by Suzanne Evans, author of “The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything“
According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans now consider unemployment — not the economy, or healthcare, or the national debt, or dissatisfaction with the nation’s leaders — to be our country’s number one problem. And since some estimates place theactual (as opposed to the official) unemployment rate as high as 37.2 percent, the poll’s results are certainly justified.
Unemployment is truly painful. And that’s not just because you’re worried about making ends meet. The daily grind — endless web searches for open jobs, watching résumé after résumé vanish into the ether, excruciating interviews that never yield a call back — can be brutally depressing and even debilitating.
But — isn’t there always a ‘but’? — I’ve always said there are two types of pain: pain that paralyzes and pain that drives you to perform. And the only way to break yourself out of the rut you’re in is to look at your pain from a different angle. Take your wound, your mess, your disaster, or whatever you want to call it, and use it as motivation to do something that youreally want to do.
Maybe that “something” is starting your own business. Maybe it’s going back to school. Maybe it’s leaping into a whole new career. Regardless, being unemployed (or even living in fear that your job is on the chopping block) can give you the push you need to change your life forever — if only you’ll let it.
For years, I let my pain paralyze me into staying in a life that wasn’t working for me on any level. Finally, I had an epiphany: My situation wasn’t going to magically change. I was going to have to make one gutsy decision at a time — and the first one was quitting my job as a secretary. As I built my business from nothing (literally, I had no savings!), I developed some tactics that you, too, can use to shake off pain paralysis and climb out of the unemployment black hole.
Here are 10 of them:
1. Figure out the what, and don’t worry (yet) about the how.
When you’re trying to climb out of a crappy situation and into a better one (say, from unemployment to starting your own business), the biggest obstacles can be the little things. You know what you ultimately, ideally want to do: become a nutritional coach, or open your own yoga studio, or open an accounting business. What keeps you from pursuing that goal are the slippery stepping stones that loom in the distance. What if my business permit is denied? Where will my clients come from? How will I keep my company running and also take care of my kids? Don’t let these unknowns stop you from moving ahead.
If you’re waiting to move forward until you have a fully fleshed-out, foolproof plan, you’ll be waiting forever. Right now, your task is simply to get clear on what your goal is and what the first step toward reaching it looks like. Banish all other what-ifs from your mind and focus on taking one step forward at a time. The piece of road right in front of you is the only one you can see clearly, anyway! And often, the only way to figure it out, get better, or determine what actually works is to go through the experience.
2. Stop thinking you’re a special snowflake.
When you were a kid, your parents and teachers told you that you were different from everybody else on planet Earth. At that point, your specialness motivated you and built up your self-esteem. But I am betting that your current situation has morphed your specialness into something toxic. You’ve decided you don’t have a job because you are different, and not in a good way. Because of the circumstances that set you apart (health problems, debt, family issues, a lack of education, you name it!), you just don’t have what it takes to get off the unemployment line.
Here’s a newsflash. Problems don’t make you different; they make you the same as everyone else who has problems — and that’s all of us! So stop using your ‘differences’ to justify your lack of success. Trust me, my ‘differences’ didn’t magically disappear, allowing me to finally launch my business. I simply stopped fixating on what was holding me back and started paying attention to beliefs and habits that helped me achieve my goals.
3. Let go of “I don’t know.”
When you have a goal in mind, there is no such thing as “I don’t know.” One of two things is possible. First, you do know… but the answer is something you don’t want to consider. For instance: “I don’t know where I will get the money.” (Yes, you do. You might have to make a sacrifice to get it, but you know.) Or second, you really don’t know… but the answer does exist somewhere out there. In that case, ask questions, do research, and consider possibilities until you find it.
I have eliminated ‘I don’t know’ from my vocabulary, and I suggest you do the same. ‘I don’t know’ is a game you have chosen to play that allows you to remain stagnant. It is safe, and your family, friends, and colleagues have made it socially acceptable. They may not mean to, but they enable your apathy and fear by treating ‘I don’t know’ as a legitimate excuse. So move forward. Face or find the truth. Let go of the beliefs that hold you back and make you doubt yourself, and surround yourself with success, one gutsy decision at a time.
4. Nix the excuses.
“The economy just isn’t good enough for me to strike out on my own.” “It would be foolish to start a business now; I need to get a few professional certifications first.” “I can’t go out and try to sell my services until I’ve saved enough for a down payment on a better car that won’t break down every other week.” “I could never get hired as a landscape designer. All of my experience is in accounting.” Have you ever noticed that we humans are really good at justifying our inaction?
Fear often manifests itself as a list of excuses. You need to find the courage to dismantle them. Don’t lie to yourself about why you’re reluctant to move forward. Instead of hiding behind the ‘I need better qualifications’ excuse, have the courage to admit, ‘I’m reluctant to start my own business because not succeeding would crush what’s left of my self-esteem. And I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of my family and friends.’ Only when you’re honest about your fears can you begin to face them and overcome them.
5. Tell your scared side to shut the hell up.
I admit that “getting some guts” is easier said than done. Sure, you may see the benefits of telling the scared side of you to put a cork in it, but how do you actually suppress the anxious, panicked thoughts that bubble up so frequently?
The best answer I’ve found is to focus on your passion and enthusiasm. Give your energy to your future, not your fears. On a regular basis, remind yourself of your goal and why it’s important to you. Having a clear image of where you want to go is the only thing powerful enough to make you risk embarrassment, pain, and failure in the present. The good news is, most people aren’t willing to take that gamble, so when you move forward despite your fears, you’ll automatically set yourself apart from the crowd.
