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Why a little pessimism can help your job hunt

Persevering when the going gets tough “isn’t about being upbeat all the time,” says author Doug Hensch. Good to know.

Why a little pessimism can help your job hunt

Let’s say you’ve been job-hunting for a while now. Your significant other is getting impatient, your bank account looks anemic, and you’re feeling pretty blue.  

That’s normal, according to longtime career coach Doug Hensch, author of Positively Resilient: 5 ½ Secrets to Beat Stress, Overcome Obstacles, and Defeat Anxietyespecially since “in our society, a job is about more than a paycheck. So much of our identity is tied to our careers.” 

If a job search that’s dragging on and on is getting you down, here’s a tip: Don’t waste a lot of energy trying to cheer up.

“One of the many myths about resilience is that it requires ‘positive’ feelings,” Hensch says. “In fact, even saying ‘positive’ versus ‘negative’ emotions implies that one is good and the other is bad, and that’s just not true. To get through tough times, you need a balance of both.”

Monster recently talked with Hensch about how to turn “negativity” into a strength, and other ways to be more resilient.

Q.  You mention in the book that you’re a pessimist by nature, and explain why that’s not always a bad thing. Can that apply to a job search?

A.  Yes, it can. A lot has been said and written about visualizing great outcomes ahead of time, as a step toward making them happen. For instance, think about a job interview going really well, and how great it would be to get that job offer. That can boost your confidence, and that’s fine.

But it’s just as important to imagine what obstacles you might face, and plan how you’re going to overcome them. Create an “If…then…” scenario in your mind: “If that comes up, then I’ll respond this way.” Inject a little negativity into what you’re imagining.

This works because preparing for problems—even if they never happen—makes you more resilient. It makes you more adaptable. You’re more likely to change something that’s not working, rather than persist in a mistake. A little pessimism is good for you.

Q.  What would you advise a job hunter who’s feeling discouraged?

A.  One thing that’s been proven effective in beating stress is very basic: A good night’s sleep. Making eight hours of quality sleep every night a priority helps control your mood, so you’re not reacting out of fatigue.

Beyond that, the best way to build hope is through success. So set goals where you do one thing every day to move yourself forward. It can be a small thing. For example, starting my own practice years ago was much tougher than I expected. I started with zero clients and zero income. It was scary.

So I decided to set up one new networking appointment every day—one for tomorrow, another one for five days from now, and so on. Doing just one thing every day, and tracking your progress, can keep you going long enough to reach your goal.

Incidentally, connecting with as many people as possible really helps keep your spirits up, and it matters how you structure informal meetings. Don’t bring your resume! Instead, be ready to ask lots of questions. People love to talk about themselves. It’s a safe bet that, sooner or later, they’ll get around to asking about you, which can lead to opportunities you might not expect.

Q. You write that resilience is a lot more than what we often call “bouncing back.” Why is that?

A. The phrase “bouncing back,” whether from joblessness or some other trouble, implies that we return to our original shape. That is, we’re supposed to be the same as before. But the 40 years of research on resilience that I studied, and my own experience with resilient people, is that they are never the same after effectively managing their way through adversity. Because they grow and learn so much from the experience, they can turn difficulties into a challenge—or even a game.

Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics for Fortune and other publications since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?


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