Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Stretch Your Resiliency Muscle

I think when this whole economic meltdown started more than a year ago, I -- like many people -- didn't know how bad it was going to get. Since then, I've seen really good people lose their jobs. I've interviewed dozens of people who have been looking and looking for work. Some have gotten jobs, only to lose them months later. I talk to parents who have tapped into their children's college funds just to make the mortgage.

Job seekers and even those who are employed tell me that some days, it's tough to get out of bed. Some react to the current situation with a steadfastness I find inspirational. A few have me concerned -- I haven't heard from them since they told me they were very depressed.

What, I wondered, makes some people better able to deal with life's adversities than others? Is there a resiliency muscle that can be exercised and made stronger? It's an issue I explored for my latest Gannett/USAToday column:

"The elevator to success is broken. You'll have to take the stairs."— Joe Girard

Being without a job is tough. Looking for a job is hard. Putting in 60-hour weeks at a job that doesn't offer any extra compensation is the pits.

But we're all doing it. We're looking for work despite the dismal job market. We're putting up with too much work even though we'd like to toss it all out the nearest window and head toBali.

However, there is a difference in how we're doing it. While some people have been hunting for a job for more than a year and still keep an optimistic outlook, others are so demoralized after a few weeks that they seem paralyzed by indecision — or so angered they can't do anything but fume.

What makes some people more capable of dealing with life's bumps? What makes them more resilient? The dictionary defines resilience as "the ability to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune," and Davia Temin says she believes some people are just born with more of it than others.

Temin, a reputation and crisis management expert in the New York City area, says she also believes that those who go through more early in life are better prepared to deal with them throughout their lifetimes.

That's a belief recently borne out in a study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine. Published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study of nearly 2,400 participants found those with a history of some lifetime difficulties demonstrated less distress and a greater satisfaction with their lives.

Not only did they have fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms, but they also were able to handle recent difficult events better than other participants.

But it's clear that whether you're born with it — or learn it — coming up with enough resilience to deal with a recession, housing downturn and job loss is a challenge. The past couple of years have taken a toll on people's confidence, on their ability to get a second wind and confront new challenges and stresses. For some, they've never had to deal with the likes of what is being experienced now and can't even begin to grasp the struggles they confront.

The study on adversity found that those experiencing less than a handful of adverse events coped the best, but those who had cruised through life with nary a bump in the road had a more difficult time dealing with adversity. Also, researchers say being battered by many difficulties could overwhelm a person, causing feelings of hopelessness.

"As people get battered, they lose what I call their sense of 'agency' — their sense that they have some power in the world. They lose their self-respect and their confidence," Temin says.

Peter McDonnell, 61, of North Barrington, Ill., lost his job about two weeks ago. It was his third layoff in the past two years.

"Right now, I'm depressed. But I wouldn't say I'm upset because I've gone through this too many times," he says. "I know what I have to do. I have two little kids to support. If I need to go to the corner grocery store and get a job, I'll do that."

McDonnell says he believes he's gotten through his layoffs — one was from a job he'd had for more than 20 years — because he has a "strong makeup."

He says that encouragement from his parents when he was young that he could "do anything" has stayed with him, and other difficulties in his life have put job searching in perspective.

"Going through a divorce is a helluva lot harder than this," he says.

If you're looking to be more resilient in your life, some strategies may help, including these:

Helping someone else. "If you start to do something for someone else, then it gives you back that feeling of power," Temin says. "We all have something where we can add value."

Setting goals. McDonnell says he has learned it's key to set goals for yourself every day during a job search. "Set little goals, intermediate goals and long-term goals," he says. "You've got to have some purpose to your day."

Connecting with others. Not only will networking help your job search, but keeping in touch with family and friends is critical to staying positive and focused.

Envisioning success. Keep your eye on the goal and even if an obstacle comes along, remind yourself what the payoff will be once you get past it.

Finding inspiration. Read stories of others who have overcome challenges. Attend events that help you foster a sense of community and well-being. Ask others to share their stories of how they overcame difficult times.

Remembering that you're a work in progress. You aren't defined by your unemployment or your current job. Think about the impact you want your life to have, and focus on how you can achieve those goals.


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