Unlearning Helplessness
December 25, 2017 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm four days away from turning 28. I'm still, largely, here, here, and here. I still don't have a job, five years after college. I *think* I'm interested in medicine, psychology, research and writing am generally well-spoken and written, even through what can be a severe stutter, and have tried to network in my own way. But I'm not finding work. Realistically? It's likely because I'm not looking for it anymore. I've been worn down by a torrent of rejection and cannot get myself to take initiative with applications. Hope me?

TLDR: After intense personal efforts with:
- Temp agencies
-The CEOs of major hospital systems
- The Comissioner for the Mayor's Office of People with Disabilities in NYC
-NGOs which advocate for people with disabilities in NY
- Three job developers
-Countless vocational programs
-Civil service
-"work-readiness" programs- perhaps the experience most detrimental to my psyche in recent memory
And work with:
- A pre-med volunteering program at a large local medical center that allowed for intense daily interaction with a team of physicians from many departments, many of which gave me letters of recommendation
- A team of physicians on several publications discussing rehabilitation best practices after cancer diagnoses
- Professors at a top state school, where I was on the Dean's list for the length of my degree program
- A medical coding program where I am consistently earning above-average grades and progressing faster than most…
I still have nothing.

Was on the Dean's list for a majority of my degree program, before depression took over, but I still graduated. I am in touch with high-level executives at several organizations I've applied to, who, though they're kind and wonderful, have not been able to do anything. This just feels like a curse...

It's a strange thing- I get excited and don't need much of a push to do things that go above and beyond the standard job application process ( I can write a doozy of an email and will make calls to anyone and everyone who will listen even with a stutter), but, Green, I can't get myself to submit job applications on my own.

The forms, the what-iffing, not finding things I can apply for confidently, given what I know about my skills... I don't know. I just have no energy for any of that anymore. No motivation. The depression is being treated, and I'm finally on 20mg ER Adderall, which is life-changing for a few hours a day, but I still can't bring myself to do it. I've sent maybe 200 applications in 5 years, which I know is nothing.

I can do everything but the most basic and most essential part of job-hunting, both despite and because of the fact that in these five years, I've had exactly two, falsely positive, interviews. People have told me that, based on the questions I had brought in re: the positions, I should be at an Ivy, and then rejected me. I know people are doing it to save face and I know that my stutter isn't helping the optics.

But I need to want to keep trying, and, more than anything, I need an energetic, outside-the-box source of advocacy. ISO CBT hacks, mental tricks, protocols, systems, pathways, resources, people and all manner of tips and tricks to get myself to start filling out applications, getting interviews and getting a job. Hope me, hivemind?
posted by marsbar77 to Work & Money (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously you need to just get yourself in motion without worrying too much bout whether any particular application is that a perfect fit. My suggestion - Set yourself a goal of one solid rejection per week, starting a month from now. Promise yourself a motivating reward for the first rejection and each following one. It doesn't matter if you weren't qualified - in fact I recommend that you start with jobs that you know are a little bit of stretch so when you do get rejected, it won't hurt so much. If you fall short (not getting rejected because you don't get enough applications in the pipeline) then set a small negative (like a donation to a charity you hate)

The numbers and size of the goals depend on your field. It is hard (at least for the kind of job I've look for which are fairly skilled) to actually get someone to say "no" so for me, giving myself a month to get the first rejection and then one a week is a fair bit of effort. You might also have small rejections (Like we don't have an opening) that count as a fraction, say 1/3 of a solid rejection (where you actually had someone read your resume and tell you they wouldn't give you a job) YMMV

You may also need (I did) to set a timer that you spend a minimum amount of time every day (or every week) working on your job search. But for me, the big win was to be able to get excited whenever I got turned down. Yay - another rejection - time for a reward.
posted by metahawk at 1:32 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ignore the host of this podcast and his adverts, but clearly you need to hear this interview...


I can't say enough about kundalini yoga and how quickly it can break you from being stuck. Why wait? You have nothing to lose by trying it.
posted by jbenben at 1:41 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure if you need work or you need a career.

If you can settle for just holding a job right now. Email your resume to three temp agencies in your area and apply online. This should take one to two hours. The next day call and ask to meet with them. Meet with them. Accept paying work.

