Tom Peters, of In Search of Excellence fame, had something encouraging to say to this kind of initiative in an interview with Psychology Today (March/April 1993). The questioner commented, “Your ideas are remarkable in their compassion for failure.” Peters replied, “Well, to not fail is to die . . . If you are not pursuing some dream and then reinventing yourself regularly, assiduously you’re going to fail. Period.” He further explained,
In the world of dull, boring management, the essence to me of everything that one accomplishes in life, from the trivial to the grand, is failure. You don’t ride a bike the first time. You don’t play a violin the first time. The essence of experimental physics is to create experiments at which you fail; then along the way you eventually achieve some knowledge of something. It’s hard to articulate because, for me, it’s so obvious that the only thing worth pursuing is failure.”
The Positive Side of Unemployment
The job keeper has to keep on dancing to music from within, after the “background music” you get from your job stops. Another line from George Herbert suggests the unappealing alternative: “He begins to die, that quits his desires.” All of this is condensed in the experience of one manager, age fifty-one, whose severance pay was long gone and who had, after two years, no job prospects that looked promising. In describing this “most traumatic experience” in his life, he wrote in a letter:
Unemployment has had a positive effect on my life in that it has made me a much more sensitive and caring person. I have been humbled and that is good. Last year for a time I was driving an airport limousine to make twenty dollars a trip (very little bit helps). On one occasion I picked up one of my former peers who still works at my last company. That was humbling! I keep telling myself that someday I will find financial security and I will look back with gratitude for having had the chance to become a better person. I remain hopeful my trust is only in my own effort. I expect no help and want (and deserve) no sympathy. My situation is the result of the choices I personally made. I have no one to be angry at, including myself. I am proud of my strength, but I do fear despair. If someday I did lose hope, the result would be fatal.
Persistence can activate the optimism that lies hidden in the inner person, somewhere in the nervous system, ready to spring. By exercising persistence, you can experience the exhilaration and reduce the despair. But you have to try it to become convinced. You have to believe that the other side of every “out” is “in,” and that any exit is an entrance in reverse. Every ouster is the starting gate for a comeback.
Handling the Rejection of Being Over Qualified
Insisting that “my youth is not dead --- yet,” a sixty-year-old marketing manager gave me his reaction to the very discouraging “you’re overqualified” response he had been receiving to job inquiries. “It really means you’re too old, or your salary range is too high, or simply ‘we don’t want you.’” When you hear “overqualified,” he said,
Accept the fact that it isn’t worth your while to pursue it, but don’t give up; just point your pursuit in other directions. Maybe you are too old for a particular job. But look at it this way: If you needed brain surgery, who would you rather have operate on you --- an overqualified surgeon, or someone less well qualified? Package the skills and experience that make you “overqualified,” and sell that package, at a bargain price, perhaps, to someone who really needs it. Your job now is to find that someone.
Reading is a Savor for Getting Us to Realize We Aren’t Alone
I’m convinced that persons burdened with the stress of job loss can have their burdens lightened, if not lifted, by seeing themselves in the literary portrayals of persons and situations not unlike their own --- descriptions and metaphors --- crafted by fine writers and poets whose insights into the human condition are available to anyone willing to read. The return on the time invested in this kind of reading is personal progress in getting a grip on life.
A helpful figure of speech fashioned by Franz Kafka will help to make my point: “A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.”