Thursday, October 1, 2009

Coping Mechanisms for Managing or Relieving Stress in the Wake, or in Fear, of Job Loss (4-Part Series) -- Part IV: Accepting Help, Giving Help

Too often we turn away opportunities and offers of assistance when most needed because of some misguided, though completely understandable, sense of pride, shame, and/or embarrassment. If there is one positive thing that has come out of the nation’s economic crisis –if you can call any of this “positive” –it is the fact that because so many are experiencing layoffs at the same time, employers rarely dwell on the reasons for an applicant’s laid off status during the interview process.

Here are a few things to keep in mind, lest you turn away your next great opportunity:

· DON’T BLOCK THE BLESSING! Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. . . . " Too often we get so bogged down in our circumstances that we proceed through life with blinders on and miss potential opportunities that come across our path. Be conscious of when you feel yourself pulling in that direction and do an about-face. Don’t become so mired in the negative that you don’t hear when opportunity knocks. Maintain positive expectations and be open to possibilities.

· ACCEPT “THE GOOD” There is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about being laid off, especially in the current economic climate. Don’t let pride or shame lead you to turn away offers of assistance and opportunities. Identify and utilize all available resources to advance your goals. Similarly, now is not the time to decide to stop participating in your profession-related extracurricular activities, such as boards, task forces, committees, bar association groups and sections, etc. Now, more than ever, you want to cultivate and maintain those connections, which may prove useful in the end. This also ensures that you won’t give in to the urge to isolate yourself, or become disconnected from others. It can be quite beneficial to have fellow committee members see you “in action.” They would be able to comment on such things as your ability to lead, how well you work with others, whether you are a “team player,” your work ethic, and how well you get along with others. After all, you never know from where your next opportunity will come.

· SET UP YOUR OWN PERSONAL “DREAM TEAM” Your “dream team” is a person, or group of people, whom you trust to be there for you in a supportive role as you embark on this journey towards the next chapter in your work life. Some turn to people they’ve identified as mentors or role models, while others choose close, positive-thinking friends or confidants who they know will help to keep them moving forward. Ultimately, they should be people who know what your goals are and who are going to help you to achieve them by checking in with you on a regular basis to ensure that you are moving towards your goal and accomplishing tasks you identified for them during the prior call.

· PAY IT FORWARD. Helping others is not only good for the person you help, but also for your own soul. Remember also that good attracts good. Take the time to volunteer your services through pro bono work and public service. This has added benefits, including helping you to continue to practice and feel connected to the profession, advancing and honing your legal skills, networking and opening yourself up to other opportunities, as well as potentially exposing you to other practice areas. Additionally, if you were contemplating going into a particular practice area, but weren’t sure about whether you would like it, this is one way of making that determination prior to committing yourself via a long-term contractual arrangement. Contact your state and local bar associations, as well as your state’s legal aid office(s), to find out what pro bono and public service opportunities are out there. You can also simply pick up the phone and call solo, small, and/or mid-sized firms which specialize in the contemplated practice area and ask whether they could use some volunteer help in exchange for their willingness to allow you to be, in essence, an apprentice and shadow them. In today’s economy, with many firms being forced to significantly downsize in order to remain open, you are certain to find lawyers who will gladly take you up on that offer.

Even with these coping mechanisms, you may still need professional help with getting through your stressful situation, which may seem overwhelming and all encompassing. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING OR SEEKING HELP, SO PLEASE DO SEEK PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE WHEN SUCH STRESS, OR ISSUES SUCH AS ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, SUBSTANCE ABUSE, OR OTHER TROUBLING BEHAVIORS PERSIST. For assistance, please contact us at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Inc. (31 Milk Street, Suite 810, Boston, MA , (617) 482-9600, email@lclma.org, or visit our website at http://www.lclma.org/). Help can also be accessed through your: healthcare provider; local hospital; psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, clinician or other mental health professional; or community healthcare center.See our web site Resource Page for a list of relevant stress resources.

Ms. Walcott presented this and other material in a program entitled, “Staying Positive in a Down Economy: Beyond The Group Hug” (June 30, 2009), which was part of the ABA’s Recession Recovery Teleconference Series. A download and course materials for this program are available online at http://www.abanet.org/cle/programs/nosearch/tspdmo.html.

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