Then just so the job. Do what they ask and a bit more related work. Do not meet with the CEO or do anything special or crazy at all. This method got me permanent job offers multiple times. Just go and do the work they tell you to do. If you hate it, get a different placement from the 3 temp agencies. If you need a career, this method may not work.
posted by Kalmya at 3:44 AM on December 26, 2017 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Two years ago, right after I graduated from school, it took me a year to find a job. My goal was to apply to one job a day. I often did more but it helped to have a goal. I needed money, so by the end I just applied for anything that I was even a little qualified for. I got a good job that I didn't really want, but I worked there for ten months while I made other plans and got into a better situation. I know how much it sucks. Just set a goal for how many applications you want to send, inure yourself to the rejection that really has nothing to do with you personally, and when you feel hopeless, remind yourself that nothing will change if you don't keep trying.
posted by amodelcitizen at 4:08 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you apply for something like Americorps?
posted by raccoon409 at 4:44 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: People have told me that, based on the questions I had brought in re: the positions, I should be at an Ivy, and then rejected me. I know people are doing it to save face and I know that my stutter isn't helping the optics.

Urghhh, no. No. And I say this having been, at several points, in similar positions? But no. It isn't your stutter. I mean, you'd probably be doing marginally better without it, but that's not an actionable thing and it wouldn't be a huge problem if you were approaching the rest of this appropriately. So, here's the thing. What you have right now are some letters of recommendation from a volunteer gig, a degree you've never used, and virtually no recent job experience. If they're making comments about how smart you sound, then you are behaving like a twit in interviews for entry-level clerical work.

I would suggest that it's December 26 and Tax Day is April 17 and that a really good starting point is trying to get seasonal clerical work with a local accounting firm. If you're interested in a very, very basic script for how to go about that, MeMail me, I'll avoid spamming here. But the key, in general, is to stop billing yourself as a brilliant future doctor/researcher/etc and to start billing yourself as, for the next 4-12 months, a very reliable guy who can operate a scanner and stuff envelopes and knows how to use Microsoft Word, and tailor your resume, applications, and other interactions with people accordingly. It isn't that you aren't destined for better things, it's just... they don't care, you know? You have to sell yourself on the stuff they care about. No more "doozy" emails, no more heavy-duty research before you even speak to someone in person. Chillll. It'll go better.

It's not the stutter you have to overcome, here, it's coming off like you're not humble enough to do boring work for awhile, even as a stepping stone. It's okay if you get the humility part right first and the actual work part right two or three jobs down the line--sucking at this is a temporary lack of practice, not a long-term character fault.
posted by Sequence at 4:59 AM on December 26, 2017 [70 favorites]

Best answer: This was a while ago, but when I first got out of college I had a string of mostly crappy and boring temp jobs unrelated to my degree. I did a lot of things I didn't love and wasn't good t, but eventually one of those temp jobs turned into a permanent job which turned into a career. Which is not crappy and which I am grateful for. To recap: I was a crappy worker with undiagnosed ADD, a liberals major and no plan, and I temped myself into a career.

As far as how to get started filling out applications - problems with initiation are not unusual for people with ADD/ADHD. One technique which is very effective for me is the body double - just having someone with you in the room as a supportive presence with the shared intention that you will get the task done. If you can't find a body double, then I suggest creating a small online support group or joining an online group for people with ADD (there are a few on FB) and sharing an intention with the group along the lines of "I will fill out one job application before I reopen FaceBook." If you need to break it down further, do that. Pick a job to apply for, put your name and address on an application, etc.

I remember one of your prior posts and that you were hesitant about volunteer work - but it *will* give you some work experience, references and a network, and it's much much easier to get in the door. I think your lack of job experience is probably hurting you, and I also agree with Sequence - that is probably how I sounded in many interviews when i was younger and it did me zero favors. It has taken me years to understand that people do not like me better for sounding smart, and instead I work on sounding agreeable (you'd think your boss would enjoy being challenged a lot but really they want a team of people who work well with each other and to not have their job threatened), and like a team player who shows up on time, works hard and takes responsibility for mistakes.

So here are my suggestions:
* Find an ADD support group and read more about ADD/ADHD
* Sign up with some temp agencies. Be prepared to experiment with boring work for a while.
* Ask friends with hiring experience to do a fake interview with you over the phone or in person, and give you feedback. This has helped me.
* Medication is not enough. Keep reading about and understanding the disorder, experiment on yourself with different techniques, and you'll be more prepared for ADD-related road blocks when they come up.
* Split up your day - apply for jobs in the morning and volunteer in the afternoons. Look at NY Cares - once you show up for the orientation it's really easy to sign up for a volunteer gig that meets your specs and then just show up. And this will give you something to put on your resume to show that you're not just a brain, you also give a damn and show up and do grunt work.
* Have you tried Toastmasters? That might be helpful for the dealing with the stutter - just doing public speaking on a regular basis, in a supportive environment, and coping with it. Also looks good on the resume.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 AM on December 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Random list in no particular order of things that have helped me over the years:

* 7 Cups of Tea. I started as a Member a few years ago, and now log in more often as a Listener, someone who's gone through the training course to provide support to others. Even when my bipolar and panic are at their worst, helping someone else helps me. I'm better able to get things done after helping other people.

