No job? Time to see your limits, and love

Posted July 31, 2009, at 11:37 p.m.

Laid off from your job, you’ve been applying for new work for months now. Your resume is as fine-tuned as it will ever be. You’ve honed your skills at writing the cover letter. You’ve practiced answering interview questions. Only two out of 12 workplaces you applied to even invited you in for an interview, and they explained that you are one of an unprecedented high number of applicants. You did not nail those jobs.

Keeping your chin up emotionally and your head above water financially are becoming harder and harder to do. Life has thrown you into the deep end, and your best efforts are not lifting you out of it. What can you do to improve this situation?

The first thing to do is to acknowledge the fix you are in. Try to stop agonizing over the fact that you are in the situation and save your energy for facing the challenges of the job hunt itself.

Next, treat yourself as if you were parenting a toddler. If that sounds silly, just pause a moment and think about it. Of course you are better-equipped than a 2-year-old child to face life’s ups and downs, but like a toddler, you need to develop and use new skills. You want to be independent but you find yourself leaning on family and friends for emotional and practical support. You need to set limits on behavior. And you have to learn your own limits in several regards.

Any parent knows bringing a child through toddlerhood, or “the terrible 2’s,” takes patience, consistency and love. These are the things you need to give to yourself now. Apply all three of these to every situation and you will see some positive results.

Take the question of developing and using new skills. If you’re a house painter who never liked the ladder top but now needs to learn roofing, too, acknowledge your fears and don’t chide yourself for them. Recognize that your safety-consciousness is an asset to your well-being. If you’re an office worker struggling to learn a new computer skill, be patient if your learning seems slow. Realize that consistency will serve you well. Once you are in an office using that skill daily, it will become second nature to you. In the meantime, you can legitimately say you possess that office skill. No matter what new skill you are learning, pat yourself on the back for mastering it, no matter how fearful you are or how long it takes.

What about this leaning on family and friends? It makes you feel like a sad case or a burden, while you want to be your old, employed, independent self. This is where scrutinizing your behavior and limit-setting can be appropriate. Like a toddler must do, learn that you are not the center of the universe. Make sure the needs of others are met, too. Promise yourself you will ask friends about themselves before you talk about your own day. Be a good listener. When people provide empathy and insights to you, don’t forget to thank them, not just for their concern and wisdom, but for their time and patience with you over the long haul.

Bring consistency to your own days and set limits on bad habits. While joblessness may have set you free from the 9-to-5 grind, it may also have led to physical sloth, overindulgence and mental aimlessness. Get yourself up at a reasonable hour. Exercise regularly. Avoid overindulgence in food or drink. Set a regular time to navigate job listings.

Finally, be good to yourself at least once a day, every day. Think about what life was like when you were a toddler and there was time to play. Serve yourself milk and cookies. Take an afternoon nap. Go outside. Sit down in your own backyard. Look for a four-leaf clover.

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