We are going to explore here the dark side, the righteous side and the upside of your battling through the emotions that accompany economic conditions you cannot control.
Recessions and depressions are depressing. Industry downturns can be worse, because you see other colleagues in other industries thriving, while there is nothing for you to do. Worse, you continue trying to get work (a job or a consulting gig) and face continual rejection. The world seems gray, and you begin to lose your energy and stamina.
You work diligently at the grunge work of searching the recruiting boards online, posting and sending your resume, refining it again and again for various positions so it is more on-point, until this administrative busy work becomes drudgery.
You network like mad, connecting to all your colleagues, expanding your Linkedin network, updating your profile, answering Questions to become more visible. You blog, you send messages to all your online social media contacts, you meet your colleagues for coffee.
And still nothing. Like an actor waiting for a call-back after an audition, you wait by the phone and email. You wish they would call to say you didn’t get the job, but of course they don’t, mostly. Groups start to form called “Pink Slip Parties” and “The Laid-off Lounge” where you don’t dare show your face. You notice an increase in graveyard humor among your colleagues. Networking evenings that cost $60 find a lot of faces missing. Later the $35 evenings see this too.
Eventually, every day looks the same, and none of it looks good. If you are a worrier, you feel worse. If you have dependents who don’t or cannot work, the pressure is even greater. Culturally, men suffer under the engrained expectation that they must be the providers, while women’s instincts to protect their families add an extra burden.
In face of all that, how can I tell you to remain positive and confident in your value? Because you must. And because, except for the economic swing, nothing has changed. You are still the same person delivering the excellence you delivered when times were booming. Yes, it is harder to find clients or job positions now, but you are not alone in that. The scarcity of work is so far removed from your control, that you mustn’t take upon yourself any blame for the struggle. You cannot control the Federal Reserve’s policies, the banks’ behavior, or the greed of the big guys.
Here are some tactics to try out:
- Be mad, or sad, that this is not in your control. I mean, be actively mad or sad or both. Take a few minutes everyday to curse the gods, or the politicians, or whomever you like, and take those minutes to feel really bad. Give yourself three or four minutes of wallow.
- Then pick yourself up, take a shower to wash it away, and get ready for your day. Get dressed and looking good. It will make you feel better.
- Take care of your physical self. Eat well, exercise, get out of the house, even if you don’t want to. Try not to drink or drug yourself any differently than you do in good times. In fact, pamper yourself if you know how.
- Determine what time of the day is your strongest (mornings? late afternoons? nighttime?) and do your best work then.
- Leave time every day to see people outside your house – it will make you put your best face forward, will make you re-engage with the world, will offer your some perspective beyond your own views.
- Do not whine. Yes, you can have a confidante who sees you at your worst (not necessarily your family). But otherwise, be worldly and confident. “Yes, the conditions are difficult”, you can say. “Yes, the downturn is lasting a long time. Yes, it is beyond our control.” But then, in the face of this, re-iterate your own value and how you are applying it to new topics and challenges, and how the work will come when it comes, with diligent effort. Say it to yourself, and most importantly, say it to your colleagues when you see them.
- The posture, brightness and behavior of acting positive will actually support your attitude. Strange how this is true. If you mope around in your pajamas whining, righteous though you may be, it will only make things worse. Going out into the world and faking it will actually invigorate the confidence you have lying fallow.
- Turn your attitude inside out: instead of looking everywhere for help for yourself, look at how you can help others. Now, this is not sentiment or crystal-hugging here. There is a positive response, in yourself and in others, when you approach the world with “How can I be of help to you?” First, it is empowering – to you by offering, to the recipient by your assistance. Next, it is generous. Finally, it is pro-active, and pro-active kills depression. And, if you help, you get that deeply desired feedback loop that your excellence is in play, is witnessed, and is acknowledged. That in fact is a lot of what you have been missing from work days.
- And then, when the economy turns back up, and your work is challenging and fulfilling and financially correct again, try to remember that still, except for the economic swing, nothing has changed. You are perhaps more valuable for your experience, providing the excellence you have to offer. And you may just be more prepared for the next swing that you cannot predict.