Saturday, November 14, 2009

Anger Won't Get You Anywhere

A few weeks ago, Duncan and I published an article called “How to Network Without Sounding Phony, Lame or Desperate” on the AOL/Careerbuilder site. At last count, there were 73 responses, most of them angry, resentful, hopeless and raging. One commentator simply wrote, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” How’s that for effectively moving the conversation forward in a helpful way?

As I read the responses, I got lower and lower in my own spirits. And then I thought, “It’s bad enough to be out of work, and hunting in this terrible market. But how much worse is it to be hauling around so much anger. These people are wrecking their own chances, just by their attitudes.” No, I’m not suggesting you behave like Shirley Temple and tap dance your way through adversity, as she had tap danced her way through the Depression. (Although, many of those songs she sang – “Be Optimistic” is going through my head right now – did have a point. Only now we call it positive psychology.)

Shirley Temple singing \”Be Optimistic\”

I wouldn’t in a million years suggest that you deny your very real feelings, and stuff them down only to have them pop up later like a beach ball submerged in a swimming pool. But I would like to suggest that you take a look at those feelings, recognize what damage they might be doing to your prospects, and decide which ones you really want to hold on to. And then which ones you might want to replace with a more productive attitude.

Anger is wrecking your chances for getting out of these economic times with an intact career (however interrupted it might be). Researchers have discovered that negative thinking actually inhibits your ability to come up with creative approaches for your situation. When you approach your life and world through a negative frame of mind, you inhibit what is known as your temporary thought-action repertoire. This is actually an evolutionary phenomenon…a positive attitude helped us survive in the wilderness by coming up with creative solutions to that tiger making a bee-line for us. Conversely, a negative attitude would freeze us in his sites, with a big deadly “duh” overwhelming our brains. And soon we would become tiger mortadella.

Anger only attracts other angry people. When you’re in a good mood, it’s not long before you want to move away from someone who is doing nothing but complaining. You know that. So do you really want to hang out with other people who have nothing to add to the conversation beyond agreeing with you that it’s hopeless out there? I’m thinking you’d probably want to spend at least some time with people who have an upbeat outlook on life. Well, what do you need to do to change yourself so they’d want to hang out with you?

Anger keeps you from seeing things the way they are now and changing your strategies accordingly. A lot of people are angry because it’s not as easy finding a job as it was three years ago. Okay. So? The New Age crowd has an expression that absolutely drives me up the wall. And that is: It is what it is. As much as I hate that expression, it fits here.

We can rage that the present isn’t what the past used to be. But where is all that expenditure of energy getting us? If we’re so busy mourning the fact that the old opportunities have gone away, we’re not using this precious time to discover what the new opportunities are. Okay, so the old methods of job search are as extinct as our negative-mindset ancestor staring down the charging tiger. What would be more productive from this point forward? Focusing on what’s past? Or identifying what the new skills and techniques are today that will land us the jobs we’re looking for?

No one’s going to want to hire you if you’re angry. You may have been a rock star in your profession last year. You may look flawless. But if you have given yourself over to anger and frustration, that smell is going to seep through your pores just as unmistakably as if you had just been on a bender. Your interviewers won’t be able to get you out of their offices fast enough.

Do I really have the nerve to tell you not to be angry? Not on your life. But what I would like to suggest is this: Don’t let your anger keep you from achieving your dreams and meeting your potential. Feel that anger if you want to. Wallow in it every day if it makes you feel better. But assign yourself a budget of time in which you can go there, break things (only cheap, replaceable things that belong only to you), holler so loud the neighbors can hear you, if you have to (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Set a timer, if you must.

And when that timer dings, show’s over. Settle back down to the business of building the life that will make you happy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What to Do When You're Flat Out of Friends

(This post is based on some of the principles included in my new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough which I wrote with San Diego-based executive coach, Duncan Mathison. For a free sample chapter, visit the book's official site: )

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about networking a lot lately. Or at least it seems like it. Networking, networking, networking. Maybe it’s me but don’t you think that when you say it out loud enough, it begins to sound like earwax? Okay…it’s probably just me.

Networking doesn’t have much appeal, does it? It doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as going to your local Applebee’s with some friends for a beer and some wings. Now there’s a problem with even that Applebee’s scenario. Based on the emails I’ve been getting, a lot of you are feeling that you don’t have too many friends either. And the ones you do have are getting, like, really tired of hearing you talk about your struggles to land a job. And you’re getting really tired of talking about it too. In fact, you’d just wish they’d change the subject.

