Stay Engaged, Maintain Your Sanity, and Ensure Employability
It's not news that many people around the U.S. have been laid off and many more are concerned about job security. I was talking to my friend Scott Ingram about this situation the other day and Scott mentioned a great piece of advice that he gives to folks who have lost jobs: when you aren’t actively job searching use the time you used to spend working to volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to you. Keeping busy while meeting new people is a great way to keep your spirits up while also networking and showcasing some of your skills in a non-aggressive way.

I know someone who was fired from a job about 6 or 7 years ago. I don’t really know the circumstances of the job loss but I know it was emotional for this person whom I will refer to as “Z”. Z was/is single and had saved a lot of money so he was able to live for about 2 years off savings and by selling stock. He said he was looking for a job and I even redid his resume in such a way that it wasn’t obvious that he was unemployed. For some reason he was never able to find a job; I don’t know if he was even searching for a job but he says he was. He claimed to have even submitted applications at places like Loews and Home Depot but he still had no luck finding a job.

Over the past few years Z has become increasingly isolated, has given up things he used to enjoy (like going to movies), has gained a lot of weight, is probably an alcoholic, and has become bitter, angry, and is, frankly, no fun to be around. As far as I can tell he is no longer looking for a job and is just living off his father; of course he has no money of his own after being unemployed for so long. Z spends all his time alone with his dog. At age 36 it seems like a ridiculous (and preventable) situation for Z to find himself in.

I am relating this story because I think that what happened to Z could happen to almost anyone who lets him or herself get depressed about a job loss (or any traumatic incident). Z’s depression has happened in increments. When he left his job he was sad but he was excited about taking a little time off from what had been a tiring and demanding job. But he spent too much time alone, was not engaged in his community, did not have a group of friends to turn to for support, did not have any particular hobbies or interests, and he stopped taking care of himself.

Eventually, like a snowball rolling down a hill, circumstances and behaviors have culminated in Z becoming an isolated, angry individual who’s technical and social skills have atrophied to the point that he is probably unemployable.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take Scott’s advice and, if you are laid off, get out of the house and volunteer at any nonprofit you can find. Soup kitchens, churches, food banks, meals-on-wheels, animal rescue, or women’s shelters – pick the worthy cause of your choice. Extroverts will find this easier and more fun than many introverts will but whether you are a "people person" or not you have to force yourself to get yourself engaged with other people when you are unemployed. If you don't you could easily slide into a depression which will make it impossible for you to find a job.

Don’t be embarrassed that you lost a job – it happens to everyone at some point. Spend some time each day engaged in a job search and networking but also try to step away from your worries for a little while and offer help to others. You will distract yourself from your situation and you will also find that whatever your troubles there is someone else in the world worse off than you are. You will be able to practice acts of kindness while meeting other people who may wind up becoming friends or who might know of job leads for you.

Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and wallow in self pity. When times are tough you need a support group of some sort to help you keep your sanity. Volunteering is a great way to build a network and support system while helping others.