* Habitica. A friend introduced me in September. It's old-timey RPG meets to-do list. I joined my friend's party as a level 0 Warrior and am now a level 62 Mage. Checking things off my to-do lists garners gold and experience, and damage against the bosses we fight on our quests. If I don't do my "Dailies," the bosses can attack back with damage. If I don't do enough of my "Dailies," my partymates can die. Given a choice between "do the thing" and "kill people," "do the thing" gets much easier. I'm also enjoying collecting pets way more than I thought I would, and I'm loving building streaks of doing the thing day in, day out. (My best is 40 days straight!)

* Mechanical Turk. Between physical and psychological disabilities, working outside the home isn't something I'm pursuing. Thanks to wonderful friends who act as caregivers, I don't have to pay rent. But since the husband of the couple recently totaled the car, breaking his arm and losing his job in the process, I've stepped up to make sure the bills keep getting paid. Most of my income is earned on Mechanical Turk. I do mostly surveys, but also some AI training batch work where I'm rephrasing questions or rewriting sentences. It's tedious and inane a lot of the time. But I'm a big fan of electricity and running water, so I put on my big girl panties and go to work. One of my Post-It Notes above my monitor reminds me, "You MUST keep going."

* GIGO is a real thing. Garbage In, Garbage Out. When my mental state starts deteriorating in whichever direction it goes, I evaluate what I'm putting into my head. What music am I listening to? What am I binge-watching on Netflix and Hulu? What music has been on when I'm working? How much news am I watching, reading, or hearing? Nora Roberts, Bon Jovi, and Star Trek can cure a lot.

* Eat plants and move around. I feel better when I eat better. Some of my earnings typically go towards salads and fruit on every grocery run my caregivers go on. Once the husband of the couple is working again, I'm hoping to work with the wife to map out a diet for me that involves less fat and fewer empty carbs. (I can't do much food prep beyond peeling a banana, so it's all on her.) I also feel better when I'm in less pain, which is aided by regular exercise. Because of my physical disabilities, I can't do a whole heck of a lot of vigorous movement, and have problems with balance, strength, and stamina. But when I at least do some gentle stretching a few times a day, and maybe dance in my seat for a song or two, I typically feel better both physically and emotionally.

* Unstoppable.me. Jon Morrow is one of my personal heroes. You can read his story here and here. Read everything he's ever written. Dude can only move his face, but he's a millionaire, living his dream life.


How did you get the job you had a couple questions ago, where you were taking pictures of the things, then writing blurbs about them? Do that again. Do it over and over until it works again. You don't need to be looking for The One True Job right now. You need to be looking for The Job That Gives Me Money. I've had some doozies over the years. I've scrubbed toilets. I've been shot at. I've changed diapers. I've worked months straight with no days off. I've worked back to back to back 20 hour days.

I hate to break it to you, but sometimes adulting just sucks. Adulting with disabilities sucks even more. But it's what there is, y'know? Some days you just have to put on your grownup pants, suck it up, and do the thing.

A couple more from the Wall o' Post-Its:

> It's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.

> You don't ever get over it; you just get on with it.

> What would I do if I was a badass?

> You have to treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something holy.

> This is my life now. What's next?

> Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept the pain.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:08 AM on December 26, 2017 [27 favorites]

Best answer: I've often felt like a small boat on the sea, driven by tides and winds and unable to control the direction my life has gone in. That things just happened without me having consciously chosen them.

Then I worked with a great boss who was fond of saying things like "you hold your destiny in your own hands, you have to make the right decisions for yourself, no one else will do it for you". Also, talking about some stupid domestic furniture issue to a friend and said "well, obviously I wouldn't choose to have this stuff", and my friend said "Huh? You did though, you chose these things, you bought all of them".

It made me realise how much of my life I've felt that way, and I've tried to hold on to the idea that I might be a small boat and the winds and tides can take me off course, but I hold the tiller. Right now, I'm in a job I don't love, with a difficult boss, and sometimes feel trapped and powerless. Reminding myself that I have options, even if leaving and having no income is an unattractive option, is helping.

I also struggle with motivation - and job applications, interviews etc are really really tough, don't underestimate that. I find that setting specific, simple tasks "I will apply for X jobs, I will spend X hours job hunting" and physically ticking them off paper lists has worked well. For me, spending an hour doing the horrid task then basking in a smug glow of contentment for the rest of the evening is a lot more pleasant than spending the same evening trying to block out guilt and anxiety about whatever it is that I haven't done.

On the more prosaic side, Ask A Manager is a good site for advice, from other commentators as much as (if not more than) the site owner, on practical stuff - try the Friday open thread.

