Unreasonable? Hope

There comes a time in the process where you become afraid of hope.

This is not good place to be in the fight against the depression, and I admit, I’m not sure how to battle it.  But let me explain it a bit more, since I’m living it today.

A recruiter calls, says, “I can have you working today or tomorrow, even.”  He describes the job, it’s one you can do, and you get excited. He negotiates with you about when you can do phone calls, if you’ll have time for ” a callback today.” You make the time, of course, you’re out of work. You Google the place you might work, you get directions on how to get there.  You contact the family and let them know things might change for the better. You tell you best friends.

Then, two days later with no call you sit alone at your desk and feel like shit.

And you feel like that bad feeling is in direct proportion to how excited you got, and you don’t want to get excited about anything, anymore. It’s hard to do your daily routine, it’s hard to do all the other things you need to take care of yourself. Your mind plays it’s soundtrack of all the other times people have talked to you and nothing came from it.  “If I’m so great,” the thinking goes. “Why does no one call me back?”

It’s that feeling of “they want me they really want me! no they hate me”.  You’ll get whiplash with changes like that.

And the rational part of me knows I was writing about this feeling two weeks ago. I know I need some patience, and with the direct hire positions, I have that.  But with the fast turn around stuff, when it doesn’t turn around fast, that’s hard.  I knew I’d have days like this, and I have my routine to keep me going.  Of course, in the excitement I’d let some of my routine go, after all I was going to be working again, soon. And that was part of the mistake.

I just don’t know if having real hope and getting excited is also a mistake.  How much is too much? If I get my hopes up too high, does it hurt more to have them dashed?  Or is it just that I was already stressed from two weeks without work that I’m feeling a bit fragile today?

How do you deal with this kind of thing?

Stress

The stress is building up, which is part of why I’ve not posted in two days, or walked.  That’s bad, and I need to deal with it, so let’s start with the easier of the two for now, and the one that will clear my head.

I’ve had a lot of recruiter contacts, I’d estimate I’ve been approached for 4-5 positions, some full time some contract.  Now we’re in the waiting part of the game.  Which for me is stressful. I can wait fairly well, but I’ve got little to do but think about what might or might not happen.  This can be bad in it’s own way, which is why I have other projects to work on.

On the other hand, we misunderstood how unemployment worked, and instead of restructuring our bills earlier, we paid them.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’re not getting any income until mid September, and that’s stressful. We aren’t alone here, at least, — I remember being alone in Charlotte and really bottoming out on life.  I’ve never been alone here in Columbus, even if you don’t count Tam. We’ve got a few close friends, and family so things are going to be okay.  Our landlords, at least, will work with us if we communicate, so that’s good too.

The real problem, of course, is that we weren’t prepared for any kind of financial emergency.  We can’t just exist for a month with no income and not stress about it.  That’s a real problem, and one we’re going to fix.  I think we can even start now, and Tam and I have had some conversations about it.  It means changing the way we use and think about our money, but as Americans, that’s probably a good thing.

I want to say that we’re much better than we were ten years ago, when I was making a lot more money, and our household brought 2-3 times what it does now. Our bills weren’t appreciably higher (food was slightly higher, as there were more people involved), but we were still scratching by, paycheck-paycheck.  This isn’t about resources so much as how you deal with them.  We can do better, and we have to.

Noting all this stress is important, as it’s a potential driver of depression.  There has to be some to move you forward, but too much and it gets into “I can’t handle it” land, and things fold.  Paying attention is one of my five important rules and this is no exception.

And like I said, there’s potential good news: there’s a lot of nibbles out there, but as my grandfather used to say, nibbles could just mean all the minnows are eating your bait.  That ties into something else I worry about, and will write about tomorrow: unreasonable hope.

Recruiter Contacts

So today I have two recruiter contacts.  I call them that instead of interviews, basically because recruiters can’t hire you.  They’re just a middleman/contact person.  Someone you can tell your story to who can then turn around and sell you to the company.  They’re important in that way even if they are often difficult to deal with.  Some are much better than others at treating you like a person instead of a product with certain attributes (eg, PHP 12 years; SQL 19 years). I’ve been lucky this time around to deal with a few of the better kind of recruiter, although I’ve seen the others as well.

Part of it is that the skill set that makes you a technical person is often very different (and sometimes counter to) the skill set that makes you a recruiter.  We’re very different kinds of people, and it often doesn’t mesh well.  Yet, they need us as (at it’s base level) products to sell, and we need them because of that selling skill set.  Because often we are not very good at it.  I know I”m not a great salesman, I’ve tried it in the past.  I have to have an incredible belief in the product to sell it. It’s got to be somethign I value and like and think other people would benefit from.  In that way I do okay selling myself, and often my friends.  There are very few actual things I do well at selling.

