What Works When You're Not Working?

Being out of work is a tough time. And it calls for us to be even tougher.


It seems that every day we hear about more struggling businesses, more workers being laid off and more people looking for work.  It’s a tough time.  And it calls for us to be even tougher.

Losing your job is about more than having to find somewhere different to spend most of your time each day.  Our work forms part of our identity and we create beliefs about ourselves around it.  It also gives us status in our family and community, and allows us to have the lifestyle we enjoy.  When we lose our jobs, we can also lose some of these other aspects of our lives.  

The first time I lost a job, I was shocked.  How could this possibly happen to me?  What would I do with myself all day now?  And how will I pay my bills? Then I became depressed.  I reacquainted myself (far too well) with the ice-cream in my freezer, watched way too much television and sometimes forgot to change out of my pyjamas until after lunchtime.  My brain turned to mush, every new rejection letter fuelled my frustration and I didn’t want to leave the house.  The negativity I felt and fed myself during my unemployed days tarnished my relationships and belief in myself and hung around long after I found another (better) job.

So first we need time to grieve.  We need to acknowledge all that has been lost, and what those things meant to us.  You might be thinking this doesn’t seem important, will be too unpleasant or that you should just forget about the bad stuff and ‘get on with it’.  Trouble is, the bad stuff usually finds you again and creates annoying problems later.  Recognise what you’ve lost, be clear about where you’re at now and give yourself you best chance of creating your new reality.

Here are some tips to help you do that well:

1.    Just imagine…

Sometimes the shock of losing your job can send you into a panic.  All the ‘what ifs’ go round and round in your mind and you work yourself into a frenzy imagining what a disaster your life will become now.  But those imaginings are only one possible outcome.  There are many other possibilities, such as finding an even better job, meeting great new co-workers or finding a whole new career path.  Try imagining some of those – they are all possible, depending on your choices and mindset. 

2.    Use all the time you have

Be realistic about how much time it may take for you to find your next job.  You’ll have to live with uncertainty for a while.  But rather than getting frustrated that nothing’s happening quickly, take advantage of the opportunities this hands you.  Take your kids to soccer practice, learn how to use some new computer software or get fitter than you’ve ever been.  Do the things you wished you had time for while you were working.

3.    Application Overload

Understand that most people don’t find a new job after writing one or two applications.  You might have to apply for a mountain of jobs, sit through lots of interviews and receive loads of “thanks but no thanks” letters first.  Be ready for this.  Know that it’s normal and part of the process.  It doesn’t reflect your capability or character.  Use every rejection as a chance to review.  Get feedback about your written application and interview presentation.  Decide you’ll do it better next time.  Then let it go.

4.    Safeguard your self-esteem

All those rejections, and lots of spare time to hang around in your own head, can really get to you if you let it.  Be aware of your self-talk.  Stop any negativity immediately.  Research proves that the path to improving your mood and boost your confidence is to:

·         Remind yourself what you’re grateful for.  Make a list of everything you already have in your life.  Review it daily.

·         Make decisions.   Maintain control of your mind and actions by making regular deliberate choices.  They don’t need to be life-changing – just clearly decide what you’ll have for lunch, how you’ll use your time this afternoon and what colour to repaint your bedroom.

·         Stay healthy.  Exercise regularly, sleep enough and be aware of what you’re eating.  Feeling sluggish will make everything else harder.

·         Stay connected.  If you’re feeling low, your first instinct may be to withdraw from others and stay home by yourself.  While this might help at first, your health, mood and chances of finding a job get better when you spend time with friends and in the community.  Make an effort to socialise.  You could even join a new club or do some volunteer work.

·         Maintain a routine.  Get up with the rest of the family and have breakfast together.  Get dressed and have a plan of action every day.  Gardening, getting groceries and taking out the rubbish are all good.  You’re staying productive, not becoming a couch potato and contributing to your household.

5.    Think outside the square.

People find jobs in lots of different ways – online jobsites, people they know or doing trials or volunteer work.  Some people use the chance to try something different and change careers, move to a new town, return to study or start their own business.  What else could you try?

Losing your job means so much more than not driving to the same workplace every day.  It creates many other losses and can affect how we think about ourselves, our health and the future we create for ourselves.  But while being without paid work can be very challenging, it also offers opportunities.  If you decide to use this time wisely, you could pick up some new skills, re-connect with your family, get healthy and strengthen your resilience to deal with whatever comes next.

And get another job too!