When You’re Lost And You’re Broken

Sure I’ve said before that having a job gives you a sense of identity; you see yourself as an employee of a company. When introduced to others you’ll often say as part of your answer what you do and who you work for, and conversely when you are out of work you’ve lost this part of your identity.

That being said, when you’re lost, trying to figure out what direction to go in life; when you’re feeling broken and what isn’t broken feels fragile, you may be wise to put your job search on hold. Now, sure an immediate job would indeed restore – if only shortly – that sense of who you are and give your flailing sense of confidence a boost. However, what a job gives you may be outweighed by what a job demands of you, and I’m just saying you might not be in the best frame of mind or have what it physically takes to keep it and be successful.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at this time with many areas of your life seemingly in chaos and confusion, you may find it comforting to know that what you’re experiencing is indeed quite normal. That doesn’t make it any easier perhaps, as it’s personal and it’s happening to you of course, but knowing that other people – and many of them – are or have experienced the same feelings you are can give a person a sense of hope.

So what I mean is that it isn’t just the lack of a job that’s likely got you worried. If only it was just that! No, it’s probable that you at also dealing with a growing lack of confidence and self-esteem. Could be you’re wondering more and more, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just have a normal life?” Without employment, you’re no doubt cutting back on buying healthy foods and buying them in the same numbers you used to. Maybe you’ve got growing anxiety as you feel left behind more and more and it’s leading to depression. You’re sleeping patterns are totally off, you can’t sleep when you do go to bed and you’re zapped of physical energy when you feel you should be up and going.

On top of all this you’re more irritable, negative thoughts seem to last longer and longer; drugs and alcohol to self-medicate give some short-term relief but the thoughts return and then you add guilt for having used them. Financial worries, accumulating debt, calls from creditors, losing time on your phone…when will it end?

So does this sound like the right time to be putting yourself out there as an attractive option for an employer? Likely not. More likely is the fact that you’ll try with little success to get a job and after having been turned down again and again, you’ll add to your growing frustration and just feel like giving up. Possibly worse, you may not even be aware that what you believe you’re doing a good job of concealing is on full display and a lot of other people can see the changes in you and know you’ve got issues going on.

Think I’m laying it on rather thick? That it couldn’t possibly be this bad? Well, sadly, I’m not illustrating the life of a handful of people here but actually sharing the experience of a rather large segment of the population. It’s sad yes, but for many of these people its debilitating. So it’s not helpful to say to everyone who lacks a job to just pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get out there and get a job. Don’t you think that given the choice they’d love to be working and feeling productive?

Thing is these are people with what appears to be invisible disabilities. There’s no cast on an arm, label on a forehead, crutch supporting their walk or warning sign they carry. Without these easy to read indicators, it can be difficult to then see what might explain erratic or self-destructive behaviours. Hence, the broken and fragile might not get the empathy they could use; the understanding and support that would be a start. As a result they may withdraw further and increase their isolation, loneliness, and ironically retreat to the places depression feeds and grows.

It’s hard to know where to start when so many things seem wrong and need attention; in fact it can be overwhelming. Reaching out for help does take effort, and yes it might take a few tries to find the right people who can counsel and offer the aid you want and need to help you on your way back. No one knows your personal struggles like you; you’re the expert when it comes to what you see as wrong, or needing attention.

A good doctor who listens and will make a referral is a good place to start. Seeing a Mental Health Counsellor (look them up online in your community or if you haven’t got a computer with internet access, visit a social services agency where you live.)

Rather than work on and fix all the areas where things are wrong, start with one. Just one thing to improve. Don’t give yourself the pressure of a deadline to ‘fix’ it either. Give yourself credit and give yourself permission to try perhaps with some room for setbacks too. May your efforts move you forward to a healthier and happier you.


How Many Jobs Should You Apply To Per Day?

The short answer is a nice big fuzzy, “it depends.”

Now of course the logical question you’re framing in your mind is what does it depend on? Am I correct? While setting goals for yourself is commendable and strongly encouraged, it’s not always the best strategy to set a number of jobs to apply to each day when you’re out of work. That may come as a surprise to some of my readers given that I’m an Employment Counsellor.

An effective job search is about more than just filling out applications and firing off resumes to organizations online or via email. In fact, a healthy job search allocates time to a number of activities which will keep you busy and productive.

Now while you may be driven to actually apply for employment, it’s not always the case that the person who applies for the most number of jobs is ultimately the first one hired. Nor is it the case that the one who applies for the most number of jobs is the one who lands in the right job; and that can lead to many job changes when the positions don’t last long.

