Unemployed? Do Your Work. You'll Win.

I'm, essentially, unemployed. Sure, I have my Saturday sessions, MEGA Assistant University, that (on paper) are a source of income. Unfortunately, since I've only been in business since April, classes aren't filling up consistently as my voice is still too new on the scene. As a result, I've taken more of a hit than I've made a profit. Two and a half months without a steady income has definitely taken a toll on my savings account and exponentially increased my anxiety level. Still, I'm undaunted.

I made a couple of rookie mistakes lately with regard to employment that I want to share for context. I had a couple of friends reach out almost immediately after I left my last job to offer me "roles of a lifetime" that they deemed perfect for me. One was as COO of a cool new startup with an app that will likely do well once it actually hits the market. Another was a partner in an eCommerce website that held the potential of evenly splitting hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in revenue "once things started rolling." Both seemed to be viable options but would require my undivided attention (read: don't take another job). I weighed the pros and cons of both and decided to give it a go. Clearly, I'm not risk averse. I turned down two job offers in New York City because they were woefully under-compensated for my level of experience. But they were jobs! Still, I decided to throw myself into the eCommerce website after getting rooked financially at the last startup I'd help to scale. I worked day and night on a new website trying to get it designed, populated and live while adding some much-needed pizzazz to make it relevant to our target demographic. One month and over 220 hours in, it was pulled. Won't go into the gory details, but the gist is that my partner had already poured over $60,000 into a previous version of the website and had lost another $40-50K in potential revenue because the site was still not live, buggy, and already 5 months late when I was brought onto the project. Still, he wanted that site, not mine, which meant all of that work was for naught. As a result, I've had no income for 2 months, watched my savings account hemorrhage money, lost steam of my own professionally, and still kicking myself a bit for turning down 2 great (though underpaid) roles that I'm sure I could have made work financially. So, I made the decision to cut my losses and throw myself back into the interview process with abandon.

My current career search is well underway. My recent "I'm Looking!" post garnered way more eyeballs than I'd ever anticipated. I've had quite a few referrals from colleagues and strangers to roles that seem pretty spot-on. I have 4 first round interviews scheduled next week for which I'm grateful and insanely hopeful.

Why I'm writing this is two-fold. First, I know more than a handful of people who are actively looking for jobs at the moment and are having a tough time landing a role. They are highly competent Assistants with skills and abilities to spare. Yet, they are 2+ months into their search and getting to the final rounds only to have the role pulled because the company is reevaluating need or chosen someone else.

Secondly, my out-of-work colleagues have become a bit too focused on what's not working vs. the possibility of something great coming to fruition. Bills and growing debt can feel stifling. Trust me, I know. Putting so much energy into the interview process only to not land the role can feel like a massive gut punch, especially when it happens more than once. However, I believe that we do ourselves a disservice by focusing too hard on the calamity vs. the opportunity.

I'm writing from the perspective of someone who isn't a millionaire. Unemployment at that level, I assume, would have far less urgency and anxiety attached. My savings account was, at one time, well into 5-digits. But living in San Francisco, paying almost a full paycheck in rent, my addiction to champagne and french fries, having a car AND a motorcycle...it all adds up, quickly! Having no income for any length of time can quickly go from inconvenient to downright scary, especially as you watch a five-digit savings account fall to four digits, to three. But that shouldn't be where you focus your energy. Your energy needs to be on the prize vs. the strife.

"Everything eventually ends." 

A Navy Seal taught me that mantra a couple years ago and it has stuck. The context is that he uses it to manage his fight-or-flight instincts in the heat of battle so that he can focus on the task at hand knowing that the anxiety, struggle, and the battle will eventually end. I use this daily to remind myself that this anxiety and bleeding savings account will end and I will be back hosting movie nights with champagne and french fries in abundance with my good friends at my new place. THAT is my focus. Not the fact that company #3 went mute on me after two rounds of telling me I was the perfect candidate. Not the fact that I didn't get the job at company #4, even after they'd hinted I was a shoe-in. My focus is on landing a role with a great exec and a company that excites me and who are just as excited to have me join their team. Any and everything else simply doesn't compute and I refuse to let the anxiety, stress, or "what ifs" hijack my focus. They are dangerous if left unchecked and actually reveal themselves through your eyes at your interviews. And people will intuitively pick up on just how desperate you are and start trapezing from every syllable of every word you say. Which typically doesn't end well if your head is on your bills vs. on the questions they're asking you.

So, for those of you who are unemployed and freaking the f*ck out, I say this...CALM DOWN and FOCUS UP.

