something personal, did you give them an appropriate response or steer the conversation back to your own agenda?

In my job, I hear a lot of personal tragedies, I see the pain and shame on a lot of faces as people tell me things they’ve held inside for a long time. Every so often someone says, “I don’t know why I even told you; I haven’t shared that with anybody else. I said more than I’d planned on telling you.” If you’ve ever had someone say this or something similar, you know first-hand what a responsibility and privilege comes with such a disclosure.

Of course if you haven’t the time to listen to someone or the supporting resources to offer up when someone takes you up on your offer to listen, you should be careful of inviting the disclosure in the first place. After all, you may not like a lot of what you hear; what you hear could be more than just uncomfortable. Be ready to feel angry, shocked, troubled, concerned and if you’ve never feel these things you may not be as emotionally invested as you might or should be. I don’t mean you take on their issues; never that. However, taking what someone discloses, holding it for a time with care and sensitivity, then returning it to them in a way they can better carry the load can be more of a help than you know.

You’d think in some cases, that one’s position alone puts us in a position of trust; that it should come automatically. The biggest place of trust for most people is their parent or parents. “You can tell me anything” is something a parent might say, but children know that they can often only disclose so much to a parent. How many kids have kept their gender identification secret? An unexpected pregnancy hidden, an accident with the family car, or problems with bullying.

It’s not enough to say, “you can tell me anything.” People are often conflicted about wanting to share things – big things – but also afraid of ridicule, embarrassment, hurting the listener in the process, etc. Sharing often makes a person feel vulnerable, open to judgement; and if they respect you greatly, they may not want to risk having you think less of them for their behaviour, weakness, poor choices – past and present.

Shut down, dismissed, ignored, not believed; these are also the kinds of things people who want to open up and share are afraid of. “You don’t know what you’re talking about”, “You’re smarter than that”, “I don’t want to hear this!” are examples of being shut down and dismissed.

Fail to create an atmosphere of trust and you add another worry to the person you’re trying to help who may be burdened to the point of becoming numb and paralyzed.

A key is to find out what the person disclosing would like as an outcome. Are they looking for solutions or just an ear? Rushing to ‘solve their problem’ is often NOT what they want. When you, “solve” another’s problem yourself, you remove the learning moment, seize the empowerment you could have left them with and keep them dependent.

 

Have Anxiety? The Pain Of Job Interviews


If you’re like many people, you probably don’t practice your interview skills when you are employed. It naturally follows then that you can go for years between job interviews. As with most things, the length of time between when you last went through job interviews and the present is likely to affect your confidence in your ability to do well.

So if it’s been some time since you last had a job interview, it’s completely understandable that your skills are rusty. Maybe things have changed a lot since you’re last series of interviews; maybe you got interviewed and hired with the first job you applied to last time around and so you’re even under the mistaken impression that job interviews are a breeze and getting a job is actually quite simple.

For most, job interviews aren’t something to look forward to. Whether you’re out of work entirely or looking to move from one job to another or one company to another, thinking about job interviews alone can be stressful. That feeling of being under a microscope and being examined, interrogated, drilled, pumped for information, testing your computer software skills, having to prove you’ve got the skills and that your personality is the right fit so you don’t rock the atmosphere of the workplace – it can be very intimidating.

Now, consider the plight that those with clinical anxiety feel. It’s like taking all the above and adding this extra level of nervousness, anxiety and pressure. You can’t just say, “Get over it” and expect a person to respond, “Oh okay. You’re right. (Breath)… I feel so much better.” Don’t kid yourself; people with acute anxiety face a real personal challenge with job interviews and it takes a great deal of energy to deal with the lead up to a job interview and keep putting out that energy long enough to survive until it’s over.

Now unless you live with anxiety yourself, this might be hard to truly comprehend. The best way to develop some empathy for others experiencing anxiety and facing the prospect of job interviews is to first imagine something you feel anxiety over yourself. Think of your fear of heights, being a confined space, out in the woods alone on a pitch black night; whatever brings on the nerves for you. Now, further picture yourself having to experience your greatest fear a number of times; doing the thing you want to avoid, not in some effort to overcome your fear, but rather as something you must do – and do alone – to get something that you must have. For people with true anxiety, that’s the interview experience.

And this is what empathy is all about isn’t it? Listening to someone else talk about their fear and then going to a place in your own mind where you can get in touch with that same feeling. While you might not feel the same way about job interviews yourself, you just might be able to feel something close to what their feeling about some other event or situation.