Sure you should look for jobs daily. By all means set aside some time in the morning to see what new postings may have come out in the last 24 hours. You don’t want to miss an opportunity that you’ve otherwise kept your eye on and find it has some extremely short deadline to apply and then miss it. How unfortunate that would be! If you also look into postings once during the afternoon, you’re already doing a good job of staying on top of what’s available.

There are other things you should be paying attention to however; and it’s these other things that will keep you productively engaged in your job search and give you enough variety so you avoid discouragement. Here’s a list:

  1. References. Now is the best time to put together a list of the people you know who will vouch for your work performance. Current or former employers, supervisors and/or co-workers are excellent choices. You’ll need a minimum of 3 of these, including the correct spelling of their names, titles, company names, phone numbers and emails. By the way, send them a current resume to have on hand as well as a note of appreciation for their ongoing support.
  2. Social Media Profile. When applying for a position, many employers will turn to the internet and dig around to find what they can about you. If you started a LinkedIn profile but never really developed it much, now is a great time to devote some attention to developing and fleshing out your profile. Put in a little effort now and you won’t feel embarrassed about your profile later.
  3. Exercise. Job searching is stressful for almost everybody and it manifests itself in physical ways. Getting out for a walk, bicycle ride, the elliptical gathering cobwebs in the basement or a trip to the gym will not only improve your physical fitness but ward off aches and pains.
  4. Enjoy A Pastime. If you need permission to spend some time doing things you enjoy, here it is. Get out in the garden, work those knitting needles, pound those keyboards, pick up that paintbrush. Setting aside some time to do things which bring you happiness and keep up your sense of normal day-to-day living is strongly encouraged. Job searching need not be all-consuming.
  5. Practice Interviewing. I know, I know, I know. This is likely something you don’t enjoy and only want to do when absolutely necessary. Still, without practice and more practice, you’re not going to be at your best just winging it on the day of the big interview. You’ll feel mounting anxiety if you put off practicing and end up sitting in some Reception area wishing you had dusted off your interview skills earlier.
  6. Work Your Network. Networking is essential; engaging with other people, taping into their resources, gaining support and advice, drawing on their expertise and experience. Be it phone calls, face-to-face, over the net, etc., devote some time to reaching out. All those friends on FB and connections on LI you’ve been building are a good place to start.
  7. Diet. By diet I do not mean lose weight. What I do mean is pay attention to both the quantity of food you consume and the quality. When you’re off work, the proximity to your pantry and fridge is considerably reduced, and your trips to both may be much more frequent. If you don’t bring junk into the house in the first place it won’t be there for you to over-indulge in during those weak moments when you crave comfort food.

There’s more you could be doing for sure, but these 7 are a good start. Setting yourself an arbitrary goal of say, 8 job applications a day will either set you up to fail or have you applying at jobs you don’t really want at all just to meet this quota.

If you’re only applying to a single job every week or less you’ve got to step things up my friend. What I’m saying is balance is the key; apply for jobs that you’re truly qualified to do and motivated to do – absolutely. It’s equally important however to get out from in front of a monitor and keep living.


Unemployed: The Emotional Toll

Let’s dive right in. You’re growing increasingly isolated from your friends, bills aren’t getting paid in full, savings are a thing of the past, skills are outdated, references are becoming harder to get, and you’re cutting both cable and the land line while eating a lot less healthy foods. Your psyche is becoming more fragile, your swagger like your clothes has long since stopped being trendy, your self-respect betrayed by a conscious decision to hide the weigh scale in the rear of the bathroom cabinet. Yes, there’s a lot of baggage you’re carrying around with this unemployment.

When it first happened, whether you walked away, were laid off or were terminated, you couldn’t have predicted you’d be out of work so long. “Not me”, you asserted with confidence; “I’ll be working soon. In fact, I’m going to actually give myself a little well-deserved break from work before rushing into my next job.” That ‘well-deserved break’ has long since gone from a break to what seems like a permanent reality. Things are different than they used to be when you’d be able to get yourself a job anytime you felt like it.

The television, once a source of entertainment and relaxation is now a diversion. It’s become a way to escape the prevailing thoughts of failure that are more and more prevalent, day in and day out. All the canned laugh tracks in those sitcoms that once got you laughing along now seem less funny as if they mock your idleness. Even the couch that you loved to lounge on no longer provides the comfort it once did, as you feel the guilt of inactivity every time you sit down for more than 20 minutes. So you stand and pace with nowhere to go, nothing to do – except feel so tired you just want to lay down on the couch again.

Being out of work does much more than drain the bank account. In fact, when you first find yourself out of work there are usually financial support systems already put in place to stave off financial hardship such as severance, employment insurance and if need be, government social assistance. The same is not necessarily true however for the emotional and mental strain of being unemployed. It’s this assault on your mental health that often goes unattended to, and failing to recognize the impact on your mental stability that arises from being out of work for a prolonged period of time, or failing to do anything about it can take an emotional toll with life-long implications.

