Why don’t you have a job?
It’s easy to get in a rut when you’re out of work. You’re low on cash, out of your routine and quickly losing self-esteem. But with a job market that’s running on all cylinders, there’s a chance you won’t be out of work for long. “It’s difficult to maintain confidence over the long haul, that’s for sure,” says Robert Buckley, a 42-year-old software sales representative who spent four months out of work last fall. “Four months may not seem that long but I was questioning myself every day. I started falling back on some bad habits and realized that I really needed to take care of them or I was going to have problems.”
Buckley, who lives in Bloomington, Ill., says his own bad habits included staying up late and sleeping in the next day, increased fast-food meals and avoidance of any physical activity. “The company I worked for had a great health club in the basement of the building. We had free membership so I worked out at least four days a week. It was second nature,” Buckley says. “Once I was home and I lost that membership, I didn’t do much of anything. I put on a few pounds but worse than that, I felt like an absolute sloth.”
Mind and body
Natalie Costa, 25, had a similar experience but says her bad habits came in the form of TV and movies. “Netflix might as well be designed for people who are out of work. You can binge-watch a series a day if you want. I got into a really bad habit of wanting to check out every show I had ever heard of or read about so I was watching television for 15 hours a day, seven days a week,” says the Chicago resident. “My roommates told me I was I was practically in a coma, just sitting there on the couch when they left for work, when they came home from work and when they went to bed.”
Costa, who recently started working for a friend’s marketing company, says she left a job in the insurance industry and was paralyzed by not knowing what she wanted to do next. “I had two ways of looking for jobs: I sent resumes to everyone to see what stuck or I would do nothing. It would sort of alternate from week to week,” she says. “By the time I was finally serious about going back to work, a friend suggested that I could help her with some basic accounting, which has turned into more of an account manager role, so I’m very happy.”
But during the seven months she wasn’t working, Costa says she put on 12 pounds, ran up $6,000 in credit-card debt and felt “my brain turning to mush.”
Melanie Nelson, a career coach in Indianapolis, says it’s easy to let a bad situation get worse, especially when you’re lacking a network of friends or colleagues who would lend their support. “It’s difficult to go through anything alone but a job search can be especially hard,” says Nelson, a former HR specialist for General Motors. “you lose confidence by the day and every potential job that doesn’t pan out seems like a direct insult. You’re especially vulnerable and if you don’t have someone who can help keep you focused and offer some structure and support, you’re going to have an especially difficult time.”
Nelson says it’s important to keep a clear head and to seek out assistance. “There are so many resources available to people who are dealing with anxiety or depression or a general feeling of malaise,” she says. “The first thing you have to do is realize that you’re in over your head. If you are waking up in the middle of the night completely stressed out or having panic attacks, it’s essential that you seek some assistance.”
Buckley says he turned to outside help during the time he was unemployed, thanks to his sister, who recommended a psychologist she had worked with in the past. “My first visit was transformational,” Buckley says. “You hear yourself saying the things you’ve been thinking but not really acknowledging. It was really helpful.”
So helpful, in fact, that after four weeks of meeting with his doctor, Buckley noticed not only a change in his attitude, but also his demeanor. “Being laid off and out of work put me in a funk,” Buckley says. “If you’re lacking confidence, it shows. When I went on interviews, I felt like I was offering them the second or third best version of myself, so of course, no job offers. But when I was able to get my confidence back, that’s when I started killing it again during interviews. That’s when I knew I’d be back at work soon.”
Buckley also started riding the stationary bike in his basement and eating better. “It’s important to maintain your health, both physically and mentally,” he says. “When I did that, everything started to come together.”
With unemployment number slow, it can be frustrating when you haven’t landed a job and friends keep asking why. Maybe it’s time to expand your search and try new opportunites — which may lead to a better career.