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  • 06.30.03

All The Right Moves: Don’t Lose Hope

Emergency advice for the career weary.

17. I’ve been unemployed for 18 months. What’s one thing I can do to get back on track?

For starters, put on something other than pajamas or sweats, okay? You’re hurting. Prolonged unemployment is brutal. But starting now, you need to get off the couch and into job-hunting shape. “People who are unemployed think the worst possible outcome is not finding another job,” says Richard Bolles, author of the job hunter’s bible What Color Is Your Parachute? (Ten Speed Press, 2002). “Actually, the worst part is losing your self-esteem. You start thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ “

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Find ways to inject some confidence and optimism into your life, because they’re essential to a successful search. Landing a job during what Bolles calls a “workquake” requires a lot of persistence, and persistence requires energy. Bolles suggests a routine that includes exercise, rest, and plenty of water. Let unemployment drive you to drink, just as long as it’s Evian.

Then do your homework: Write down seven experiences at work that you enjoyed, and list the skills that you applied in each case. What leaps out, says Bolles, are your talents and passions.

Now it’s time to get creative. According to Bolles, job hunters typically rely on only one or two methods in their search: mailing out a hundred ré sumé s or posting a copy online. Those might have worked before, but not now. Don’t limit your search to companies that have openings. Consider companies that you’d like to work for, whether they have openings or not. Arrange informational interviews to develop relationships that could prove beneficial later. That is how you create new job opportunities, says Bolles. Remember, the point is to offer resources that can help a future employer, not simply to beg for employment.

Also, broaden your range of job possibilities. Not sure about a new career direction? Volunteer in order to get an idea of what an industry is like. Or arrange to shadow someone on the job to get a feel for the position. That arrangement may open a door.

If you can’t or don’t want to leave a particular location, define your job-hunting zone. Drive as far from home as you’re willing to commute. Then take out a map, and, using your home as the center and your maximum commute as the radius, trace a circle. Now list all of the companies within that area, and start visiting them. “You want to take action every day, not sit around waiting for something to happen,” says Bolles. Chuck Salter

18. How can I stay creative at work when my coworkers won’t try anything new?

Don’t buy into the doomsday attitude. Keep the ideas coming. More than ever, companies need help improving products and services, selling goods, and boosting revenue and profits, says Ann Rhoades, president of People Ink, a human-resources consulting company in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s easy to think that there aren’t any opportunities,” she says. “But the best players are constantly finding opportunities to do something different and better, and they’re not scared to speak up.”

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Face it: Nothing lights a fire like change. A fresh challenge. Maybe a new industry. Rhoades can’t resist the opportunity to build “people centric” organizations. She did it at Southwest Airlines, then at Doubletree Hotel Corp., and then at JetBlue Airways. In each case, friends and colleagues warned her that the company was unproven. But Rhoades believes that you don’t grow unless you learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re challenged. Which is why she is joining a company that aims to build 200 hotels from scratch, despite the industry’s woes. “If you’re a risk taker, you can’t play it safe for long,” she says. “You get bored.”

Of course, if you play with fire, you risk getting burned. Rhoades recommends thoroughly researching any career leap — including your new team, the company’s culture, its strategy — and assessing your own threshold. You don’t want to take a risk simply for risk’s sake. But at the same time, you don’t want to shy away from taking an educated risk.

Says Rhoades: “I know I can lose and lose big, but maybe I’m content to lose more than others because deep down I know that I’ll be all right over the long term. You don’t need arrogance to take chances; you need self-confidence. I know that if worst comes to worst, I can always wait on tables and work three jobs. I did it in college.” Chuck Salter

19. I’ve gone from being anxious about my future to being scared. How do I face my fears?

Dear Desperately Trying Not to Seem Desperate:

Any job loss comes with some heartbreak. It can dredge up feelings of grief, anger, betrayal, bitterness, and regret. Those feelings are normal. The trick is figuring out how to move on.

It takes time to recover from such a loss — to get over the shock and disorientation and to process your new circumstances. If you can afford it, three months is a good interlude between jobs: It’s long enough to allow you to reassess where you’ve been and where you want to go next but not so long that the stresses associated with long-term unemployment kick in.

