Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

Last week I sent out a request to readers to tell me how they were punishing themselves for being out of work. Boy, that was a mistake. My inbox was flooded with emails from people truly in pain for being jobless. They expressed their suffering in alcohol abuse, isolation, insomnia, weight gain (or loss), hopelessness thinking, neglecting the kids, you name it. I got it all. So this week I’m going to focus my message on practical steps for staying positive in terribly uncertain times.

Remember, you don’t get extra points in heaven for your misery here on earth. You also don’t look smarter for being cynical. Not to belittle your suffering here (not at all), I would like to invite you to at least contain it in a sharply defined box, and not let it slosh over into all aspects of your life. Sure, when you do that, you will have really miserable people tell you that you’re just being silly, shallow, stupid by finding reasons to be happy. Let ‘em. Whole lives have been ruined by someone casually dropping their own D-bomb (D for despair, depression) on someone they just passed judgment on and then walking away from the wreckage, not realizing what they have done. Your life is your own to lead, and you owe it to yourself to find happiness wherever you can.

Listen to your heart. If people keep hammering away at you to do the "smart" thing, and your heart is telling you different, listen to your heart. Every time I ignore my instincts, heart, desires, etc., and let myself get talked into something I really don't want to do, I regret it dearly. And quite seriously and painfully.

Treat regrets like cavities. You can't erase regrets. I've tried. You can't even forget them, really. I've tried. Woulda coulda shoulda's should be treated like cavities: Permanent holes that should be identified, cleaned out from debris and the stinking ickies, and then filled with something really strong: gratitude, faith, hope, appreciation for what we have, lessons we don't need to learn again, that kind of thing.

Have a plan of action. The above-mentioned negativos would scoff at this and say, “well, duh.” Yes indeedy, duh. But here’s where I’m going with this: When you have a plan you have something to measure your progress against. Small wins – like how many phone calls did you make today? – are far more within your control than “did you get a job offer today?” Control will keep you from sliding down the muddy embankment of overwhelm. A plan will help you keep your spirits up, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

A plan will also do something else for you: It will give you something to talk about instead of your frustration. This could be especially important when it comes to talking with your significant other. In my book, Rebound, psychologist Bill Berman talks about how the stresses that he sees in marriages, especially around the job search, come from the other spouse feeling shut out. And to be “helpful,” that person starts offering up some well-meaning ideas – which, of course, as we all know, usually makes matters worse. Having a plan of action will stave off the “just get any job, already” last-ditch suggestion.

Declare a moratorium on downward spiral thinking. About 10 years ago, I was flat broke and living on Cape Cod (if you’re going to be stranded in life, Cape Cod is a good place to do that in). This was a time in the U.S. economy where it seemed that everyone was getting rich. And I couldn’t get a phone call returned, much less a paycheck. I couldn’t even keep a part-time job in a local bookstore, of all places. I was definitely in the trenches. I must have exuded some major loser vibe. So I would wallow in the question why? Why why why why why?

One day I realized that this kind of thought habit was getting me nowhere, and probably cranking up the loser vibe to glass-breaking decibels. So I gave myself permission to stop thinking like that. For just a month.

I still worked according to plan. I just gave myself permission to not feel bad about myself and my lot in life every single second of my waking (and most of my sleeping) hours. The relief was the kind of serene, heavy blanket of quiet that can only be compared to those seconds between cramp contractions. It really does feel better when it stops.

Raise your sights, don’t lower them. We’ve talked about this in this space before. Don’t go for jobs you’re clearly overqualified for because you think they’ll be a sure bet. They won’t be. Remember: entry level does not mean easy entry. And healthy hiring managers are not going to be attracted to candidates who are so desperate that they’ll take “anything.” That’s insulting to everyone, including the hiring manager. And you’d be taking away an opportunity from the person who is the right fit for that job.