I tell you this; many of the people I support and partner with as they prepare for job interviews have heightened levels of anxiety. In some cases, I can see clearly where the anxiety stems from, but not always. How a person imagines the interview often is different from my perception of the job interview. Take the people who have repeatedly been told they aren’t going to amount to much; the ones who have been put down, seldom if ever complimented and given words of encouragement. The prospect of going head-to-head with a job interviewer – or worse a panel of job interviewers – is daunting. Yes, feeling you have to sell yourself and prove you’re the best person when you’ve been told repeatedly you’re not by those closest to you is almost insurmountable.

The job interview therefore can be a pain; not figuratively but literally. As the body experiences the stress you feel, it attempts to regulate itself and get back to normal; whatever your normal is. A little stress every so often it can handle, increasing levels of stress coming every so often it can also deal with. However, heightened levels of stress on a fairly regular basis it can’t, meaning living this way on a daily basis could have you headed for a breakdown or illness of some kind. It’s like the body says, “If the brain can’t figure out how to deal with what I’m feeling, I’ll just shut down for a bit and heal”; so you get a cold or just have to lie down and rest for 2-3 days doing next to nothing.

This elevated state of anxiety can and does affect how and when you sleep, what you eat and how frequent. It can impact on your ability to keep food down, cause you to feel aches and pains, stress points, get headaches, become irritable, experience mood swings etc. Do you see how the prospect of a job interview on top of these can almost be paralyzing to some people to the point where they say, “I just can’t do it”; and they’re right.

This doesn’t mean of course people with anxiety should get a free pass. They know job interviews are necessary to pick the right candidate. Often, people with interview anxiety are the best ones for the job. It’s just getting past the interview.

How Long To Wait To Job Search?


Okay, so you’ve found yourself out of work. After your previous job, you figure a break is in order; you know, that transition from what you were doing to what you’ll do in the next job. So how much time exactly is right before getting on with looking for a job?

Attitude is everything here; yes attitude will decide what you do and how long you give yourself to get into the job hunting mode. You may be the kind of person who figures that the best thing to do is get right back in the hunt immediately. You know yourself better than anyone, and you can’t afford to lie about and rest because the stress of being out of work will gnaw at you constantly, making your ‘break’ time an ongoing worry. You won’t treat yourself to rest and relaxation, won’t spend money on entertainment, a trip or personal indulgences because you’re concerned about exhausting your resources. It would be different of course if you knew definitively that your unemployment will last a specific time period, but you don’t have this information.

Then too, you could be the type that figures life is short and therefore taking a break from work is what life is really all about. So you’ll indulge guilt-free; after all, Life owes you. Jobs will be there for the taking when you decide to get one, but in the meantime, it’s ‘me’ time; guilt-free and bring it on baby!

Or, has your experience been that the job you’ve most recently had ended so terribly that you need some down time to recover your dignity, self-worth; self-esteem? Maybe it ended with your termination, a shouting match, allegations made against you, you had a bad boss or a toxic work environment. Your break is really a mental health recovery period.

You see there are all kinds of different ways we justify the short, moderate or long periods of time that elapse between our former jobs and looking for the next one.

There are some things you need to be aware of however. Whether these things change your decision to get back immediately or further put off looking for work is entirely up to you – of course – but make sure you are at least aware of these factors:

  1. Your competition increases. New graduates emerge from Universities and Colleges with up-to-date practices and education, and they’re hungry. Your experience is your edge, so conventional wisdom says the longer you let your experience lag, the less your experience works in your favour.
  2. Employers prefer consistent work history. Gaps on a résumé raise questions for employers. If you’ve got gaps, expect to be asked why they exist and what you’ve done with your time. If you’ve improved yourself via courses and upgrading education that’s one thing; but if you’ve played video games and sat around staring at your belly button, that’s another.
  3. Mental Health healing. If you did have a really bad break from your last job, maybe – just maybe – getting a job outside your career would be best for your mental recovery. Seriously, work will keep you connected to people, your poor experiences of the past will be replaced by your present activity; you’ll fill in a gap on the résumé and you’ll get new references. When you do apply for work back in your field, “Why are you leaving your present job” will refer to the job you have in the short-term, not the job prior to that you’re fretting over now.
  4. Time erodes things. Your references, experience and accomplishments fade with time. That shiny letter of reference that’s two weeks old means a lot now but it won’t mean as much 7 months from now if you wait that long to get back in the job search mode. “What have you done lately?”
  5. Less baggage; fewer problems. While being out of work is a problem, you haven’t yet the stress and anxiety of having a prolonged job search, rejection from employers, depression etc. These negatives can and often do take seed in the lives of people who find it harder to get work than they previously imagined. Sometimes getting back at it can ward off social isolation, increasing fears associated with financial problems that come with no incoming resources.

