Saturday, March 7, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons....

An abbreviated version of this post appeared in the Charlotte Observer this past week. Click here to read it and the comments people left. I'm posting it on my blog because I want all of my posts recorded in one place for posterity.

I was happy to see that most of the comments regarding my story were positive. I am no Pollyanna, but I do believe that everybody has the ability to take a bad situation and transform it into strength and power, it's all about having the right attitude. So this is what I sent to The Observer...

I realize that in this economy, finding a job will not happen over night. Unfortunately, I was born without patience and so waiting is not my strong suit. When my husband was laid off in November, I developed a pit in my stomach the size of the Grand Canyon and nothing seemed to fill it; not the cookies that I inhaled by the boatload nor the wine that I consumed by the bottle. Luckily, what I lack in patience, I make up for in mental toughness. And so I have been able to choose patience over frustration as I have learned that the latter is a waste of my time and energy. Staying positive gives me power.

Last month I had lunch with several women whose children attend school with my son. I've known these women for years, but we never got together socially until we discovered that all of our husbands were out of work. Suddenly we had a lot more in common than just third graders. Our new situation connected us in a way that chaperoning class field trips and attending back- to-school nights never had been able to do. Over lunch we shared our stories, our concerns and our worries. We talked about our husbands’ job searches and our own efforts to find work. We discussed everything from healthcare coverage to cutting coupons to our families and how they are coping. I couldn't help but think how different our conversation would have been had we gotten together for lunch a year or two ago.

Rest assured, there weren't any tears and it certainly wasn't a pity party. None of the diners in the restaurant had any idea that we were discussing COBRA and unemployment benefits. We were upbeat and positive and shared many, many laughs. Each of us vowed to make our lunch a monthly outing (next time we are brown bagging it). I think we have a mini support group in the making. I knew I would enjoy the lunch, but I didn't expect to find a group of mentally strong women whose stories were exactly like mine. Just as staying positive gives me energy, so does talking about what I am experiencing with people who truly understand. The bond we share isn't the most pleasant, but we are all happy to have made a connection.

I've known plenty of people who have lost their jobs over the years. My father lost his in the 1980's with two children in college and one more on her way. I was a teenager at the time away at school in Boston; I'm sure I barely acknowledged the difficult time that my parents were going through. I'd like to blame my behavior on being a teenager and thinking that the world revolved around me. But lately I've thought a lot about others who were in this situation long after my selfish teenage years, and I am embarrassed to think back on the meager compassion that I offered them. I've always thought of myself as an empathetic person, but there is something to be said about actually living through something before you can truly understand its effects.

Career experts estimate that the vast majority of job openings are never advertised or publicly announced, instead they are filled through word-of-mouth or networking. As such, my husband has been on a mission to broaden his ever-growing list of business network contacts. The thought of networking can be overwhelming, scary and intimidating for a lot of people, but my husband has embraced this new mission of his and seems to enjoy every meeting and every single person he adds to his contact list.

Several mornings a week he holds court at our neighborhood Starbucks. I call them his Starbucks Encounters and am quick to point out that he could save a little money by inviting his new friends to our house for coffee and biscotti. I am more than happy to don my barista apron and serve up a cup of Joe and a smile. He chuckles at this suggestion, probably because he knows that my coffee will not win him friends or influence people. It’s probably best that he sticks with the tall, skinny lattes at Starbucks.

I can't help but think that those Starbucks encounters do more for him than simply grow his contact list. The people he meets serve as his support line. He gets positive energy from each of those encounters and he returns the favor tenfold. There are millions of people out of work and millions more worried about becoming the next statistic. My advice to all of them is to find yourself a good support system: accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Being able to do so is no trivial pursuit, but I believe if you put positive energy in your life, you will reap the dividends. I’m not talking about the kind of dividends that are controlled by the stock market; I’m talking about the kind of dividends that are controlled by you.

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