One of the biggest hurdles faced by folks in job search or career management is worrying about future unknowns. Not to be confused with strategic planning, this fruitless fretting—and in one of my client’s words, “freaking out” — can zap time, morale and energy without yielding any benefits. In fact, it’s a big-time stress producer—the type that can make you physically sick. You don’t need that when marketing yourself internally or externally.
Gina, a client and former CAD designer with a major manufacturer, told me an illustrative story. The talk of takeover had floated around for nearly a year. The rumors indicated that the product line Gina worked with would be discontinued; and any design facilities would be relocated out of state. Rather than start a search, Gina hung on, living in a state of steady, pit-of-the-stomach angst. The merger happened. She survived that round. The buzz continued around more to come.
This happened three times and in each instance (and in between), Gina lost sleep, wrung her hands and said “it’s just a matter of time.” When she lost her position a year later, she handled it well! She and her husband tightened their financial belts; she spruced up her resume, reached out to her network, and managed a very effective job search campaign, landing a new job within a few months. Gina told me that what surprised her was this: “I let myself get nearly ill worrying about what might happen, waiting for a tornado that amounted to a bit of rain. Getting fired taught me that I cope with reality far better than I coped with my own horrible imaginings.”
So as your advocate, I’m asking you to adopt this mantra. “Stay in the now!” Even better, “Enjoy the now!” Here are three tips to do it!
1. It’s rarely as bad as it seems.
People frequently underestimate their ability to cope with setbacks and letdowns. One study asked people to estimate how badly they would feel if what they were worrying about would happen; then asked the same folks how they felt when it did occur. The vast majority coped much better with the reality than the projections.
I often use a similar approach with my clients who are genuinely suffering with anxiety over what might be. Cory was finishing his Master’s degree. Messy, unpredictable life handed Cory some unexpected family and work commitments. He handled them, but told me he was up at night worrying about a big exam. Well, he didn’t pass it. When I asked him how he felt about that and what his next steps were, he replied, “I was relieved to know. “ He then talked to the professor, who understood that Cory had a full plate, wanted to do well on the exam and was willing to do extra. So, they worked out an arrangement where he could retake the exam and assist with some other projects. “I feel so much better,” Cory told me.
2. Fear is not your friend.
As Gina and Cory discovered, uncertainty can actually feel worse than the bad outcome you’re afraid of. There are studies that show people whose jobs are persistently shaky report much higher rates of depression and poorer health than those who actually lost their jobs. People seem to link uncertainty with a negative outcome, even when that’s not warranted.
I often ask my clients, “What’s the worst that can happen?” We talk about FEAR as a burdensome mindset of False Expectations Appearing Real. It’s important to remember that by definition, uncertainty means you don’t how something will turn out, which means that a happy situation is just as likely as an unhappy one. One survey showed that respondents were actually wrong 85 percent of the time when they anticipated that some unsettled issue in their lives would not turn out well. Wow! That’s a lot of mind-and-body-attacking worry for nothing!
Yes, sometimes what we fear comes to pass. And sometimes it’s the kick we needed! The door opened we never even knew was there! When Gina was pushed out of the nest and able to focus on exploration, research and targeted marketing to land a great opportunity, she made an overhaul and moved from CAD designer in manufacturing to a creative director within a non-profit setting. She loves it! The concept never even crossed her mind when so much brain space was dominated by fear of vague doom. And she now tells me that “I’ve no guarantees I’ll be at this job six months from now. But my resume’s ready, I keep my network alive and I’m savoring what I’m doing now.”
Gina has reaped the benefit of not giving into fear. She’s turned her thinking from “What if bad things happen to me?” to “Who knows what adventure’s around the corner!” and “Life is interesting!”
3. Take action and use distraction.
It’s lack of control that’s typically at the root of uncertainty, fear and worry. When you push that resume into cyberspace and wait to hear from an anonymous entity. When you’re nearly sick with worry over not knowing what to expect in an upcoming interview. Research has shown that people are more contented – and even live longer – when they believe they have some control over their own situations. So, if you’re worried about being laid off, have an honest, non-confrontational conversation with your supervisor. If you’re scared of that interview, prepare . Journal or devise an action plan around whatever issue is bothering you. Doing something concrete to deal with worry can give you a greater sense of power and control. There are lots of things you can’t control. Your action and attitude are not on the list.
Sometimes one of those things beyond your control is the waiting game. That next reorganization. The hiring authority’s selection. Acceptance into the graduate school of your choice. Using mindful techniques of distraction can keep you in the moment in a positive way. Instead of checking your phone messages a gazillion times, read a book, go to the movies, listen to music, cook a favorite dish. There’s a favorite pastime for everyone. And although it’s a song sung over and over – because clichés are born of truth— exercise is your friend. There are many options for distraction. The idea is to seek out an activity so captivating that you float out of time consciousness. To feel more comfortable despite the fact that you don’t have all the answers. To keep your balance.
Folks cope much better with roadblocks and letdowns than they think they will. Real life is actually pretty doable for most people. It’s uncertainty that’s the downer. Enjoying the “the now” is powerful. My Mom used to always say, “That’s why they call it the present.”
Photo: return the sun