American workers are quickly finding themselves in one of two basic categories:
■ The recently laid-off who are struggling to find strong footing in the workplace again.
■ Those who fear they will find themselves in the first category one day soon.
In either scenario, comfort and security are not banners we wave. The shock of being laid off, the fear of being tagged next and the survivor's guilt of escaping yet again has encouraged an environment in which low morale thrives and overwhelming uncertainty flourishes in the workplace.
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In no way is that situation good for employees, for families, for businesses or for this country.
We have got to get a grip.
Life coach JoAnne Hilliard of Lexington said the unemployed go through several emotional stages, including shock, grief, anger and being "scared to death."
"It is really important for them to have a support group of family, friends and colleagues," she said. "It is really important for family, friends and colleagues to reach out to them as well. It goes both ways."
Earlene Huckleberry, who became a life coach a few years after retiring from the Urban County Government, agreed. "Don't leave them alone," she said. "Don't feel guilty about having a job and they don't. You can have good contacts. Be grateful and thankful that you can help."
After getting resources in order, the unemployed need to find ways to stay active. Go out for coffee or join an organization, Hilliard said.
"I am a member of a Toastmasters (International) group," she said. "Toastmasters can help with job interviews, thinking on your feet, leadership skills and speaking abilities."
If getting a job is urgent because there are no cash reserves, Huckleberry said job seekers must keep naysayers at bay if at all possible.
Then, "treat the job search as though it were a job."
Find someone or some organization that can help make you employable or help you find a new career path, she suggested, such as the University of Kentucky's Small Business Development Center at the Lexington Public Library downtown.
"Tell 10 people a day that you are looking for a job," Huckleberry said. "They will have ideas. Get over that insecurity and feelings of failure. Be open; don't get depressed by staying in the house and waiting for someone to come knocking on your door with a job."
Break down the job search into doable pieces, she said. Make phone calls the first hour and go out to search in the second hour. Maybe in the third hour, adjust your résumé.
"That way, you can check things off your list," Huckleberry said, "and you are not just sitting on your duff."
Do what's hard for you first. If you hate looking for a job, do that early, and save the more palatable efforts for later in the day, she said.
If getting a new job is not urgent, Hilliard said, job seekers can use the free time to go back to school for more training or to find other ways to refresh the tools that businesses want workers to have.
Or, she said, take advantage of volunteer opportunities that are available, because many businesses, non-profits and government agencies are operating with fewer people nowadays. Volunteering keeps skills sharp and can showcase your talents. It could be a prime opportunity, Huckleberry said, to find out what it is you really love to do.
"If you don't know (what you love), you need a coach, a person who can help you dream and make plans, so you are not just wishing your life away."
A life coach helps a client strategize and focus on his or her passion, which might have been buried under years of having to work for a living. Life coaches can help move you from a rut to a position of affirmation.
"The first question I ask is, 'Do you know what your purpose is?'" Huckleberry said. "It took me four years after leaving government to find my purpose, and only by having my own life coach could I figure that out."
Hilliard was in business before becoming a certified life coach in 2005. Her business partner loved what they were doing, but Hilliard didn't.
"I was on a treadmill and I couldn't get off," she said. "I knew I had to find my passion."
Once she left the business, a friend saw an article about life coaches and suggested that Hilliard would make a good one. She passed, until another friend made the same suggestion.
When Hilliard read the article, "I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do," she said.
Getting a pink slip can be devastating, but working and waiting for the other shoe to fall can be just as stressful.
Hilliard suggested that workers in that scenario should re-invent themselves. "Get more creative," she said. "Stop and figure out how I can help improve this organization instead of going into the office in the fear mode."
Think outwardly instead of inwardly, and look outside normal boundaries to find something that will make you invaluable, she said.
To hedge the bet, however, Hilliard said, we all should be re-igniting the contacts and networks that we have forged just in case a layoff is inevitable.
"This is the time for us to do our very best," she said, "to stay positive and focused and thinking out of the box."
Look at the uncertain job market as an opportunity, she said, and don't allow yourself to be dragged into the prevailing fear. A positive attitude makes a big difference.
Those still employed can take courses online or explore the possibility of starting a small business.
"This is a time to find what really has meaning in our lives instead of doing the same ol' same ol'," Hilliard said.
Changing careers or starting a small business require planning, however.
"You have to separate fact from feelings," Huckleberry said. "Do your homework. Preparation is really, really important."
The main focus must be changing the situation.
"Ask yourself, "What am I going to do about this?" she said. "It doesn't matter why you are in that position. What matters is, what are you going to do to get out?"
Above all else, Hilliard said, "keep a positive attitude and count your blessings every day."
"We all have good and bad days," she said. "Develop a system. If you want to dance, then dance. Do whatever makes you feel alive. If you don't have that positive attitude, no one will want to be around you."
If you're looking for a life coach, contact Hilliard through her Web site, www.joannehilliard.com, or Huckleberry at (859) 321-3430.