Monday, December 28, 2009
If You Can't Be Choosy About Your Job, Be Choosy About Your Friends
I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday week. As for me, I’m spending much of it doing my all-time favorite thing. No, not eating – which does happen to come in at a close second. I’ve been reading. And I spent much of Christmas Day reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Nothing Was the Same. And crying my eyes out. The book is a memoir of the last few years she had with her brilliant husband, Richard Wyatt, as they came to grips with his terminal cancer. And how she – who suffers mightily and famously from bipolar disorder – would manage the stress of his illness and her inevitable widowhood.
Why I should pick this book for Christmas Day is beyond me. I have very little in common with Jamison (although I exuberantly loved her previous book, Exuberance, which, as it turns out, she was writing as he was dying). I’m not bipolar (at least I don’t think so); I’m not dying (at least I hope not); I’m not married (that much I know for absolute sure). And I’m not especially fond of bassett hounds (although their ears really are irresistible). But still the poetic precision of the way she writes about discerning the difference between grief and depression is a transcendent journey into another person’s heart and mind and experience of loss.
So I did a little bit (a lot) of crying on Christmas Day.
As I was closing the book this morning at 5 a.m., I came upon a line that is actually brilliant advice for all of us. Especially these days:
“Keep away the ungenerous and unkind.”
That one sentence – among so many stingingly beautiful lines -- hit me right between the eyes. And I want to pass it on to you.
As I’m writing these words, I’m painfully aware that Dr. Jamison, or her publicists, might be reading this post (Google Alerts is a wonderful thing; but there’s no more writing in obscurity). And they are appalled at how I could have the gall to turn her message and journey into a blog posting on taking care of yourself when you’re on the job hunt. So, first of all, my apologies to Dr. Jamison and all those who surround her with kind and generous love.
And now let’s get down to business. You may have noticed, in your own passage from one job to the next, that some of those people who would be called your friends, well, aren’t. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know when the next one will show up. You’re grieving. You’re trying to find your footing again in a world that has found many interesting ways of implying that there’s no place for you among the busy, productive, respected, and the paid.
Some people in your closest circles will give you all the room and time you need to writhe and howl with the frustration you’re feeling. Others will fling false upbeat advice at you like pasta against a wall. And then study their watch, tapping their feet, waiting for you to cheer up already. Still others will make you feel like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of disgrace and now you’re four inches tall – and they have suddenly soared in stature.
This is the time when your friends will divide themselves into two groups. The generous and the kind in one group. And then, on the other side of the classroom will be gathered all those who fall under the category of “un.”
What does kindness and generosity look like to someone who is struggling to land their next job?
Kind and generous friends
* Don’t judge.
* Don’t change their opinions of you and your journey because they have arbitrarily assumed that you should be fill in the blank by now.
* Return your phone calls.
* Will ask you what you want; not tell you what you need.
* Make it easy for you to tap into their network.
* Make introductions and then get out of the way.
* Talk about you in the context of what you have to offer, not what you’ve lost.
* Keep their promises.
* Remind you of your gifts, talents, value when you’re feeling especially unwanted.
* Help you see things in a slightly different way.
* Help you keep your standards high.
* Include you in social gatherings and projects that have nothing to do with job hunting.
* Don’t judge you for false steps, unseemly behavior, embarrassing moments that arise from the stress you’re under.
* Tell the truth.
* Keep their unsolicited opinions and “you shoulds” to themselves.
* Let you make your own decisions.
* Keep a watchful eye out for your wellbeing but won’t meddle in trivialities.
* Will swoop in if you’ve truly lost your way or bearings.
* Will respect you no matter what.
As for the others, keep them at a very, very safe distance. Preferably, as Jamison says, away. Later, when you’re strong and stable again, you can consider the value of their friendship – or even acquaintance -- and see whether you want to keep them in your life for whatever reason. I’m thinking that with the clarity that stability brings, you’ll come to some surprising conclusions about which friends to keep and which friends to cull.