Be a cluster buster. Great networking (the kind that will get you your next job) is about meeting people in totally different clusters or groups than your current selection of social and professional circles. Use all that energy that you were using beating yourself up, and channel it in the direction of meeting people you wouldn’t have otherwise met before. Seek out one-on-one meetings with these people. I’ll be talking more about that in future columns. But you can certainly teach yourself this material in the meantime. Don’t wait for me.

Don’t depend so much on job boards. They’re good but they’re limited. And every time another half million people lose their jobs (that would be monthly these days), your competition is getting stiffer and stiffer. You’ve got to make your own way. Again, I’ll tell you more about that in future blog postings. Just know that over-reliance on online postings is playing a huge role in bringing you down.

Go out and play. As I’ve mentioned to you before, there have been tons of studies done on how people are more innovative, creative, and optimistic that day after they had a good time -- not the day after they kept their nose to the grindstone. Infusing your life with fun also helps keep up your resilience. If you have children, you also get the side benefit of knowing that you’re setting a good example to the kids that happiness does not depend on a steady paycheck.

Lay off the booze. Really. And pills too.

Coddle your noodle. I know, vitamins and healthy food are expensive. But you are placing a lot of demands on your mind right now, putting your brain through its paces. Give yourself the brain food you need to keep it running at its best. Blueberries, strawberries, walnuts, salmon, carrots, spinach…you’ve seen this list before. Augment the food with a multivitamin, E, all the B’s. We’re talking about keeping your spirits up here, and your brain needs every possible support it can get right now. Don’t be mean to it.

Likewise, watch your explanatory style. When your phone isn’t ringing, what are you telling yourself as to the reason why? When the other person on the line is sounding peevish, is it you? One of my favorite expressions these days is “don’t believe everything you think.” If you punish yourself by assuming that everything bad or disappointing that’s happening is happening because of you, somehow, knock it off.

If you have trouble getting to sleep, you might consider relaxation or self hypnosis tapes. My favorite (and I’m just saying this, I’m not making a penny off of this recommendation) is almost any “paraliminal” from Learning Strategies Corporation. ( There’s one on relaxation which knocks me out. But I like almost all of them, except the one on peak performance. My preference is the ones that feature just Paul Scheele’s voice alone. The ones he does in collaboration with others make me feel rattled.

(I have trouble staying asleep. So in the middle of the night I just reach for the earplugs and start one up all over again.)

In the morning, practice mind control. My waking nano-seconds are my worst time. For decades I’d wake up with a self-abusive tape already running (it’s amazing I’d even be willing to go to sleep the night before, knowing what would be in store for me upon my waking up). A few years ago, I resolved to start up my own brain engine in the morning. So the second I felt myself coming awake, I’d intentionally tell myself all the good things I could about my life, my world, my place in it, etc.

Yes, yes. I’m aware that might come off as very Stuart Smalley to some of you – especially you cynics out there. Tough. All’s I can say is that most of us would never talk to a tender young child the way we talk to ourselves. So if you are like me and somehow got the idea that despicable self-talk was the same as emotional discipline, then you need to change your tune – especially in the morning.

Finally, take your lessons, impressions and influence from positive people who are out there enjoying life and finding ways to thrive. In Rebound, I spoke with people who were laid off and then landed happily. I wanted to talk to those folks with happy endings to report. Let the news programs focus on the dread tales of over-qualified people humiliating themselves in the job search. That’s helping them sell ads; it’s not helping you keep your spirits up. I wanted to help you keep your spirits up by showing how happy landings can and do happen.

Keeping your spirits up will be your most competitive advantage when it comes to finding your next job. Hiring managers will want to work with the person they will enjoy being with 8, 9, even 10 hours a day. Not some sad sack who says, “I just want a job, any job.”

Remember the lessons of Tigger and Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. You want to be Tigger.

PS: Another GREAT way to start the morning is by watching this following visualization tool. It's by the folks who brought us The Secret. I don't know what I think about the Law of Attraction but I do know that an uplifted spirit is its own reward. So check this out. It's free, wonderful, and you can watch without having to sign up for anything:

PPS: If you have a favorite way of keeping your spirits up, email me at and I'll send you a free PDF of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life.