  1. Get control of your internal language. NOW! You're jobless. Got it. So what are you gonna do about it? Allowing yourself to become a victim of your circumstance will not get your bills paid. Allowing these negative internal voices to change your demeanor and rob you of your smile during an important interview will do you much more harm than good. Beating yourself up over a bad decision is energy that should be used to rectify your situation. So stop it! You need to do whatever it takes to switch your internal dialogue dial from "woe is me" to POSITIVE and CHARMING right now! Find a positive mantra or affirmation and repeat it over and over like an idiot, while smiling hella hard, until it's the only thing you think about. When people ask you how you're doing, yell "I'm GREAT!" and make yourself believe it. The most powerful tool we have in our box is our mind. Actually, the most powerful tool we have is the ability to manipulate our own mind into believing anything we hold as true. So create a truth that is fantastic and stellar and beat it in there until you absolutely believe it. As crazy as it sounds, it actually works. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with "The Law of Attraction." (Advice: download the cheesy-but-effective movie "The Secret" and watch it on repeat. Sh*t works!)
  2. Focus on the goal, not the troll. Anthony Robbins taught me one of the most important lessons in my box: "Look in the direction you want to go, even when your Porsche is headed for a tree. Magically, the back end will come around and you'll head in your intended direction." In motorcycling, many fatal crashes are attributed to "target fixation." You enter a turn too hot, tense up, and suddenly find yourself unable to get the bike turned because you're staring at the guardrail and the cliff you're about to plummet off of. If you simply turn your head in the direction you want to go and, counterintuitively, give it some gas vs. jamming on the brakes, you'll actually make the turn. May not be your prettiest carve, but the acceleration, extra lean angle and increased countersteering will pull the bike around beautifully and you're off to the next corner instead of watching your life flash before your eyes as you fly over the handlebars. Focus on what you want and put all of your energy, body language and thought space into that. Believe as hard as you can that it is yours and it will be. And even if you don't get that particular job, the next will likely be yours. Allowing your focus to be mired in your growing debt, bill collector phone calls, and inability (for the moment) to keep up with the Joneses will turn a crappy-but-fixable situation into a full stop tragedy. All that's needed is to turn your head in the direction you want to go and giving it a little gas, even when you want to jam on the brakes.
  3. Don't get paralyzed by fear. Get crafty. As cliché as it sounds, I grew up a poor Black child on a farm in the deep South. I am now a 25-year veteran, 6 figure making, C-suite Executive Assistant that sat so close to (my hero) Jack Dorsey every day that I actually counted his eyelashes. My point: allowing myself to become paralyzed by things out of my control would never have afforded me the amazing life that I've had. My roads have been filled with uncertainty and setbacks. I went through a bankruptcy in my late 20's and it sucked. But it taught me so much about the downside of fear when allowing yourself to be consumed by it. So my advice is to use the aforementioned tools to get your mind right and then FIGHT! Mine your contacts list for anyone who knows someone whose brother works with a guy who dated the sister of the CEO of this cool new startup that's looking for someone with your exact skill set to join the team. For instance, I reached out to my network once things started sliding downhill and now I'm taking on numerous small projects that pay me nowhere near what I normally make, but keep the train on the tracks financially. I used to slop hogs every morning as a child, so YES, I'm all too happy to whip out a sponge and clean scuffed walls in 15 Airbnb units ahead of important photo shoots I'm tasked to manage. It's income. More importantly, it's an opportunity to keep my mind engaged in something interesting and different while I'm taking phone interviews from all over the country first thing in the morning each day. See what I'm getting at here? Don't shut down. Sure, be a little fearful. But use that energy to find something that keeps you moving forward vs. allowing the wind to completely leave your sails. Temp. Volunteer. Mow some lawns. Whatever it takes to keep you in the fight is what you should do. Staring at your dwindling bank account and hiding in a corner waiting for that knock from your landlord isn't going to magically change your situation. YOU have to change it in any way you can.
  4. Check your pride and ask for help. Pride tends to lead us into more trouble than positive outcomes. Asking for help somehow feels like a failure. Funny thing is, intrinsically, people want to help. Even if they can't write you a check big enough to alleviate all of your worries, they'll happily offer a little something like an important introduction or even a shoulder to help talk you off the ledge. Real talk: ASK FOR HELP. Your friends know that you're good for the money. Your all-to-important pride may take a hit, but guess what? Pride has never paid a single bill in its miserable little existence. But your friend's generous donation will. And you will pay them back...with interest...once you land that role you've convinced yourself you're getting.

Unemployment sucks. But it's not the end of the world, I promise. It's a tremendous opportunity to humble yourself (we ALL need this at times), awaken your survival instinct, and really get clear on what you want and what you'll do differently next time. It's also a great time to learn a new skill that could potentially become a second revenue stream or side hustle. What's most important is surviving and thriving through the experience, keeping it in perspective and coming out on top. You'll do that by getting control of your internal language, focusing on your ultimate goal, getting crafty and staying in the fight, and humbling yourself enough to ask for help. I assure you, things will right themselves. And much quicker than if you allow stress and anxiety to rob you of the energy you need to WIN.

Phoenix Normand