Out of Work - Out of Control
Those faced with a job loss often feel as if they have also lost the ability to control their own destiny. While those feelings are understandable, this discussion presents a common-sense approach to understanding (and coming to terms with) those things that can - and cannot - be controlled.
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The most difficult part of being unemployed for some people is the feeling of being out of control. With so many people being downsized and reorganized out of their jobs these days, the problem is worse than ever.
When you are at work, you are in charge of something - a work station, a machine, a team of coworkers, an assortment of information, a project, a task, or what have you. Managers and supervisors are normally deferred to by subordinates, and they're used to getting what they want much of the time. Everyone who works has the ability to make an impact on other employees and customers by means of their decisions and job responsibilities. When you work for a large organization, chances are you have a lot of support in the form of fax machines, copiers, computers, long distance phone lines, and other technology. It's easy to take these things for granted, but for many unemployed people, these business amenities disappear overnight.
When people find themselves unemployed and virtually powerless, their initial reactions often revolve around the shock, anger, and embarrassment that accompany anything unpleasant and unexpected. Once they settle into the routine of a job search, they discover that any authority or control they once had has vanished. People don't return phone calls in a timely manner, or they ignore urgent e-mails. In addition, the loss of status that comes with unemployment can lead many people to lose their self esteem and become depressed.
If any of this applies to you, you can work toward reestablishing your sense of control over yourself, your environment, and your destiny. Here are some suggestions you might find useful:
- Surround yourself with close friends and supportive people who are on your side, no matter what.
- Spend about 15 minutes a day for at least a week writing down your feelings. Go all out - swear, blame, get angry. Keep the writing confidential. Throw it away later on if you want to, but get the feelings down on paper.
- When someone you want to reach is unavailable, tell the assistant or whatever gatekeeper there is that you will call back, and ask for a good time to do so. Waiting for the phone to ring is very frustrating and adds to any feelings of impotence you might have. If you're frustrated at not being able to get through to the person you want to talk to, don't take it out on the gatekeeper.
- Do someone else a favor, or volunteer some time to a worthy cause. You'll feel competent and appreciated, thus raising your self esteem. It also doesn't hurt to have someone else in your debt for a change.
- If you're out of a job, set aside some time - maybe an hour a day during the week, or a couple of hours on the weekend - to do some organizing around your home. Throw away some junk, straighten up a closet, paint a room. This will enable you to take a rest from the frustrations of a job search while giving yourself a feeling of accomplishment.
- Work out a budget for yourself. If you have a family, be sure to include your spouse and older kids in the process. Seeing the figures in black and white will help you feel like you're getting a handle on things, even when you have to cut back temporarily. If possible, build in a couple of small luxuries - maybe a movie once a month, or a take-out dinner from time to time. This will help you and your family improve your moods, and you won't feel so deprived of any fun.
- A job loss or a threat to security is tough on everybody. When you're feeling like nothing is working for you, try to focus on what you can control or influence, rather than what's not in your power to control. You can't control other people's behavior or decisions, but you might be able to influence them to some degree, and you can certainly be in charge of your own attitude and behavior.
When people act as if they don't know you and don't return your calls, it's easy to start beating up on yourself for the real or imagined slights you were guilty of in the past - those phone calls you didn't return, the head hunters you refused to talk to, etc. Give yourself some slack! Unless you were intentionally the meanest S.O.B. in the valley, you were probably busy with your own life and allowed some people to fall through the cracks (sort of the way people are treating you now). You can learn an important lesson from this experience: when you're back working again, make it a point to set time aside to respond to other people in need.
For those of you who are still employed, don't get too complacent. There's a good chance that in the next few years you will find yourself looking for a job, whether by choice or necessity. No job is guaranteed, and job security is an illusion at best. When you deal with people today, think of how you'd like to be treated if you were unemployed. All of a sudden, you'll be Mr. or Ms Personality. Taking good care of others is one of the most important career management techniques you can practice.