6. Be willing to look like a fool.
It’s not always “major” emotions like fear and anxiety that hold us back. Sometimes, more “trivial” concerns like not wanting to look stupid, foolish, or inept can stop us from taking chances. And when you’re unemployed, you may feel that your dignity is all you have left! Too bad, says Evans. In order to give yourself the job you’ve always wanted, you may have to put even that on the line.
I started my business in the produce section of a Whole Foods grocery store. With the manager’s blessing, I set up a table between the organic bananas and tomatoes, and asked shoppers if they would like to discuss life coaching. You’d better believe I was embarrassed. But if I hadn’t been willing to look silly in front of those shoppers, I’d probably still be stuck in that dead-end, unfulfilling job.
You too might have to risk looking foolish in order to change your reality for the better. You might not have to set up shop in a supermarket, but you may need to make cold calls, ask for help from people who may be unwilling to give it, or simply appear ignorant as you figure things out. But I’ll let you in on a secret: Even if you do find yourself blushing (or wishing you could sink through the floor!), life will go on. And you’ll have learned a valuable lesson.
7. Forget the practical crap and do something impractical.
Usually, being practical and following the rules will keep you from getting into trouble. But here’s something that may surprise you: Being practical doesn’t tend to lead to wild success. After all, when you color within the lines, you’re just like everyone else. You might achieve mediocrity, but not much more. Often, you have to break the mold to attract attention — and opportunity.
Almost every time I have made big money, it was because I changed the rules, shook it up, and did things differently. I was completely impractical because, frankly, the practical crap just wasn’t working. Sure, searching for a job is the practical thing to do when you’re unemployed, but does your exhausting search for a new job feel like it’s working for you? And what’s going to happen if you do get a new job? Will you be satisfied and fulfilled or will you spend much of your time daydreaming about the business you’ve always wanted to start?
So my advice is this: Don’t play it safe. Don’t stick with ‘the way things have always been done.’ Remember, most of the greatest advances and triumphs in human history happened when somebody set out to do what ‘couldn’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be done.
8. Drown out your fear with faith in yourself.
First, you must have faith in your own ability to achieve your goal. You must trust that the work you’ve done, the knowledge you have, the skills you’ve developed, and the experience you’ve gained are sufficient to help you start a business. If you start out doubting your own capacity, you won’t get far, because the voice of fear will be too loud. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is trusting your gut.
Sometimes, your intuition might tell you not to sign on the dotted line or partner with a particular investor, even though everything looks great on paper. And on the other hand, your instincts might tell you to invest in an unproven technology, or to move forward with an unorthodox marketing campaign. Having faith in yourself means being willing to listen to that still small voice — and that can be a tough thing to do.
While there’s no scientific basis to the advice I’m about to give you, I can tell you that every time I didn’t follow my intuition I have regretted it. So here goes: You know when you know better. Don’t be afraid to defy tradition or logic if you have faith on your side.
9. Sweat the small stuff…
Most of us approach life with the belief that as long as we get the major stuff right, it’s okay to let the little stuff slide every once in awhile. For example, in your previous job, maybe you told yourself that as long as you got the shipment out in time, it was okay to leave a few voicemails unanswered. Or as long as your team signed the client, it was okay to skip out of a few meetings. Or as long as you didn’t actually lose anything, it was okay if your files stayed disorganized. That attitude has to stop now. If you want to go from unemployed to your own boss, you need to pay attention to Every. Single. Detail.
This lesson really hit home for me when my mother was hospitalized after a stroke. For 36 hours, she lay uncomfortably without decent sheets or a warm enough blanket. I remember thinking, If the people at this hospital aren’t competent enough to get my mother a blanket, I certainly don’t want them providing critical care to her. I figured the way they achieved (or failed to achieve) this one simple task was the way they’d handle all others.
My point? The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Stop telling yourself that ‘good enough’ is acceptable. It’s not. Now more than ever, the little stuff matters. As you launch your small business in a severe and competitive economy, you can bet that other people will pay attention to the ‘insignificant’ details — so you should, too.
10. …but don’t forget to have fun.
If you’re unemployed, chances are you haven’t considered the “f-word” for awhile. (Get your mind out of the gutter — I’m talking about “fun”!) Enjoyment is for people with a steady stream of income, you tell yourself. As you try to build a business on a very limited budget, taking a break, taking your eye off the prize, or even (brace yourself) taking a vacation probably seems like outright blasphemy. Do it anyway.
On a daily basis, I recommend stepping away from your work and doing something fun — whether that’s playing Candy Crush or getting creative with sidewalk chalk — every few hours. And every three to four months, you should take entire days off to do something you love, whether that’s traveling or just sitting on the couch with a book. Here’s why: You will get more from the play than from the practical. You will get more ideas and answers from shutting down your to-dos than you will from driving yourself relentlessly.
You’ll always do your best work when you’re relaxed, happy, and experiencing new things, not when you’re exhausted and stressed.
If you’re unemployed, pain is inevitable. But the type of pain you experience is largely up to you. You can settle for the pain of regret, fear, and being stuck in an unfulfilling life…or you can opt for the growing pains of starting a scary, but still exciting, new phase of your life. Choose wisely.
Suzanne Evans is the author of “The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything“. She is also owner and founder of SuzanneEvans.org, the “tell-it-like-it-is,” no-fluff boss of business building. She provides support, consult, and business development skills to the over 30,000 women enrolled in her wealth and business building programs. Having gone from secretary to surpassing the seven-figure mark herself in just over three years, she has made the Inc. 500/5000 list two years running, exceeding $6 million in revenue.