From Hopelessness to Motivation to Success

On Monday I will be giving a presentation to Forty Plus of Greater Washington. Forty Plus is a national non-profit organization with dozens of local chapters, founded in 1939 to assist older men (it was male-only at the time) in finding jobs at the end of the job-scarce Depression. I am summarizing the presentation here. While it is being delivered to an audience of people older than 40, all of the suggestions are applicable to younger job seekers.

For workers in general, but particularly older workers, one of the greatest obstacle to successfully landing a job is Hopelessness. Especially after months of unsuccessful efforts, it is easy to fall prey to hopelessness, which is perhaps THE primary cause of depression. Many of the symptoms of depression help to insure a continued lack of success in the job hunt. Specifically, depression manifests itself in loss of energy, impaired concentration, sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, and loss of interest in almost all activities.

Hopelessness is an interpretation of a situation, not an accurate description. My old friend Dinah Shore once said: “There are no hopeless situations, only people who are hopeless about them.” Yes, it is true that the longer you are out of work the harder it is to find a job. But I suspect that has as much to do about the attitude of the job-seeker as it does the “reality” of the situation. From a cognitive standpoint, how you conceptualize your situation is exceptionally important. Someone who’s been out of work a year and attributes it to personal failings is far more likely to be depressed than the person who says to themselves “if the train didn’t stop at my station it must not be my train.”

To Overcome Hopelessness

To overcome hopelessness you need to take action, which requires a degree of motivation, motivation that is lacking when you’re feeling hopeless. Here are some ways to get the motivation engine to start running:

  1. At a moment when you’re feeling relatively OK, take an inventory of what lifts your mood (if you’re down-in-the-dumps you’ll probably come up with next to nothing). Exercise has a proven physiological impact, as does meditation, but you may not be able to motivate yourself sufficiently to undertake these. But what about turning on a song that you love? Watching a movie that makes you feel good (preferably a comedy). Or, more actively, taking a walk in Rock Creek Park or going to the zoo?
  2. Create a routine of a few things to do to start your day. Cook breakfast. Take a walk. Phone a friend. DOING gets the ball rolling. I would definitely recommend including some form of inspirational reading each day, whether that be Wayne Dyer, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Authentic Happiness or the Bible. Whatever texts lift your spirit, be sure to turn to them regularly. Just like going to the gym, repeated activity is needed to see results.
  3. “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” or “Act As If,” meaning. Do one thing that you don’t feel like doing but that you know you would if you were firing on all cylinders. Start behaving as if you had motivation and you will find it easier to get motivated
  4. Post inspirational thoughts where you are sure to see them: on the refrigerator,on the inside of the back door, on your bathroom mirror. These thoughts don’t need to be earth-shatteringly positive; one of my favorites is “Lots Can Happen,” a reminder that we’re not very good predictors of the future, and that unexpectedly positive things can occur. Make sure that the thought feels true to you; otherwise you’re just doing a cover-up.
  5. Read stories about people who’ve succeeded despite setbacks. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Einstein failed his college entrance exam. Abraham Lincoln lost his job, failed in business, and had a nervous breakdown. Perhaps more directly related to searching for jobs, I Googled “Out of work for three years and found a job,” and found not only some inspiring stories but some valuable advice.
  6. TURN OFF THE TV! STOP SURFING THE WEB! DON’T KEEP CHECKING YOUR E-MAILS! These are all activities that have an anesthetic, almost addictive quality to them, which in the short run make you feel better but definitely impair productivity.

Increase the Odds of Success

Now that you’ve managed to create a bit of motivation, what are some actions you can take to increase the odds of success in your job search? Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. RE-EXAMINE YOUR “MARKETING MATERIALS” – Is your resume focused on what you can bring to the table or the responsibilities you’ve had? Are you tailoring your cover letters and your resume to the specific jobs to which you’re applying? Do you have an elevator speech? Does it at least hint at some employer benefit that you bring? Are you actively networking, and do you have a networking pitch that’s leading to increased connection, or to dead ends? Get feedback on the elements of your self-marketing program from a partner or a team (more in that in a second).
  2. CONSIDER STARTING A WEBSITE WITH A BLOG – An attractive, engaging, and professional website can serve as a “home base” for anyone looking for information about you. And a blog which you commit to posting periodically (and which can also be posted on sites such as Blogspot) gives you an opportunity to demonstrate initiative and expertise while stimulating creative thinking.
  3. VOLUNTEER – Volunteering has many positive benefits. It adds a sense of purpose to your life. It increases your self-esteem. It can help fill the gap in your resume. And it can help you expand your network of contacts (your co-volunteer just might be married to the head of a firm looking to hire, or has a friend who works in HR at a successful non-profit).
  4. SIGN UP FOR SOME “TRAINING” – Whether it’s learning how to use Excel, speak Spanish, or becoming more adept at the use of social media, training will provide you with a sense of accomplishment in addition to the obvious benefit of improving your skills and therefore marketability.
  5. GET FITTER – Initiating a healthy regimen of diet and exercise will give your mind something to feel god about, and of course your body will wind up feeling better, too.
  6. WORK WITH A PARTNER OR GROUP – Getting support, encouragement, and feedback really helps you “improve your game,” particularly if you’re meeting with a professional or if you’re part of a group dedicated to helping you find the right job for you. And that’s what I love about Forty Plus!