There are for example some people who, having been out of work for an extended period, eventually regain employment and to all accounts have regained mastery over their mental health. The same individuals however may upon having those memories triggered, re-experience the stress without the loss of work. Being called into the office of the boss or an average performance review could set into motion some fears that the person thought they had left behind but in reality have just been dormant. Even hearing of others who are out of work; a relative of a co-worker who is struggling – any such reminder can bring the past crashing back to the present depending on how severe the person experienced their own unemployment.

On the positive side, we change jobs more frequently than in the lives of past generations. No longer is it common for people to retire from the job they started in their 20’s. So with more people experiencing the transition from one job to the next, the stigma of being out of work is not as rampant as it used to be. It’s still personal when it happens to you of course, and this doesn’t diminish or make light of your own experience, but unemployment is an experience that many around you have shared. Talking openly then about your unemployment will have more empathetic ears than in years past. In other words, if you talk about it, you’ll find understanding instead of condemnation.

Another good thing is that because more people are experiencing job loss, there are more supports in your community than in the past to help in the transition from your past job to your next job. There’s employment coaching, mental health counselling, financial planning, debt consolidation and restructuring and more services to help you deal proactively with your specific predicament. Look, you can’t be expected to be an expert in all areas of life. You’re good at what you do, and it stands to reason there are other people who are specialists in their work. Getting professional help to stabilize things at a time when you may not make the best decisions due to the strain you are under is a good move.

There is for many, a natural tendency to cocoon themselves from the world; hide unemployment and its impact from others, deal with it alone and then emerge transformed into something anew. This can work for some people. However, sharing what you’re experiencing could also lead to opportunities, job offers, leads, contacts; all of which could reduce your time out of work. This isn’t a time to let your pride rule the day. If a friend offers to pay for lunch, let them; they may not have any other way to be helpful. You’re going to get through this, and you’re not alone; help is out there.

Job Searching And Mental Health

If you are so very fortunate that your personal experiences of looking for work have been short-lived until you landed your job, you probably won’t be able to identify with the frustration people feel when in a prolonged job search. “What’s the big deal? Just keep trying and get working!’

Oh if only it were that simple. There are two basic realities of a job search for anyone; the things you can control and the things you can’t. The real key to understanding why some feel job searching is easy and others find it so intensely stressful still ultimately comes down to the above two realities, but the things one can and cannot control vary from person to person. This variance between people is often at the crux of extending or withholding sympathy and empathy for those in long drawn-out searches.

Such things one can’t control are the number of jobs employers need filled, the application process and the length of the application process. So let’s say we agreed on those three things to start with. We can’t make employers hire more people, whether an employer has us apply in-person, on-line etc. nor their choice to conduct one or a series of interviews prior to making a hiring decision. Fair enough.

Beyond this, are there other things we cannot control in a job search? For some the answer is yes and for others it’s no. And this variance, this difference of opinion, is where some experience anxiety, frustration and immense pressure while others do not. Consequently those who feel a person should be able to have control over every thing else will have little patience dealing with people who claim to have little control over other factors.

We all handle challenges differently do we not? Take for example being rejected for a job one really wanted. We all might feel let down, disappointed and frustrated. Why is though that this period of time is brief for some and extremely long for others? If some of us can snap out of it, roll up our sleeves and look for other positions to apply to, surely we all have that capacity don’t we? So isn’t it just a question of willpower and attitude? Perhaps and perhaps not. Are there some other factors beyond attitude and willpower (things we can control) which we are not acknowledging?

What about say, mental illness? Surely mental illness is not something one can control as for example ones attitude. Mental illness is not something that is readily identifiable by those we meet nor in fact sometimes by those actually experiencing it. Suppose you awoke one morning with a rash on your arm. You could look at it and say, “Gee I appear to have a rash on my arm. I best get that looked at.” Others you met would say, “I see you have a rash on your arm, here let me help you. Have you had that looked at?”

Now suppose however you awoke one morning feeling down, lethargic and had a prevailing feeling of sadness for reasons that were not immediately clear. Would you look in the mirror and say, “Gee it appears I’ve got abnormal anxiety and depression this morning, I should book an appointment with a Mental Health Counsellor.” And when you met others would they say, “Ah, I see you’re depressed and having some crippling mental health issues beyond your ability to cope with. Have you had that looked at?” Doubtful.

The one thing that is true of two people who are looking for work; one of which has a mental health issue and the other who does not, is that both are coping to control what they can, but with different degrees of success based on what we can observe. So while both may get the email indicating they’ve been rejected in favour of someone else, the one can within a day bounce back and re-focus. The other may appear to wallow in sadness, miss appointments for job search help, even perhaps look to have given in and given up altogether.

