Why Fear, Not the Economy, Is Your Enemy

For many high-achievers, a layoff can be traumatic. But the rules for looking for a job amid a recession are the same as during good times

Let me let you in on a dirty little secret. Even in the best of times, most of us are wracked with self-doubt. With surprisingly few exceptions, most of us—whether in our work lives, our love lives, or our family lives—live within constant earshot of a drone of negativity: "You can't do this, you can't get that, don't even think about that…"

Sound familiar? And that little voice is in our own head. And I'm talking about good times.

In a bad economy—and this is the "worst since the Great Depression," as much of the media keeps reminding us—that constant din of negativity can turn to deep, existential trepidation, especially when you top it off with the reality of a job loss. We get such an extraordinary amount of self-worth from our work that when we lose a job, we lose confidence. Even a job you hate gives you a sense of purpose. To be out of work is disheartening.

For many high-achieving people the trauma of being laid off makes them think they will never find another job. Well, take heart. The good news is: You will work again. There are jobs. And your sense that all is lost because you've lost yours (while understandable) is self-defeating and—more important—wrong.

The fact is the rules you have to follow when looking for a job in the middle of a downturn are the same as the ones you must follow when times are great, only now you have to be even more disciplined about following them. Here's how to find that next opportunity:

1. Remember, It's About Attitude

The most important thing about looking for a job, in any type of economy, is attitude. Let me repeat this, since so many people don't get it: The right attitude is the key ingredient to success in finding your next job.

Every job seeker thinks that as long as they hope they get a job, they will get one. But you have to know you will get a job. It is not enough to go through the motions—redoing your résumé, prepping yourself for interviews, and acting earnest and engaged once you're before a prospective employer. More important than all of these actions, and they are important, is attitude.

If you only hope you'll get a job but you are swimming in worry and anxiety, then you will not be as successful. You have to know you are going to get a job. It can be hardest to have a positive attitude after your ego has been dealt the body blow of being laid off. But whining about why it happened, trying to assign blame, all those pastimes (again, while understandable) are a colossal distraction and a waste of time. While wallowing in misery can be cathartic, whining has never paid a bill or found someone a job.

2. Set a Routine

The way to get over that "Woe is me" feeling that keeps you in bed with a pint of Häagen-Dazs watching Bewitched reruns is for you to establish a routine and stick to it.

If you have a schedule for yourself, just like you did when you went to the office every day, you will feel a lot more empowered. So set a time for when you will be researching new opportunities. Schedule time to call around to your old sources and contacts—both professional and personal. Set a time to read the paper or look online at the news that's happening in your field so you are up-to-date on trends and issues.

And make exercise part of your routine. Exercise is key, even if it's just getting out of the house and walking for half an hour. If it's running or lifting weights or taking a class for an hour, all the better. It is a lot harder to sit around and feel sorry for yourself if you're not sitting around.

Be religious about your routine. Be very smart about not indulging your vices. This can be a time when people start to drink too much, eat too much, or watch too much TV. You have to be vigilant about the tools you use to make yourself feel better. Don't indulge in temporary fixes that may ultimately make you feel worse in the long run.

3. Take Advantage of the Time Off

You can only look for work so many hours in the day. So, schedule time for the things you never get to do.

You should be in the best shape of your life when you're out of work; you have the time. Schedule that project around the house you never had the time to do, and give yourself a deadline for it.

Go out. Do new things. For instance, volunteering really will feel good. And it makes you meet new people. It will make you feel useful—and if in a strategic place or industry, even at your child's school, for example, it could help you get contacts. (Get involved with the PTA; I'm telling you a job is sitting with one of those parents or someone one of them knows.)

4. Embrace Risk

Wanting a new job and getting a new job are all about embracing risk, and opportunity.

I have helped hundreds of people get new jobs by coaching them to look at the opportunities all around them rather than the obstacles they have been concentrating on. Perhaps 70% of them got their next new job through a connection in their own PDA's address book. But most people, especially when they're fired or out of work, are embarrassed to ask for help. Don't be. Start going through your contacts, and setting up lunches and coffees, and saying, "I want to pick your brain."

We are ashamed of our needs. We are fear-based, not risk-based animals. One of the things I get hired for is making people do what they need to do. Once they start, they realize how quickly they are rewarded.

5. Get a Mentor, Buddy, or Coach

You need someone who is going to keep you honest about reaching your goals. Better if it is not a spouse or partner; you need someone who can feel free to call you on your B.S.

Tell him or her what you did today and let them grade you on how much you accomplished or didn't. Make sure they call you out on being a coward or a complainer.

It's very easy to focus on the macro—what's wrong with the world—rather than concentrating on the micro, which is about you and your needs.

And that doesn't mean obsessing, feeling sorry for yourself, and giving in to your fears. It means getting into action, having faith in yourself, and taking the steps necessary to move forward.

We hate change, but you have to embrace it. Understand the value of taking risks, even if the bad times force us into them. There is no generation that gets to go through life without difficulty. Often it is the difficult times thrust upon us that truly challenge us, force us to be creative, and change our character and lives for the better. This is a time of great challenges, but it's still a great time.

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