The thing about these contacts is that they are so preliminary you may walk away with them with nothing.  I had one last week that was “Hi, My name is X, a recruiter for Y company.  I’m just catching up to you to tell you I’ve got nothing.”  Usually the contact is good, just so you can talk to someone and tell them your story.  Because the resume, while it is a list of facts that becomes a story, when you talk to a living person, you have a story to tell.  It’s your story, the story of how you got to where you are now, and what you want to be doing, and you want to tell a compelling one.

An important component of the story is to be as positive about things as possible.  You didn’t leave the last job because they were a bunch of shitheads — even if that’s possible.  Maybe you went on to pursue a more interesting technology.  In IT one good reason to move from job to job is to keep your skills fresh.  It shows that you are career minded, and moving forward with your career. A lot of IT people are happy doing the same thing they were always doing; for me that’s not who I am.  Both stories are good ones, but they are about different people.  Figuring out what that story is is important.

It helps you remember who you are, and to communicate it to other people.   And if you’re an IT person who thinks stories are just stories, or just fiction, and that you can’t tell “stories” since they aren’t true by some measure of things.  (Or not completely true, as part of storytelling is to pick what to focus on and what to leave out.) I just want to remind you that as human beings we are story telling creatures. (It seems that even some of the other high-order mammals may also be story tellers.) It’s something that we share across all humanity, and it’ something you share with that recruiter sitting across from you.

A compelling story is one they buy into and carry on to the client/future employer.

As a friend of mine often says, “So, what’s your story?”

Scheduling

So, yesterday’s post was about scheduling, and I broke my schedule yesterday (although I may make a refinement of it to allow for Wednesdays).  As far as things go, yesterday was a four-checkmark day when I was done, which is good enough. It just wasn’t the checkmarks I’d planned on.  Add that to a bout of self-doubt and feeling like a fake/failure last night, and I’m not excited about how my day went.  So today, I need to be productive and get the wheels back on the road.

So we’ll start with one of the things I didn’t do yesterday, namely: write about my schedule.

I admit I do very well with a regimented day.  I’ve got a morning routine that gets everything done and me out the door (or I did, anyway).  I had a rhythm to my day, and that helped.  Since I worked in a job that was very flexible in its duties, there were a lot of varied things to be working on, and having a schedule helped me to focus on which ones I’d be working on, and set aside certain parts of the day for that. It didn’t always work, as I also had to respond to emergencies or support calls, and those can’t be scheduled. (I.T. WISHES!)

When I was unemployed the last time, I didn’t have a schedule, and I also got very depressed, so I slept a lot.  And my schedule rotated around. If I didn’t have my family and my time obligations with them (date nights, gaming nights, that sort of thing) then my schedule would have been worse. I still have that kind of structure, but I can do better.  As I wrote, on Sunday I sat down and wrote down four major projects.   Then I broke them down some into larger tasks, and the closer in tasks got broken down some more in to check-mark worthy chunks.

I changed my alarm from 5 to 6, since I don’t have a morning commute anymore.  My commute was the one time I regularly walked (to and from bus stops), so I added in a morning walk, which I still need to figure out how long it is. After that, I shower and get dressed. A mundane element of my schedule, perhaps, but it means something to be clean and to be dressed.  It means I’m not just lazing around, and I’m here to do some work.  Breakfast is in there as well (still finding it’s best spot, and with the dotter starting school this may be a bit flexible for now).

Then I sit down at my task lists on Any.Do and I decide which things I’m doing every day. I’ve got coding, writing, and job-finding tasks I can do at my computer, and a house-cleaning task for each day which also needs to get done. Today, for instance, I’m pulling the couch out and going on an archaeology mission. I mean, cleaning out from under it.  But more on cleaning tasks later.  They are an important part of the depression-fighting, though.

Hopefully by 3 or 4 o’clock, I’ve gotten 4-5 check-marks.  Then I can assess how I’m feeling: Am I almost done with a task? Am I at a good stopping point? Is there anything urgent that still needs doing?  Whose cooking dinner? At that point, I can unwind — I’ve probably been working for 8-9 hours at that point, so it seems fair.  That leaves my evening open to relax, recharge and focus on my family.  Yesterday, I did that part in the middle of my day, and came back to it later and got one or two things done.  That might be okay, but it’s much harder to relax during those times that I haven’t quite finished yet — as there’s always the chance I won’t get them done.