Now, lest you think I’m really recommending you jump right back into the job search as a blanket statement for everyone, let me assure you I’m not. No, a period of time to process what’s happened to you is a good thing. You may need time to decompress if the job you left was one fraught with pressure and negativity.  How much time is the issue. What’s right for you might be different from what I’d do myself.

Even if you don’t actually apply, keeping up on the market and job openings is healthy and a good idea. You’d hate to learn that seldom-advertised opening came and went while you were almost ready but just taking a few more days to clean the garage.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay connected to others. Call it networking okay, but really it’s about the interpersonal skills, the connectivity to others. Lately I’ve heard of many self-described ‘normal’ people who develop social anxieties, leading to serious isolation issues and a fear of even going out their door.

Take time…but not forever.

A Glimpse Into The Social Assistance Experience


If you’ve never needed it, I doubt you’ve thought a great deal about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the Social Assistance experience. Your knowledge and assumptions are probably based on what you hear in the news when an individuals’ story is profiled, from a candidate around election time or perhaps you’ve got a friend or family member who has shared a little of their own experience.

It has been my great honour and privilege to serve and support those receiving such benefits in two Municipalities; Toronto and Durham in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario for a total of 21 years and counting. In addition to this experience, my wife has 16 or so years of experience herself working in another municipality. While my experience is extensive, I’ve never been on the receiving end myself, and I hope the choices I’ve made and continue to make into the future don’t land me in such need.

That being said, if the time comes when I’m in need, I know now that I’d be thankful the support system was there to help get me through such times until once more I became financially self-sufficient.

It can be a very demeaning and embarrassing process to apply for welfare. In Ontario Canada it’s referred to now as Ontario Works, but to many in receipt, it is and will always be welfare.  It all starts with a phone call to apply in which someone in need talks to someone in what is akin to a call centre. The conversation while initiated by someone in need is pretty much led by the receiving employee asking preset questions. Full name, address, SIN and Health numbers, rent/mortgage information, family members, assets, banking information, investments, etc.; all of which will need to be verified at an in-person meeting to determine eligibility.

I get that it can strip one of their pride and self-worth. With every document you hand over to some stranger, with every disclosure of your personal circumstances such as whether you’ve been abused or the name of your child’s father or mother and where they might be, you give up a little dignity. While most in this field are very good at getting this information in a caring compassionate way, no amount of empathy can change that stuff you’d normally keep private and confidential must be fully disclosed.

Now the agenda of the person in need is pretty clear. Almost all the time, there’s a stated desperation present or looming; rent and food. Get approved and the rent gets paid and people eat. Get denied and a missed rental payment eviction and hunger, a visit from the child welfare authorities, homelessness, begging and worse, having to steal to survive.

If as my piece began you’ve not had to experience social assistance, maybe you’re completely unaware of the community resources you’ll have to tap into. Where would you find the kitchens, thrift stores, donation centers, etc.? If you needed your ID replaced to get many of these benefits, would you know where to go and remember it’s likely you’d have to walk or take public transportation; taking your child or children with you everywhere if you were a sole support parent without a trusted, reliable childcare provider.

Now meeting with us in Social Services for many is a good experience in the end. However, in those first few meetings, the anxiety and stress of anticipating what that experience will be like is often influenced by past meetings and stereotypes of government workers. Just as you’ve no doubt got frustrated with being put on hold, re-directed, not getting through to the person you need to talk to etc. when calling for help yourself, the experience can be like that for some. What increases the importance of getting through is the immense pressure and stress of failing to get the help asked for.

Look there are a lot of really good, compassionate and empathetic people in the business of providing social assistance recipients with support. While these are good qualities, what’s really needed in addition are people both knowledgeable and able to share that same knowledge of resources needed in any one person’s situation. Whether it’s a benefit we can issue ourselves or a benefit another service provider offers, connecting people with what they need is imperative.

On the receiving end, people want to be heard, respected, treated with dignity and foremost be a person; not a case, not a number and no, not a client. Most aren’t in receipt by choice. On top of their financial needs, many have multiple barriers to employment including gaps in work history, mental health challenges, anxiety, low self-esteem. You’d be surprised though to find highly educated professionals in receipt of help; people with their Masters and Degrees perhaps. Yes, really.

Hopefully, supporting people in need is done in the way we would wish to be treated were it us on the other side of the table or end of the phone. “Do onto others…” And while we may have our hopes and plans for people, it’s critical to listen and figure out where someone is at any given moment. I mean, are they ready to job search? Would job searching just set them up to fail at the moment? Do they need stable housing first, addiction intervention, counselling, or maybe to volunteer to rebuild a shattered confidence?

Just the briefest glimpse into this experience.