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Regardless of the time you take between jobs, it’s important to build an interim structure to your day in order to replace the old patterns of work. The brain functions best when there’s structure. Make a schedule that you honor every day. Get up at a regular hour, get dressed, exercise, get adequate sleep, and keep a journal. The journal is particularly important as a way of dealing with the emotional upheaval of the transition. It gives you a place to vent, with no judgment about what you’re saying or feeling, and it allows you to process your experience. It also takes that top layer of what you’re feeling — all the obsessive thinking — and moves it onto the page. I suggest writing early in the morning — maybe a page or two — to capture dream fragments, hopes, and fears.

Don’t write off this exercise as just New Age hokum. In Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (Guilford Press, 1997), author James Pennebaker reported on a study in which unemployed people were asked to write down their deepest thoughts about job loss in a journal. Eight months later, they had more than twice the success in finding a job than those who just wrote about job-seeking plans. There is also some evidence that writing about stressful life experiences boosts emotional health. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than seeing a shrink.

Sincerely,
Ruth Luban
Counselor and author of Are You a Corporate Refugee? A Survival Guide for Downsized, Disillusioned, and Displaced Workers (Penguin, 2001)

20. I still have a job — but it’s killing me. How do I do more with less?

Many of us felt overwhelmed when times were good and offices were full. Now, with massive layoffs, many folks are doing not just their own work, but also that of former colleagues. It’s a surefire prescription for stress. But who’s brave enough to walk into the boss’s office and say, “You’re asking the impossible”?

You may have to if you want to stay sane, says productivity guru David Allen, author of the upcoming book Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life (Viking, September 2003). “The current situation is making it much easier for people to have the discussions that they should have been having all along,” he says. “There’s permission to say, ‘We know we can’t get it all done.’ “

But before you go charging up to your supervisor with a plan to do less, Allen says that you’d better figure out if you’re really overworked — or just underorganized. He recommends the following steps for bringing order to an out-of-control job: First, throw all of your loose papers into a giant inbox. Second, sort through those papers, review your notes and calendar, and turn them all into action items. Next, put those action items on a giant list. Finally, sort them into various categories that work for you. This should show you the scope of your responsibilities.

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Doubtless, you’ll find yourself with more to do than you can manage. Take this opportunity to schedule a conversation with your boss to sort out what’s critical and what’s expendable. Rest assured, you aren’t the only one asking for relief. Allen says that his business grew 20% last year, mostly from companies on the tail end of a downsizing: “They are trying to give people the tools they need so that they don’t turn to toast.” Linda Tischler

21. How do I bounce back from setbacks?

When you blow a game, you feel like the 26th man on a 25-man team. But you can’t dwell on it. It’s tough enough to face a batter, let alone a crowd, without having last night’s game on your mind. I have to focus on the situation I’m in, make it one-on-one, pitcher and batter, nothing else.

When I come in to the game, I try to do the same thing every time. I jog across the outfield grass, then stop and walk across the infield dirt. I warm up with a couple of fastballs, breaking balls, off-speed pitches, then one last fastball. I make sure that I do the sign of the cross. It helps get me into my comfort zone.

A baseball team is about chemistry. If I get down on myself — if I’m the one guy who becomes the bad apple — it can affect the other guys. Whenever I pitch badly, I always want the ball the next day. I’m itching for it so I can make up for what I did. We’re all human. We’re going to give up home runs, but the good relievers bounce back.

The worst slump I ever had was in 1995 with the Baltimore Orioles. I threw pretty good for the first couple of games. Then we went to Boston, and I gave up four runs in two innings. But I didn’t think anything of it. The next day, we’re getting wiped out in Texas, and I go in to throw the last inning. I get one batter out and give up eight runs. Two days later, against Cleveland, I get the first two batters, then give up three hits and another run.

I went to my manager and said, “I need three or four days off.” During that time, I threw in the bull pen every day. I pretended that it was a game. I looked at videos of the games to see what I had been doing wrong. From that point until the end of the season, I pitched 57 innings and gave up five runs.

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When I leave the park after a bad game, I get it out of my system real fast. By the time I get home, if my wife hasn’t seen the game, she can’t tell whether I won or lost. I’ve always been the type of player who will stay on an even keel. It’s hard. I can’t stand losing. But that’s part of the game. And it’s a long season. If you carry bad thoughts around with you after the games, you’ll be a wreck by the end of the year.

A relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres, Jesse Orosco has pitched in more games (1,200 and counting) and made more relief appearances (1,196 and counting) than any other pitcher in Major League history. In 24 seasons, he has played for two world-championship teams as well as his share of last-place teams. The oldest player in the majors, he hasn’t decided whether this season will be his last.

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