The other reason that that afternoon review is important is that part of this isn’t just getting things done, but me knowing and acknowledging that I got things done.  One of my goals is keeping my spirits up and depression at bay, and you can’t do that unless you keep self-aware of what is going on.

Organizing

The first thing I need to do is get some control over what’s going on.  I think that’s a human reaction to massive change and uncertainty, even if I may sometimes be a bit control-freaky.  I just like things in a certain order, and now the order I had is all gone.  And that feeling of disorder is part of what I’m fighting against.

So my first task, which I did on Sunday was to start getting things organized.  That meant applying for unemployment, getting set up with food stamps, and going through all my automated payments, and trying to make decisions.  I cancelled my kickstarters, except for one which is totally awesome.  I cancelled some of the tools I use that have monthly payments: todo.ly for instance — it’s only $3, but I don’t need it anymore.  The same is probably true of DropBox, since I only have the home network to share with anymore.  I doubt I need all that space.  I’ll probably clear it out today and shut down the service there. [And, frankly, I’ll probably go to Google Drive if I need the space again, it’s cheaper/GB.]

I set down a schedule for the work I need to do, giving myself four major projects: getting a job, finishing and publishing a video game, finishing and publishing my writing (on Amzaon), and getting the house in shape (particularly my office).  That’s a lot of work, and maybe more than I had going before since I was just idling away at these tasks, and now I’m ramping them up.  I do better with too much work than too little — one of the problems I was having (exacerbated by the budget crisis there) was that I just didn’t have enough work to do to keep me busy and engaged.  I won’t have that problem as my boss, in fact it’s just the opposite.

I’ve decided to use Any.do  for tasks, as it looks great on my Nexus 7.  I’m using Joe’s Goals  as well, as it serves a different function.  Basically, Any.do is a task list, with folders/projects that have specific tasks and goals in them. (The trick is making these the right size, so they’re all about the same energy cost.)  Joe’s Goals is more like a checklist — you list things you want to do every day or on a schedule, and when you do them, you give yourself a check mark.  Some of my goals are “Do a Get Hired Task” or “Write 300 words”.   I can look at the total number of checkmarks for a day, and I can know whether I had a good day or not.  And that’s how I can give myself permission to relax and enjoy myself.

Because we can work our butts off trying to accomplish something — and feel like failures until we do accomplish it.  Or we can set reasonable goals, and take care of our needs.  Needs which include time with family, time relaxing and recuperating from the stress of work.  Just like programmers shouldn’t be working 10 hour days 7 days a week, you can’t either.  But the thing about being unemployed is that it never, ever leaves your mind. No matter what you are doing, what you aren’t doing is earning any money.  And you know that, and it hurts.

So you want to play cards with your daughter? You can’t do it, or you can’t do it and not feel guilty.  Or, you can set reasonable goals, and know you did enough that day, and give yourself permission to enjoy life.  You’ll need that recharge to keep things going in the long run.  And you have to plan for the long run — if things work out in a week or two, no big deal; but you can’t count on that.  Doing this and having things work out early is awesome.  Not doing this and having it not work out: totally not awesome.

 

 

And so things change

So, I started this blog as I was starting my job hunt.  I wish I could say, “And now that job hunt is done”, but it isn’t.  In fact, now it has begun in earnest.  The position that I had (where I was a Temp waiting to be hired permanently) is now gone — it was never funded, so really the position is gone.

I’m home today and my mission to find work has broadened and been pushed to 100%.  That doesn’t mean everything I will be doing will be job hunting, but that everything I’ll be doing will be in support of that.  Part of that is blogging here — because keeping myself focused and in good spirits is a large part of being successful at anything, and I really need to be successful.

I’ve started today, putting in some routine, and applying for jobs.  I’ve also done things to take care of my family: I’ve filed for unemployment, we’re discussing food stamps (my wife was also laid off a few weeks ago, so getting all this in order is necessary for us to survive. It’s a bit scary and daunting, which is pretty motivating as well.  It’s not just me, and it hasn’t been in a long long time.

The last time I was unemployed, it didn’t go super well. It was rough on my marriage, it was rough on me, and we had real problems.  I don’t want that to happen now, so I’m taking some of the lessons I learned then (and since) and applying them now in the hopes I’ll be doing better. And since it’s possible I’ll learn something interesting that can help other people, I’ll blog about it as well.

So, here I am.  I’m ready to work, and ready to go.

Let’s do this thing.