In yesterday’s post, I talked about the need to face reality and to do something. Today I want to focus on an unusual reason for getting out of the house and doing things: changing your affect. In my opinion, the most important action is to gain some form of paid employment, especially for those enduring unemployment over fifty. This can seem like a tough choice if it means giving up your benefits check but, remember, you can earn up to a certain amount every week without losing those benefits.
Many years ago, a friend came into some money and decided she wanted to travel the world for a year. Her husband, a vice president at a large publishing company, resigned his job and they set off on a wonderful 12 months of exploration and adventure.
When they returned, this man, whom I will call Mitty, set about looking for a new job. He was shocked to discover that their year of living adventurously had put a big red flag on his resume. He was deemed unreliable by companies that one-after-one declined to hire him. Mitty, shocked and hurt, went on the well-known emotional roller-coaster ride of unemployment. Finally, after nearly a year, he took a job selling ties at an upscale men’s clothing retailer.
Two things happened that he didn’t expect:
First, he felt better about himself. Having a job meant that someone wanted him and was willing to pay for his labors. The fact that the retail job was far below his previous position really didn’t matter. Mitty was happy to get up and go to work every day—and happy to have a place to go to. It changed what is called his affect, or external expression of emotion. He began to smile and be more outgoing. He stood up straighter and looked people in the eye. In short, he project an affect that was more like his confident, professional self than the hang-dog person he had become.
Second, Mitty got a job offer for a position similar to the VP job he had once held. Within a few months, his new attitude helped him to interview better, project a positive attitude and land the job.
I had this story in mind when I lost my job of six years after the dotcom bubble burst. I was out of work for nearly two years at a time when the technology job market was moribund and unemployment benefits did not last as long as they do now. When they expired, I took Mitty’s example and began looking around at whatever would provide income and reduce the draw on savings.
A Different Perspective
I took a part-time job at a local garden center where I did whatever needed doing. This mostly involved planting “plugs,” or sprouted seedlings, into flats of six or eight annuals that would go on sale in the spring. I listened to audio books as I did the mindless work and enjoyed my day. I also hauled pots of plants off delivery trucks, priced plants, swept floors, and raked the sale yard—all for $9 an hour. I combined that with another part-time job opening a Curves franchise at 6:00 a.m.
I also registered at several temp agencies and began a series of jobs, some short and some long, that took me into different companies, retail stores, and a major university. This was an ego challenge for me because organizations don’t hire temp workers to think; they hire them to do what they’re told. Sometimes it was possible to suggest ways to improve a process or program. Most of the time, I kept quiet and just did the job. And I went from one job to another, keeping busy every day and collecting multiple small paychecks at the end of the week. It formed what my friend Phil calls a patchwork quilt of employment. None of the jobs was big or challenging but the paychecks added up—at from $10 to $17 an hour.
Funny Things Happened
Several funny things happened. I started to enjoy the variety and look forward to a new company with a new challenge. I learned how different organizations and different departments function. I met a lot of people, most of them pleasant, personable, and helpful. I received several job offers for administrative jobs, because most temp work is administrative in some way. These I turned down with a smile and a note of appreciation. My days filled up, my network of contacts expanded, my experiences multiplied, and my bank account got regular infusions. By the time I landed a full-time job, I was almost sorry to stop temping because I was having so much fun.
Oh, and one more thing. I got to know and impress a VP in my industry who later hired me at another company.
I urge unemployed folk over fifty to think beyond their job title, function, department, industry, or experience. You may have been a software developer, sales representative, financial expert, paralegal, purchasing agent, or marketing manager. But you’re also a person with skills and abilities that can be put to good use in other ways, other places.
In the movie World War Z, Brad Pitt’s character urges a family to flee their apartment ahead of the zombie epidemic sweeping their way. His experience in war zones has taught him one important fact: movement is life. I learned this lesson years ago, fortunately in less perilous circumstances.
Get creative. Look around. Think outside your background and you may find points of light you weren’t expecting to see. Above all, stay positive and keep moving.