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Take the “Un” out of Unemployment

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Take the “Un” out of Unemployment

Be a joyful job seeker!
Susan  Bernstein
Susan Bernstein More by this author
Jan 13, 2011 at 09:00 AM

I love meeting new people, even if it makes me a little nervous. But one set of words that I hear at mixers and networking events makes me really want to run for the hills. Last night, I attended a networking event in Berkeley, full of people who are on LinkedIn. The event was set up in speed-dating fashion so attendees could mix and mingle with one other person for five minutes and then move on. I noticed that three of the people I met immediately introduced themselves by saying something like this:

“Hi. I’m Jane Doe. And I’m unemployed.”

Come on, this isn’t an AA meeting. But those initial words left me feeling awkward and sorry for my fellow networkers. Somehow, I felt obligated to help out. The energy between us felt heavy. So finally I told one of these networkers, “Hey, you shouldn’t say you’re unemployed. Why not say you’re between jobs? Or tell people that you’re looking for a new job in whatever field you’d enjoy.” He got the point immediately. He smiled. He felt better about himself.

Saying “I’m unemployed” tells people what you’re not. And, in this case, it communicates “I’m not employed.” To me, saying “I’m unemployed” sounds a little bit like you don’t feel you fit in with the world. Look, my friends, your self-worth is not determined by your job.

I invite you to consider what really makes up your self-worth—like your caring heart or your ability to stand tall in the face of adversity. You are not a social misfit just because some company has decided not to bring you on board. Or some organization decided to let you go. A company is not your family. If you don’t “belong” to this organization, you’re still a living, breathing, talented human being.

You just haven’t found the place where you fit in yet. Well, okay, that’s fine, you may wonder, but what do you say when people ask, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” These seem to be the quintessential questions that Americans like to ask each other when they first meet. How can you reply?

I invite you, first of all, not to feel ashamed that you aren’t working. I know it can be daunting to manage your finances, and the anxiety of job hunting can get overwhelming. Instead, think about how you can connect. You’re meeting someone new. What do you want from the interaction? Do you want us to feel sorry for you, dear unemployed person? Or could you be a bit vulnerable and ask for help? You could say something like: “I’m between jobs. I just left a company that does X. And now, I’m looking to join a company that does Y. Hey, I wonder if you know any companies like that?” or … “I am a job seeker. (Hey, that’s a much cooler title than being the unemployed person, right?) I am committed to finding an employer who would value my talents in X, Y, and Z. I’d love your ideas about companies that might fit that bill.” See, now you’re engaging the other person.

You’re not trying to get them to find you the job. You’re inviting them to help out. That’s vulnerability. You’re not victimizing yourself by calling yourself “unemployed.” You’re actively pursuing new avenues for your job search.

Changing the language of “I’m unemployed” to one of the alternatives I’ve suggested is a way to shift your attitude and energy. Notice how these different words make you feel. Unemployed is not generally a pretty word. And you don’t have to use it as a label for yourself. You might fight me here and say, “But it’s true. I’m not employed.” And I’d tell you simply, “If you want to hang on to that energy, be my guest. But if you’d like to shift that energy sooner, rather than later, don’t wait for an employer to change the picture. Decide to lighten up on yourself and call yourself something else.” Follow this advice and I bet you’ll be employed any day now!

If you're unemployed, or know that you'll soon be losing your job, you don't have to lose hope. Click here to listen to a letter that I hope will help you regain your confidence and keep moving forward with ease. Remember . . . you matter!


About Author
Susan  Bernstein
Prior to founding Work from Within, Dr. Susan Bernstein spent fifteen years working in marketing, management consulting, and executive development roles for companies like Franklin-Covey, Accenture, and Intel.. Since 2001 she has helped thousands of Continue reading