Building Resilience Between Jobs

Here are two methods to improve your habits and your outlook when you need it most — when you’re searching for a job.


It’s not so bad being out of work – not at first, anyway. You get to sleep a little later, see the kids off the school, play with the dog a bit, relax and recharge. How nice just to be able to breathe again!

But as the days turn into weeks … and months, it’s not unusual for the inherent stress and strain of a job search to start wearing you down – mentally, physically and emotionally. And, for many, that emotional component is the most debilitating, according to a December New York Times/CBS News poll of the unemployed:

“Nearly half of the adults surveyed admitted to feeling embarrassed or ashamed most of the time or sometimes as a result of being out of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the traditional image of men as breadwinners, men were significantly more likely than women to report feeling ashamed most of the time.”

In other words, whether you want to admit it or not, it’s as likely as a coin flip that you’re feeling increasingly vulnerable from being out of work.

There’s no shame in this. It simply is what it is. But if you are feeling embarrassed, you likely know what John Bradshaw, author of in “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” meant when he wrote: “Shame has a way of magnifying when we keep it to ourselves.” So if you haven’t yet, make a point of sharing your feelings with a loved one or someone you deeply trust. Doing so can be surprisingly cathartic and personally validating.

So what else can a executive-level job seeker do to increase the odds of NOT feeling embarrassed or ashamed while out of work? What steps can you take to re-energize your job search, confidence and dignity?

Bradshaw writes, “Our feelings are who we are at any given moment.” Therefore, it’s essential that we manage them actively. One way to do that is by attending to each of what Bradshaw calls our six Basic Dependencies:

  1. Self-Value Needs – Mattering, being taken seriously, being wanted for oneself and having a strong sense of self
  2. Stimulation – Experiencing pleasure, fun, excitement, challenge and play
  3. Sociality – Mirroring, being echoed and having/being in healthy relationships with others
  4. Structure – Having direction, boundaries, limits and predictability
  5. Security – Having proper food, clothing, protection and medical care
  6. Stroking – Being recognized, given attention, hugged, encouraged and praised

Try this: Every morning, rate the level of “neediness” you feel in each of the six categories. Then identify a specific action you could take to help improve one of your weaker ratings. Make a point of doing precisely that sometime during the day. Attend to all six of your Basic Dependencies over the course of the week.

Harry V. Roberts and Bernard F. Sergesketter offer another interesting approach in their book, “Quality is Personal.” Their Personal Quality Checklist is an easy-to-use structure for eliminating unwanted behaviors, like procrastination, negative thinking or whatever impedes you from being at your best.

  • Step 1 – Make a list of five or six behaviors/attitudes/feelings you’d like to extinguish. (I wrote mine on an index card so I could carry it with me at all times. Using your BlackBerry or iPhone would work equally well.)
  • Step 2 – Throughout a given day, keep a tally of how many times you catch yourself doing what you’re trying to stop.
  • Step 3 – At the end of each day, total your tallies and strategize about your game plan and tally targets for tomorrow.
  • Step 4 – Repeat Steps 2-3, replacing items on your list as you extinguish them.

“One of the keys to success and fulfillment in both our personal and professional lives,” write Roberts and Sergesketter, “is a heightened sense of awareness. The power of the simple stroke tally to heighten awareness is extraordinary. Habits quickly change for the better.”

I have personally found the Personal Quality Checklist to be a very effective process. Two notes, though, based on my own experience:

  1. Don’t freak out! The number of tallies you mark during the first few days can be … staggering! This is perfectly natural and the higher the count, the better. That’s because high initial tallies set the stage for dramatic tally reductions as you increase your focus on better managing your targeted behaviors/attitudes/feelings.
  2. Flip it over! While the front of my index card (Side One) tracked what I wanted to extinguish, I used the back of the card (Side Two) to track the behaviors/attitudes/feelings that I wanted to specifically nurture by doing so. Side Two provided a nice balance between more and less. But it also offered some excellent suggestions for what activities could replace the extinguished Side One activities, which turned out to be a very nice surprise.

The ultimate antidote for feeling embarrassed or ashamed while out of work – and the instruction for re-energizing your job search, confidence and dignity – is this: As you become increasingly conscious and purposeful about what you choose to do (and what you choose not to do) you’ll start connecting back to that energy and resilience you felt when at the TOP of your game.

I invite you to embrace that person inside you – the person you can be, the person you want to be – the person you truly are.