Functioning vs Fixing.

(How being in a career transition phase can suck a little less.)

by Lisa Vermaak

Director of Operations at Huddle



It’s pretty daunting when you find yourself suddenly unemployed and unoccupied. It’s especially unsettling when this may not be the first time it’s happened or you’re over 50. All of the things you didn’t know were the things that allowed you to function day to day are suddenly removed and you wake finding yourself slightly dishevelled and directionless. And I don’t just mean the fact you’re still in your pyjamas at 10.30 and there’s some cereal in your hair.

Let’s talk about some ways to get yourself functioning again instead of unhealthily staring at LinkedIn hating everyone else who looks deeply successful.

Know where you’re at

How do you feel? Are you shocked, disappointed or exhilarated? No need to overly dwell on this point but it is good to get help with the level you’re at. You may not be able to identify how you feel and may need some professional help like a life coach, an executive coach or even a psychologist or counsellor. Don’t ignore this as it helps you figure out where to start.

Identify some things you can do

Focus on the functioning part of your life and the fixing part will take care of itself. Spending hours trawling LinkedIn and applying for a job all day every day is not going to allow a balanced perspective and you won’t feel better at the end of the day.

Think about what your life is like when you’re functioning well. Do you like structure? Does exercise keep you balanced? Are you an external articulator that needs contact? Is gardening how you find your peace? Plan a project that doesn't cost money (which could make you more anxious) to get that back into your life. And yes, 'borrowing' a cutting from your neighbour's overhanging shrub does count. They will understand.

If structure’s your thing, get up at the same time every day, make your bed and make a list of things to do that day. Don't make it a long list - perhaps three things you know you can accomplish. Allocate time slots and stick to them. If job searching is a priority, allocate one hour to this – two if you need to apply for a specific job, but no more. There may be only be one thing on your list to begin with like “shop for dinner.” Just do that. And tick it off your list.

Be kinder to yourself than you have been

Talk to yourself like you would talk to a close friend. Be encouraging, positive and hopeful. Even if you think it, you wouldn’t tell a friend they’ll never get another job so don’t say it to yourself. Say things like “this won’t last forever”, “you’re great at what you do”, “you’re a good person”, “you’re a good father”, “you’re a great friend”. And say these things out loud. It’s quite unnerving to start with but science proves that hearing things regularly changes behaviour, even if it’s your own voice. This works for positive and negative stuff you say to yourself.

Don’t isolate yourself

Stay in touch with people and be honest about how you’re feeling. We all think people get sick of us so stay in touch with a lot of different people. Some of those relationships will serve different purposes but it’s crucial to feel that you are part of the world. It’s a lot easier to hide away but that’s not good for you in this transition phase. Be honest if you’re struggling and reach out to places like Lifeline if it gets too much.

The gift of diversion

Ever noticed when a baby is screaming the house down and she suddenly notices a bird fly past the window, and she stops screaming immediately? That’s diversion – built into us naturally from the day we were born! Use it to your advantage as an adult. If you can feel yourself spiralling with the same negative thoughts (or feel like screaming like a baby) create a diversion. If what you’re thinking is fuelling fear and not steadiness, recognise it and take action. Go for a walk. Ask your partner to help with a distraction. Call a friend for a light chat. Pick up a book. Do something different. Distract yourself. Divert your attention away from the negativity. This takes practice but like anything else can become a habit.

Some of these things are things you may already know and some of them you may never have thought of before. If even one of these things helps you it will get you going on the road back to functioning on a daily basis and not obsessively trying to fix the situation you are in. That probably needs work but if you’re not functioning you won’t be able to address it in any meaningful way.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

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