I don’t think my readers are social losers. (At least I hope not, but, then again, what are you doing reading this blog post when it’s such a pretty day outside?) When you’ve been out of work for any amount o time, it’s easy to feel that you have run aground in the contacts department – especially in recent years when we’ve all been so busy taking care of our jobs and our families. We’ve let outside friendships perhaps atrophy. Maybe all your friends were work-related. And now that you’re out of work, you’re also fresh out of buddies. Or you’ve moved to a new town where you really, really don’t know anyone.

Whatever the reason for your feelings of isolation, you know you have to mix it up a little bit, well, a lot. Get some fresh meat, I mean talent, into your tight circles of relationships. Get out of the house. So I thought I’d offer some tips in that direction.

Remember that one thing leads to another. The thing about circulating is that your first dip into big world probably won’t net you a job. It’s a cumulative kind of thing. So leave that desperate, graspy, over-eager feeling at home when you head out the door. Just be open to meeting who you meet. Maybe tonight you’re destined to actually help someone else. And you’ll come home feeling just a little better about yourself.

Look for opportunities where you can become a regular. And no, I don’t mean the Applebee’s bar. When your face starts becoming familiar, you will emerge from invisibility to someone who people will be glad to see. Maybe they’ll even shout out your name, like, “Norm!” (But don’t count on it.) If you try a business mixer or worship service or volunteer opportunity, and people completely ignore you, keep going. Week after week. Introduce yourself as often as you can. And just let the cumulative effects of time work their wonders.

Stay away from solitary pursuits, even if they’re out of the house. Going to a matinee movie doesn’t count as “getting out there.” Go to local economic development or chamber of commerce meetings, receptions, mixers. Your local bookstore probably offers booksignings, author lectures or special classes. A friend of mine who is a professional coach is part of a team who gives courses at Whole Foods! Go! The home improvement stores offer free courses. Go! The American Red Cross offers courses in first aid, cpr, etc. Go!

Make job-related networking events only a small percentage of your out-of-the-house activities. First of all, you’re so much more than unemployed. And you need to nurture those other parts of who you are. At the very least, this way you’ll lead with an opener that’s so much more interesting than, “Hi, gotta job?” But most importantly is that your self-definition has a chance to stay strong and defined beyond this immediate need of landing a gig. You will also stand a better chance of meeting people other than fellow job-seekers. You know…people who already have jobs? And who would be thrilled to help you get inside their companies or organizations.

Learn something. Go to local college courses – especially the ones at night, when employed people go to school. You don’t have to matriculate and take on the expense of a formal semester. Continuing ed courses can be inexpensive. The teachers are often professionals in the community (hint: employed people!). It’s probably best if you took a course that would help you be more qualified for the kind of job you’re looking for. But even taking a non-job related course will at least remind you that there’s more to life than your daily bread (although, it’s kind of hard to make that argument right now, I know).

Teach something. Surely you know something that will benefit others. How to read, for adult literacy programs, for instance. If you have a profession or skill that’s useful in the for-profit world, surely you can introduce at least the basics to young people. Convene a panel of other experts and put on a program! (You’ll be able to find a venue. A friend of mine hosted the annual meeting of his professional association – on the premises of the company that had just laid him off. Awkward.)

Volunteer. Those same skills you can teach you can donate. It will make you feel good about being who you are and what you can do. That boost in self-esteem will give you the added confidence that will send out the signal that you’re a valuable contributor to the world.

Call old friends – even if they haven’t heard from you in a long time. This is where Facebook comes in handy. The other day I heard from a dear friend for the first time in about 8 years. We’d been looking for each other off and on over recent years but, thanks to Facebook, she found me first! And we talked on the phone for a full three hours. A lot of it was catching up. But, she was also very candid about the fact that she needed some professional advice from me. Did I see this as a cheesy ulterior motive? Heck no! First off all, I owed her a gigantic favor from 10 years ago (I mean, huge). Secondly, I love her and I know she loves me. So whatever I have is hers. (Advice, I mean.)

Ask for introductions. Unless you’re a bitter whiner who needs to blow your nose and brush your teeth (and, uhm, a little roll-on?), the friends you have should be happy to give you introductions you need to move your job search forward. If they’re reluctant to help you, find out why. Wouldn’t you want to know the truth, especially if it was something you could fix? And, if they’re possessive with or protective of their contacts to the point where they’re keeping you from helping yourself, or making you feel judged, it’s best that you should know that now. You might have just discovered a brand new opening in your group of friends to fill.

They say that once you achieve a certain age, it gets harder and harder to make new friends. Everyone is set in their habits, patterns, commuting routine, relationships. Well, one of the upshots of these economic times is that everyone is thrown higgledy-piggledy into a big pile of confusion and some flavor of disconnectedness. Now is a fantastic time to build new circles of friends and business contacts.

And vow to take better care of them in the future. Like, don’t wait 8 years before picking up the phone.