Q: How can we live our strongest life while unemployed? I went to college earned a bachelor's degree in education, then returned to get a law degree. I graduated with honors and have been unemployed for over a year and a half. It's my fault; I quit my job and moved to another state all in the name of love. When that fell through, I was off to find employment and return to my life...then this recession hit. I can't get a job and I have $80,000 in defaulted student loans. I'm embarrassed and ashamed; I cry every day. I recently met someone wonderful and I can't be happy because I feel like a loser. I'm 37 and I've worked since I was 16. My dad stressed education and independence, and today it feels like I have neither.
— Shannon, age 37
A: Let's state this in no uncertain terms: You are not a loser. You say it feels like you have neither your education nor your independence, but in this case, you're better advised to listen to your dad than to your feelings. You do have your education and independence, and nobody can take them away from you. You've had some setbacks, and they can seem permanent, but I promise you that they're not.
Now is the time to rally around your certainties. You seem certain about your chosen career path, and you have already worked to make it a reality. Don't be discouraged. Keep moving. Keep looking for situations that play to your strengths and qualifications. Consider volunteering at nonprofits to build your skills and experience and to renew your sense of accomplishment. Finding people who you can help is often the best way to help yourself. Focus on the strong-moments that are possible in your life right now and celebrate them—not by simply patting yourself on the back or clapping and cheering, but by giving them your full attention. Find ways to build on them. It's not pleasant to find yourself on the outside looking in during a down economy, but times like these also throw our strengths into strong relief. If you feel at your lowest but can still find those moments or activities that keep you going, make you feel a sense of accomplishment and give you energy, you will know that those strong-moments will serve you through your entire life.
A final word about job searches: Emphasize your strengths on your résumé, in your cover letters and in your interviews. It may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people simply list everything they've ever done. Convey your passion and link your strengths to measurable results. Employers and interviewers love concrete data.