Keeping the Home Fires Burning After a Job Loss

Keeping a positive outlook is key to executing an effective job search and having a strong and supportive home front is the first step in keeping your head on straight following a job loss.

Being unemployed may be a devastating experience.  It is not uncommon for an individual to suffer from depression, anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia.  One immediately worries about personal finances: “How will I pay my mortgage?; “How will I provide for my family?”; “How will I pay my bills?”  These, of course, are not unimportant or exaggerated concerns.

Furthermore, being out of a job may have psychological and emotional repercussions.  Work, for many people, involves their ego, self-image, pride, and value.  We often define ourselves in terms of what we do for a living.  We often base our self-respect and self-esteem on our productivity at work.  We often equate our worth as an individual with our worth as an employee.

Don’t be surprised if this angst begins to spill over into your home life.  The key is to recognize it when it happens and quickly right the ship.  Remember, a happy home is foundational to a successful job search.  Here are some practical tips for keeping your head and home healthy.

Do not underestimate the task before you.  This is a common coping mechanism, at least initially, for it makes a large undertaking seem psychologically more manageable.  You must create a compelling professional brand, resume, LinkedIn profile, and narratives just to start talking to potential employers (see blog, “Hitting the Pause Button Before Launching Your Job Search”).  Countless hours will be spent scouring the Internet for openings, attending support groups, following leads, and networking with friends, colleagues, and recruiters.  Set weekly goals, track progress, and celebrate your accomplishments and even small victories.  Keep records of your activities, for they will grow at a geometric rate.  It is vital for your psychological and emotional health to keep moving forward, making progress, scaling the next mountain.

Establish Your Job Search Headquarters.  Probably the first and most obvious change caused by unemployment is that you will be spending a substantial amount of time at home.  To make this new arrangement livable for you and everyone within shouting distance, define and claim an area of personal workspace: a basement, study, spare bedroom, garage.  It has miraculously become your new office.  Make it comfortable and functional by bringing in your computer, files, cell phone, and coffee maker.  A principle to establish with your family: Because you are accessible does not mean that you are available.

Discuss your unusual situation with your spouse, children, or significant other.  Let them know your needs: support, understanding, space, encouragement, morale boosts, and kindness.  Explain to them that seeking a new job or career is itself a full-time job.  Being at home most of the day does not mean that you are available for countless errands, new housekeeping chores, and responsibilities that you did not have when working.  Let them know that asking, “What did you do today?” while well-meaning, may put pressure on you.  “How was your day?” is a better substitute.

It is also important for you to address their needs.  Let them know that you will try to engage in typical activities from the past; you will be a functioning, contributing member of the family; and that you will wrap up your search activities by dinner time so that you may focus on the family.  Evening dinner time should be closely protected; it is a time when everyone can share experiences and love.

Establish a Support Network.  Feelings of isolation are job search kryptonite.  Perceiving that you are alone on an island is terrible for your mental health, the well-being of your family, and your confidence in the job market.  Ask people you trust and have relied on in the past to be a part of your support network.  Schedule regular touch-base meetings to discuss what you are doing, your successes, and your failures.  Seek advice and vent frustration.  Be careful, however, not to overburden any one person, such as your spouse or significant other.

Many communities and churches have job clubs and support groups for people seeking employment.  They generally meet weekly or monthly to discuss job search activities.  Sometimes a former member who has found a position returns to relate his or her experiences.

Perhaps, however, the greatest benefit of such groups is the emotional support they provide for one another.  To learn that there are other people experiencing the same anxieties, fears, frustrations, and emotional highs and lows helps to keep your particular problems in perspective.  You are not alone and you are not required to solve all transition problems on your own.

Exercise and Eat Right.  The Romans had an adage: “Mens sana in copore sano”: “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”  Physical and mental health are inextricably linked.  Keep your nutrition high, get adequate sleep, and exercise daily.  Exercise releases endorphins, while healthy eating helps with memory and mental clarity.  You will feel better, and you will look better.

Create Balance in Your Life.  Try to follow the same patterns of behavior and activities as when you were employed.  Do not dedicate the entire day to your job search.  This is not physically or emotionally healthy or sustainable.  Try to keep up your old routines: walking, working out at the gym, going to a movie, playing with your children, going on a “date night” with your spouse, spending time with family and friends.

Overcoming the Feeling of Helplessness.  A feeling of helplessness is one of the most typical emotions that one experiences during this transition.  The reason is not hard to fathom: you have no control over whether you get the job you desire.  You can package and present yourself in an optimal manner but ultimately control rests with your prospective employers.  They hold the jobs.  This feeling of helplessness is only reinforced by the virtually inevitable letters of rejection.

Remember that you do control your job search: the quality of your brand, resume, and LinkedIn profile; the strength of your interviewing skills; the number of job opportunities that you have identified; and the types of skills you possess.  Continue to pursue activities that give you pleasure and over which you have control.  Community service, volunteering, playing tennis, working out, taking art classes – whatever floats your boat – should not be stopped simply because you are unemployed.

It is easy to lose confidence in yourself, especially after the fifteenth rejection arrives.  It is vital at such times to continue to believe in yourself and your abilities and to remain confident that your persistence and talents will be rewarded.  I have written in a previous blog, “The Power of Positive Thinking in Your Job Search”, that your thoughts shape your reality.  This is the time to apply that way of thinking.

It may be worth noting that James Joyce had great difficulty finding a publisher for Ulysses.  The Beatles were denied a recording contract by a major record company executive, who said, “We don’t like their sound.  Guitar groups are on their way out.”  Clint Eastwood was told by one movie executive that, “Your Adam’s apple sticks out too far, and you talk too slow.”  ‘Nuff said.

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