Monday, December 29, 2008

Rebound: Your Most Important New Year Resolution If You're Laid Off

(This is the first posting in a series based on everything I’ve been learning since I wrote Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, which will be published in February. But you can order it now on Amazon and get a special pre-pub price.)

If you’re one of the roughly bajillion people who have seen, read, bought The Secret, you know about the Law of Attraction. Personally I’ve got mixed feelings about the Law of Attraction (even though it did seem to work pretty well for Oprah…she made out okay). Apply just a little bit of pressure on me (like, say, a gun to my head, my hand on the Bible or my face on TV), and I just can’t step forward and say “thoughts become things.” Matching vibrational intention with the universe strikes me as being a healthy helping of what I uncharitably refer to as “oogy boogy,” an attitude that makes me pretty unpopular here in New Age Santa Fe. (My neighbor, just for an instance, buried a crystal in our dirt road to ward off the evil spirits emanating from the south – which is basically where you will find Albuquerque.)

All this being said, I have to cop to a confession: When I first saw The Secret, I immediately bought at least 10 copies and sent them to all my friends (well, most of them; there was one absolutely absurd segment about a woman laughing her way through breast cancer, and I just couldn’t send the dvd to my friend who survived breast cancer with the help of a knowledgeable oncologist, a scalpel and massive doses of radiation). Why? Because the film made me happy just to look at it. And I wanted to share that feel-good with the people I love. And on top of that, there’s a fantastic five-minute video available for free through their website that is designed specifically to help you start your day with a song in your heart and wings on your spirit. I watch it as often as I can – without wearing down its inspiring effects – and it gets me every time. Makes me so glad to be a human being on this wacky, rocky, wonderful, nerve-wracked planet.

And my starting the morning with an upbeat frame of mind just stacks the odds in my favor that I’m going to have a productive, creative, innovative day with at least one or two happy surprises by the time I turn off the light at night. It’s not a metaphysical thing. It takes no leap of faith or suspension of belief. It’s just the way things are.

It’s an actual scientific fact that people who are of a positive frame of mind are most likely to find creative solutions to thorny problems, bounce back from setbacks, appeal to other positive people who actually work for great companies that treat them well and that are hiring. This isn’t about the Law of Attraction, it’s about the fact that people who are happy are generally fun to be with. And people who are fun to be with attract other people who are fun and happy. You know, it’s a birds-of-a-feather kind of thing.

When you are happy, you’re more receptive to the idea of having fun (not to mention to fact that you’re more likely to be invited to do fun stuff with other fun people). And, a Harvard study actually proved that nose-to-the-grindstone types had more difficulty finding creative solutions to a work problem than people who reported having fun the day before.

So what’s the most essential resolution for you in 2009 if you were laid off in 2008 (or if you think that you might see the dreaded pink slip in 2009)? I will build my happiness muscle and protect it at all costs.

Ugh. How can anyone expect to be happy in these times, especially when they’re out of work? Reasonable question. But by giving into the assumption that happiness is more easily had in an environment of employment stability and financial security, you’re depriving yourself of what could be your most valuable tool for resilience, possibility and success that will see you toward a brighter, more fulfilling future.

In case you find yourself giving over to the dark side, here are a few notes on happiness that might help you stay committed to the brighter side:

Happiness is free. Yeah, yeah, I know. Cliché. But you know how clichés become clichés? Because they’re true.

Happy people attract happy people. And, as I’ve said before, lots of happy people have jobs and they’re happy to share inside info on what openings there might be. Happy people are more likely to share just about everything they’ve got – even if it’s their last packet of ramen noodles – because they’re pretty sure that a very cool surprise, or lucky break, is on its way to them. Any day now.

Happy people notice those lucky breaks and then take advantage of them. A few years ago Richard Wiseman wrote the book The Luck Factor, in which he outlines four “essential principles” for being lucky. Principle Three is “Expect Good Fortune.” Just knowing that it’s on its way can’t help but lift your spirits. And when it finally comes, guess what. You’ll notice it. And it will make you happy.

Hiring managers don’t offer jobs to people who bum them out. I was a very lucky girl the day I happened to turn on Oprah and she had Randy Pausch as her main guest. (If you know The Secret, you probably also know The Last Lecture. I vote for The Last Lecture.) In their interview he said that we have a choice in life: We can be the mopey, grumpy Eyore. Or we can be Tigger, who revels in all things and finds joy everywhere. (A friend of mine has a sign on her fridge, featuring Tigger, with the words, “no bouncing before breakfast.” Makes me smile every time I think about it.)

The thing is, said Pausch, people love to hang out with Tiggers. And that includes employers. If you insist on being an Eyore and you find someone to hire you because he or she just so relates to your many melancholy moods, run as fast as you can in the other direction. Better yet, bounce.

Happy people have great stories to tell. Have you ever noticed how unhappy people tell bummer stories? I noticed that about myself a few years ago when I was indulging in a bummer litany during my daily emails with my oldest friend across the country. I was complaining about this and that, thinking that each anecdote was riveting. After all, Nora Ephron’s mother said that anything bad that happens to a writer is just material. I discovered that I was really boring myself with this brand of material. And I resolved to stop gathering that brand of material. So the minute I realize that a relationship or circumstance is about to give me material, I get out of that situation pronto. (Except for customer-service horror stories; my friend and I still love to trade those hurts-so-good tales from our cross-country lives. Actually we love to wallow in them, like long hot baths, until we get all pruny.)

The resolution to sustain a happy outlook comes bundled with a whole new set of stories that will be made available to you. Your radar is adjusted, and you start picking up signals that you might otherwise be missing. Examples, for instance, of kind people doing good things for each other. Or great deus ex machina stories of people landing amazing jobs that are perfect for them. And, back to the attraction thing, as you start telling those stories more and more, a happier breed of person will be joining your audience – while the sad sacks slink out of your life.

You’ll be setting a good example to all those who take their clues about life by watching you. If you have kids, you’re teaching them how to relate to uncertainty. Uncertainty is part of their destiny – that’s one of the few things I can tell you right now with any certainty. Handling uncertainty with confidence and optimism is a skill set that they’re going to need more than any generation before them. It’s up to you to show them how it’s done. Do you tell the dread stories of woe, horror and outrage? Or do you focus on what’s good, hopeful, positive and happy-making? To borrow from David Bowie: Let’s bounce.

If you have to wait a while for your next job or lucky break to catch up with you, you might as well have fun doing it. Punishing yourself isn’t going to shorten your sentence of languishing between jobs. You don’t earn your chance at good luck by beating yourself up or denying yourself the pleasures of each day. The days are really all we have, as Pausch, I’m sure would tell you…if he could. So love each one and love your life within those hours.

Happy New Year. By which I mean, happy New Year.