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Renee Rosenberg asks the 40+ attendees of her "Handling Job Search Stress" lecture a silly question: "Who woke up this morning?
There are some groans and everyone raises their hands.
"How many of you woke down today?"
Some sheepish grins abound, a few hands go up, and many people silently nod.
"How many people here are unemployed?" she asks. Almost all hands go up.
"How many feel stressed?" she asks. Everyone.
The symptoms of job search stress, as she next lists them, are as follows: poor performance, low motivation, and hits to your health. More bad news: stress levels increase dramatically for job seekers in their sixth month of searching.
It's not exactly shocking information, but for the unemployed in the room, hearing Rosenberg put words to their experiences seems to be a relief. We do an exercise: everyone stands and waves their arms as we chant, "Yippee… yippee… yippee… yippee… YIPPEE!" getting louder each time. "Do that when you get up in the morning," Rosenberg advises. "How you wake up sets the tone for how your whole day will go."
She also recommends affirmations, which are, she says, statements of something you'd like to change, or something that you're afraid of, reversed. She goes around the room to ask attendees to share their own. "I am not the sum total of others' perceptions," says one woman. Rosenberg encourages her to use positive words only in her affirmation. "Maybe 'I am who I feel like inside'" suggests another woman. Rosenberg has her change it to "I am the best," and repeat it loudly for the class, several times.
"I am happy," says a middle-aged man, who adds that he's been trying to break into market research. Another young woman, her English lapsing and breaking in spots, asks what affirmation would go with the fear that "It's just not going to happen."
Rosenberg has the same message for everyone: choose positivity.
Positivity—in attitude, self talk, proactiveness and the simple act of waking up content—is the key to both handling job-hunt stress and finding a job, according to Rosenberg.
Her recommended "positive" adjustments:
"75% of all self-talk is negative," continues Rosenberg. "Why didn't I get up earlier? Why did I stay up so late? Why didn't I walk faster so I wouldn't miss the bus?" Instead, she wonders, "Why can't we be glad we slept late? Why not say, 'I'm glad I missed the bus! It's a beautiful day for a walk'?"
Laughter seems tied to Rosenberg's other big theme, confidence; if you're laughing at setbacks, you're not internalizing them as all-important, life-altering issues. And rightly so, thinks Rosenberg. "What if you get a job interview on a day that you wake up like this?" she asks, frowning in demonstration. "How do think that's going to affect the interview?"
The choice she recommends—and it's the only one she offers--is dogged optimism.
Talk to strangers like you've never been rejected; dress professionally, even if you're sad and just out to grocery shop ("You never know who you're going to run into!" she says, "Look like somebody worth talking to!"); and most importantly, always be prepared to say who you are—because if communicated to the right person, it can help you tap the "hidden" job market: word of mouth openings.
That's the job search method Rosenberg believes in. "The internet doesn't give you control," she says, "you don't know where [your resume] goes after you hit send." Networking, volunteering, taking classes—they all put you in the driver's seat instead. That's at least an antidote to the helplessness of a job search, if not all its other stresses.
And if you're introverted? "Be an actor," Rosenberg advises. "Play the role, say the lines. This is your life."
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