Finding your way out of the unemployment wilderness

By Scott Hammond

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 10:00 a.m. MDT

Lesson 3: See how others see you.

Seeking feedback from your social network is essential but often difficult. Lost and unemployed people are often full of shame and fear. Feelings are raw. Meeting others is difficult as feeling of deprivation makes it difficult to be around others who have what you do not. But research shows that second-level networks are the source of more than 70 percent of job opportunities. That means that it is unlikely that your father-in-law will get you a job, but someone your father-in-law knows likely will. The unemployed need to stay socially active and network. It takes energy, but it is the best way to get results.

Lesson 4: You are never lost alone.

It never ceases to amaze me how when there is a remote wilderness search, the search team grows by the hour. Strangers come to help. Most are unpaid but highly trained volunteers. It is also true for the unemployed. Almost every church has a program to help people hone job search skills and make connections. Most colleges have formal and informal alumni networks. There are many government programs. But the most important thing is to stay close to family who often provide the essential emotional and spiritual support for this difficult time.

Lesson 5: Movement creates opportunity.

A survivor is constantly trying to improve his or her situation. Victoria knew she needed to be near water and did what it took to get there. One man unemployed for eight months finally decided to volunteer at the local homeless shelter in order to stay busy. After three weeks he met a donor who eventually offered him a career job significantly better than the job he lost.

Lesson 6: Some small things matter, some big things do not.

Victoria had learned how to make a “one match fire” and she preserved each match carefully, not knowing how long she would be lost. Similarly when there is no income coming into the home, it is important to know how to conserve, how to stretch savings and unemployment, how to limit expenditures. One unemployed woman said, “We have learned to make nice meals for the family for about the same price I spent on a large cup of coffee.”

Lesson 7: Fear itself can kill you.

Fear is a brick of toxic waste that can have fatal consequences. Most lost or unemployed report having times when they cried without restraint. But then they realize that the emotion of fear is drawing down their energy and blinding their vision. Fear unrestrained can draw down reserves and greatly reduce chances for survival.

But fear has another cost for the unemployed. So many who have been unemployed for a long period are poisoned by their own story of victimhood, of fear. They cannot leave it behind when they begin interviewing. You can see it on their faces and hear it in their sometimes-cynical language. Like the toxic waste, it poisons opportunity and rescue.

Lesson 8: No one is saved without hope.

Every lost person I have interviewed, and everyone I have studied reported a time during his or her ordeal of deep despair. But they also reported developing a vision of the ideal future and a perspective on life. Priorities are shifted. Gratitude is often deeper. And joy is no longer postposed until later. The vision of the ideal is that it motivates people to overcome the pain of a broken leg, to get to water, to build shelter and to wait patiently until searchers come, and to write and rewrite the resume, endure the questions and finally get the interview and the job.

Lesson 9: When you are found, you are forever changed.

Wilderness survivors envision the “ideal home” and unemployed the “ideal job” to motive themselves through the difficulty. Homes and jobs are never ideal. When we come back into the home after being lost, or back into the workplace after unemployment, we are changed. For some they are fearful, stressed and insecure. But for others, they are hopeful with a new resilience and a generous perspective. “I know now that I can survive anything,” Victoria told me after her four-day ordeal. “Well not anything,” she corrected herself. “But a lot more than I thought I could.”

Most of the people who have survived the trauma of prolonged unemployment or wilderness survival have said that while they would not want to go through it again, nor would they wish their experience on anyone, they would also not trade the experience for anything.

Why? Because we crave confidence and strength. We grow from the confidence and strength that comes from facing the unknown with the untested solution, then adapting and adopting until we get it right. So wilderness survival and unemployment is rarely about brawn. It is always about problem solving, creativity and a little luck.

Scott C. Hammond is a writer, consultant and teacher in the Jon Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. He researches lost person behavior and innovative solutions in business and families. He can be reached at scott.hammond@usu.edu