“Am I all washed up?”

Question: Alan, I have been out of work for 3 years. I am 44, and female. I feel more and more like I will not revive my career and in my last position I was a Director. I was able to secure a contract position as a Chief Marketing Officer, but that was only for 2.5 months because the company I was with went bankrupt and was acquired. I continue to have a good relationship with the former CEO of that company but have been unable to leverage that into a new role.

Sadly I am quite good at what I do, but I find myself out of money, out of ways to spin my reason for such a large employment gap. I had a stint in a retail job as a holiday seasonal employee, but even since then finding a job in retail has been difficult. The issue there seems to be my educational background and work history and “not needing the job as much as someone lesser educated or without having had a career like you did.”

What on earth am I to do? I am desperate to the point that I started lying on retail job applications (I stopped as I did not feel right about doing this – and realized it is cause for termination if I am found out.)

My dilemma is: Will I ever get hired again, at the level I should, or has the gap finished my career as I have another 2 year gap during the “dot com” bust?

Am I all washed up?

Unemployed, Disheartened and Underemployed
Orlando, Florida

Answer: Dear U, D and U: My heart goes out to you. Your predicament is palpable, and your sense of being overwhelmed is understandable. Permit me to offer a few thoughts that I hope will help:         

1. In difficult times, you need to focus on your core values. When it seems that winds are blowing you over, rain threatens to drown you, and lightning and thunder roar, the first question is: Where is safety? In the storms that threaten you, safety is to be found in your core values. What is most important to you . . . Is it Career? Family? Prestige? Health? Financial security? From an introspective review of your core values, you will inevitably begin to (a) see what is most important to you, and (b) find a path to or toward it. It may sound like pithy nonsense, but it is as simple as “Where do I want to go?” and “Then, what is the most direct way to get there?” I don’t pass judgment on other peoples’ core values. But I am uncomfortable with those who don’t take the time to decide, in truth, what it is that they want.

2. In the meantime, of course, you need to survive financially. I must admit that, while it is very easy for me to “preach” to you from afar, I do want you to know that I have been, in my more difficult years, what most people would call “near the bottom.” In those times I just picked a goal, and said to myself, “Come heck or high water, that is where I am headed.” Financially, times were so tight for me that when I look back, I shudder. But I made a plan, and I generally followed that plan – with plenty of detours, I must admit –  the harder times are now behind me.

In the meantime, though, I did have to put up with the discomfort and indignity of an excruciatingly frugal life, near monastic, in which coworkers made fun of my clothes, and a pocketful of coins – not bills – was my kind of financial security. Taking things day by day, dollar by dollar, at least in the meantime, is the way to get yourself through this difficult financial time, and back on financial footing. Don’t fret the discomfort and indignity: they will not last forever. 

3. Remember that all work is honorable, if done with dignity. Start wherever you can. Never, ever be ashamed of your job. Whether it is working as a companion to the infirm, a clerk in a dry cleaner, or as a cleaning person, the work you do is honorable if you do it with dignity. It is no crime, and it is no embarrassment, to be in difficult times. The crime and the embarrassment are in not taking on a task available to you that can help you survive financially. Part-time, live-in, temporary, or whatever, if a job puts food on the table, and keeps the lights turned on, it is entirely worthwhile. Self-reliance yields self-respect, no matter what may be the work you do.

4. In your circumstances, I don’t think it is truly wrong to “deflate” your resume or job history. As I have written before, while I almost always insist on “resume honesty,” in certain circumstances I believe “resume deflation” is a victimless offense, and so I condone it in certain circumstances. Your circumstances, in my view, qualify you as an acceptable candidate for “resume deflation” to keep you afloat. As to gaps in your employment history, I don’t see a downside to being frank and open about the difficulties you – and your employers – have had in this treacherous period in our economic lives. Don’t portray self-pity or fear of the truth: instead, project pride for being an amazing survivor.  

5. Forgive my optimism, but I am certain you will once again be hired for the job you deserve, if only you truly dedicate yourself to that goal. The more experience I have with working people, and it’s now over 30 years, the surer I become each day that (a) clarity as to core values, coupled with (b) determination and (c) dignity, will without question lead to (d) what you deserve. I have seen it 1,000 times. You really cannot keep a good man or woman down who knows what they want, who demands of themselves that they will – one day – get it, and who don’t see worn shoes or dirtied hands as a source of shame, but as a reason for pride.

6. And, too, you need to ensure you survive spiritually. While the body needs food, the soul needs its own source of nourishment. If you pray, consider praying for nothing but what I call “The Three S’s.” It is my custom to pray twice each day for just three things: (i) Strength, at least enough to contend with the demands of each day, (ii) Stamina, the continuing strength to maintain my efforts from one day to the next, and the next day after that, too, and (iii) Serenity, that inner calm that comes only from knowing I have “done my best to do my best” in everything I have done. It’s funny, but asking for only these three things – and not a winning lottery ticket – always ends with my prayers being answered.

If you do not pray, consider that special spirit within each of us that just refuses to give up, and is responsible for so many incredible feats of caring, courage and compassion. It is that special spirit that will keep you going forward, out of the storm and into the sun, that is within you, at all times. That special spirit is surely waiting for you, so simply tap into it and live by it. It goes by lots of names; no matter what you call it, it is there for you.      

Trust me, please: you are not “washed up.” Perhaps weary, and surely a little “weathered,” but your best days are absolutely ahead of you, so long as you are as convinced of that as I am.  

And, too, when you have pursued this path, and followed your goal, through thick and thin, you will surely look back with great pride. Freud said it pretty well: “In later years, when you look back, the times of greatest struggle will surely be remembered as the sweetest.”      

Very, Very Best,
Al Sklover

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