It is you see something they have lost the ability to cope with for a period of time the way they once might have done. What was once abnormal has become their new normal. If you are close to this person, you might be profoundly affected by their change. Monitoring the change in someone’s mental health isn’t like keeping an eye on that rash. Where we are qualified to put on some ointment, bathe and cleanse a rash, we are not qualified or even know where to begin to help someone deal with their adversely changing mental health.

And in dealing with person who has a mental health challenge, it might be easier for us to ask them to just snap out of it, tough it out, deal with it, get over it – get back in other words to being the person they were before when we were comfortable with them and knew how to help them. It’s how we deal with our own fears in wanting to help and not knowing how.

A little empathy, kindness, patience and understanding is what is needed. Get a medical check up if you’re out of work and pay attention to changes you might be experiencing. Living with someone you suspect is experiencing some mental health changes? See your own doctor and get helpful suggestions and community referrals.

Social Assistance And Us

When I was attending Humber College back in 1982 and 1983, I was studying Recreation Leadership; a program which at the time, I believed would prepare me for a life-long career in the field of Municipal Recreation. I had already attended University where I’d graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a Communications Minor.

One of the now curious things about taking that Recreation course was that we made a trip down to Flint, Michigan in the United States of America to see their recreation programs. That in and of itself wasn’t odd at all, but a chance comment by our American host at the time had to do with people who received social assistance in the State. If I’m not mistaken, he said that people there could get social assistance for a maximum of two year’s time, and only for the number of people they originally applied with. So if a woman had a child while on assistance there were no additional funds provided, and the system in the U.S. varied from state to state.

The irony of hearing this is that I’ve built a career not in recreation but in working with those receiving social assistance.

Now here in Ontario Canada, a person could conceivably apply for and receive social assistance (welfare) when they are under 20, receive additional assistance for each member of their immediate family and be on it until they are 65. So while things might have changed since 1983 south of the border, we’ve got one system where someone gets food and shelter money for 2 years and another where the same things are covered for 45 years. Around the globe and in your geographical community, things may vary from these two situations as well.

So whose got it right? Does your view on this depend whether you are in receipt of the financial help or doing the giving via your personal income tax?

One of the things I constantly remind myself of is that people in receipt of social assistance are often among the most vulnerable in our society. I certainly don’t begrudge them the financial help they get because the person getting this financial supplement loses much more than they ever get. It’s no free ride.

Those in receipt of welfare over a long period of time will find the quality of the food they eat is poorer, they develop dental problems more often and issues are more severe. Their overall health is poorer as they see doctors less; they’re often out in adverse weather conditions, living in sub-standard housing, dealing more often with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, addictions and getting counselling regarding dysfunctional families, abuse, suicidal thoughts, despair and hopelessness.

That, ‘free ride’ as some see it is extremely costly. So it’s no wonder that many on social assistance do want to work and regain their financial independence. But given all the issues in the paragraph above, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the focus required to get a job. Add to the list expired certificates, out-of-date experience, old work references, gaps in a resume or CV, lack of reliable transportation inconsistent access to technology and unreliable phone service, and it’s no wonder so few come across to a potential employer as the right candidate.

One of the biggest challenges that these people face, (as if that list above isn’t exhaustive enough) is dealing with people like you and me. Whatever image you carry around with you of the typical social assistance recipient will prejudice for the good or bad how we interact with these people in general. So if you met someone who on first glance who looked together and you discovered they were on welfare, what would be your initial reaction? If you were hiring, would you give them a fair shake or would you buy-in to some of the stereotypes we see in the media and place an extra level of examination on them? Would you see them as lazy, a drain on the system or a future problem?

To be honest, there are some who do set out to stay on assistance. Many, many more however didn’t plan the life they have, and really do want to contribute and be self-supporting. In many of those cases, they just lack the know-how and have multiple barriers to deal with. If we want to say that we truly live in a compassionate society, it is up to us to support our most vulnerable members of that society. Our ‘duty’ or our ‘charity’; call it what you will, is a responsibility that we undertake to provide a safety net for those who for reasons often beyond their control can’t stand on their own.

Many who want to work are themselves grown adults of families that were in receipt of assistance. They may have received poor parenting from those who see completing high school as a lofty goal. College and University is a dream never to even be contemplated. A good job is one that gets them a stable address and decent food, not necessarily one that comes with profit-sharing and trips abroad.

My hope is that you and I come to be just a little more compassionate, a little more understanding, and a tad less judgemental. If you are an employer, that you invest in the person and find yourself a grateful worker in return. Sometimes all it takes is a shift in attitude at our end to start.