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How do I overcome learned helplessness?
March 2, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

How do I overcome my learned helplessness in relation to finding a job?

Since withdrawing from University due to severe depression and anxiety over a year ago, I have continually struggled to find employment. Of course, there's a variety of factors contributing to this: my lack of a real college degree (I have an associate's, but that's it), the relative scarcity of work in this shitty economy, and my indecision about what I want to do in the future. However, I feel like the primary thing that's holding me back is my feelings of helplessness. I've held jobs in the past, but they were all part of university work study programs and the application process involved little more than doing a few basic tests and showing up. Over the past year or so all the attempts I've made to find work have fallen flat.

Realistically I feel like there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to find a job. Even though I'm not super qualified for anything specialized, I'm willing to bag groceries or move boxes or file papers. I just can't motivate myself to fill out applications or call up managers because it feels like I physically CAN'T, even though I know those feelings are absurd. It's become a big cycle where every day just builds up another layer on the snowball of failure.

I know that in some ways those kinds of feelings are a symptom of my depression. I was just prescribed an SSRI to help treat that, but I'm not able to see a therapist at this moment, so I'm looking for practical tips or methods I can use to break this cycle and find work. I'm 22 and in the southern United States.
posted by arcolz to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Try not to think about it (as if it's that easy). Don't think about the consequences of filling out an application, just fill out an application. Go for low-stakes. Fill out a job application for that grocery bagging job you mentioned. Send a resume to something on a job-hunting board that you think you're not quite qualified for. Just get into the physical habit of completing the paperwork, and as you do that, you'll be able to break the cycle of putting too much importance on the act of applying for jobs.

It's basically a bit of "fake it 'til you make it," which doesn't always work, but is worth a shot.
posted by xingcat at 4:42 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds a lot like good old fashioned panic to me. What helps me through it is just making the decision to do it. I sit down at the computer and make a deal with myself to just DO IT just once. Even if it's not the most perfect application ever, I'm just gonna fill it out and do it. I would say that almost everywhere has an online application these days, and that's a pretty low stakes thing to fill out. For instance, I know that Sunflower market has an online application (no idea if they're in your area, though). Just go to the site and start filling in the blanks.

Think of it as practice. This isn't the perfect job for the rest of your life, but it would be cool if you got it. Just start thinking of it as practice for the real thing.

If you enjoyed school, think of it as being sort of like homework. If it helps, find a friend (or parent or sibling or whoever!) that you can report to every day. "I applied to one job today! Woo!" and have them give you a pat on the back for it. I just make a commitment to do one a day, and then I stick to it. If you need someone to assign you applications and give you a virtual high five for doing it, I am happy to do the job! Just send me a memail and we'll start doing it.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:45 PM on March 2, 2011


Building on stoneweaver's suggestion, after you've done your one-a-day application, be sure and give yourself a substantive reward (in addition to the verbal "woo-hoo!"). It needs to be a treat and something you thoroughly enjoy, like playing a game for half an hour, or having a latte, or reading. I find this really helps motivate me to fill out applications, even when you feel you're just going through the motions - so what!? You do it and then you can enjoy your latte, knowing you've done what you needed to do for the day.

Also, xingcat has it with, "don't think about the consequences" - I find learned helplessness is more about imagining the worst possible outcome and then letting that stop you from even trying. It's all about making action a daily practice.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 4:52 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can not plot your career like a perfect plan. It will just unfold in time. Even people with specialized degrees often do not end up exactly where they thought.

The first step is get a decent job, then start thinking about getting a better job (better pay, more rewarding, whatever makes it better).

To get a decent job, you have to seek out rejection. Say to yourself, I am going to collect 500 hundred job rejections. If you apply to 500 jobs, you will get one. Every rejection you get, you are one step closer to the one that will not reject you.

Don't fight the rejection with angst. Because in this market, searching for a decent job, there will be plenty of rejection. Embrace the rejection. Statistically, if you fill out enough applications, one of them will be a hit.
posted by Flood at 4:57 PM on March 2, 2011


One good bit of groundwork to do is create a resume of ALL schooling, job & non-job experiences and skills, with dates & addresses, including collecting in one easy place a list of your various references with their phones & addresses. This is all in order to collect in one place everything the various applications might ask or require. You don't give this resume to anyone as is, though edited (stripped down & custom targeted) versions could be used.

Mostly it helps make paperwork easy to fill out. Lowers a barrier to doing it, whether in an office or online. Plus it reminds you what skills you do have.
posted by lathrop at 5:58 PM on March 2, 2011


When I felt like this, the Feeling Good Handbook was useful. It got me used to the idea that sometimes, practical action comes BEFORE motivation, not the other way around. Also, the idea of breaking things down into ridiculously small steps was helpful. Steps like "today, I will print out the form." Not sign it, not fill it in, nothing but print it. And that's victory enough for one day. Hang in there -- a lot of us have felt the way you do now.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:54 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can find some good tips and advice in this thread.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 3:54 AM on March 3, 2011


Thanks everyone!

I took baby steps. First filling out a couple online applications. Then I hoofed around and picked up a couple applications in person. Then BAM! I got an interview from a coffee place that rhymes with Snarlclucks. Guess what? I'M HIRED.

Would like whipped cream on that?
posted by arcolz at 1:04 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Congrats!!! That's wonderful news. I am so happy for you.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:10 PM on March 15, 2011


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