Aside from my current difficulty, my first 10 years of work were not great, pretty standard back office admin stuff, constant financial difficulty. Then I fell into (No! I chose!) an area of specialism that really suits me, passed a load of exams, did great at work, various promotions, financial pressures eased, travelled for work to 20+ countries, met great people and had some amazing experiences. So, from my own experience, just because you haven't had an easy start, it doesn't mean you have missed your chance or have failed. There is still plenty of time, you can find your way.

Best of luck to you.
posted by ElasticParrot at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Have you made it clear to everyone you know that you really really want a job? Networking in the sense of getting to know people just for the purpose of furthering your career is crap, but talking to the people you know about your search could uncover opportunities that you will never find via job boards and temp agencies. Every job of substance that I have ever had has come from someone I already knew, and I am not what anyone would consider an extrovert. Depression can isolate you and that makes this difficult, but if you are putting together daily, weekly, monthly goals, I would definitely add reaching out to people from you present and your past to that list.
posted by mumblelard at 8:38 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have one piece of specific advice, my apologies if you know this and have acted upon it: to get temp work, you have to be in frequent contact with the agency. Call them -- not email!! -- every day. You have to show them that you are extremely eager to work. Call them in the morning, early in the work day, so they know you are able to get up in the morning on time for work.
posted by stowaway at 9:21 AM on December 26, 2017

So first alarm i see is your top two choices, medicine and psychology both require something you don't list: a licence.
You don't say that you are an EMT, RN, LPN, PN ,MSW, LCPC, CADC.... Ect (I used random IL abbreviations here, may vary based on jurisdiction)

That's why you can't get those jobs.

If you want to work in the medical field NOW go apply to training program through a nursing home or a ambulence service. They are constantly hiring and training and hiring. The jobs aren't fun, have bad hours, are stressful and rough. BUT they are jobs, they pay, and offer great experience.

Otherwise, most community colleges offer certificate programs in the fields you want to move towards.

You can get a job. Keep trying!

For reference only : I work as a social worker in a hospital doing crisis intervention work. it took a masters degree, 5 years case management in a medical related but not clinic field work, my post work supervision hours, passing my clinical licensure, some luck, and doing insurance care coordination for awhile which was a total drag. But now I do something I really enjoy.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:22 AM on December 26, 2017

Response by poster: Hi all- thank you for the wonderfully thoughtful responses. So much to consider.
A few points of clarification, though:

I do, in fact, have a bunch of clerical and related experience. Or, what I think should allow me to have reasonable expectations of at least an interview, somewhere. Yes, it's volunteer, but people don't know that off the bat. That, and I was hoping that my willingness to work in these positions for so long without pay would show something positive in the way of character/work ethic.

I'm in a wheelchair and the stutter is pretty severe on some days, though it's being worked on. This is a bigger issue than maybe is coming across here, but also the reason why I'm so hesitant to take just any paid job. Please understand it's not an ego thing. I'm worried, justifiably, I think, about career mobility and getting stuck somewhere.
posted by marsbar77 at 9:53 AM on December 26, 2017

Response by poster: Also, just to refocus: I'm really having more of a problem with the learned helplessness re:applications, more than anything else. I think I know where to go from here ( though these were all so helpful!) I just can't get myself to do what I need to do.
posted by marsbar77 at 10:13 AM on December 26, 2017

Best answer: This is a bigger issue than maybe is coming across here, but also the reason why I'm so hesitant to take just any paid job. Please understand it's not an ego thing. I'm worried, justifiably, I think, about career mobility and getting stuck somewhere.

You know how writers worry about people stealing their work before they have learned their craft or shown anything to anyone, and although it makes sense to them it's kind of bizarrely premature and also stopping them from writing things?

You are doing this with your job. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Although your CV and experience are important, there is no global Job Record in the sky that is going to prevent you from making a change later, except maybe if you did a terrible job in a small field. You have been looking for five years? My friend, what you need is a job where you ace it every day. At the one year mark, and not a day before, I permit you to start worrying about your next step and what that means for your career. Right now your lack of job is worse than the wrong job. People can understand "I took a job for the bills and the experience." They get pretty leery about "no one would hire me and I gave up for a while."

Right now, you need to hit the very basics: You can show up, follow direction, and do a job good enough worth being paid. I am not knocking volunteer experience, but there is a comfort to employers that someone else cut you cheques for a year.

And yes, this kind of thinking is a form of learned helplessness.

So here's what you do:

1. Apply to jobs, every day, before you do anything else other than breakfast. This is your job, and if you can keep a job you will be able to get to a desk and do boring stuff, so start there. 3-5 applications in, every single day. I hear you that it's hard. It's really hard. Job hunting does a job on the ego. However, any job worth having is going to have days you hate, so pretend these are those.

2. Accept all interviews. Interviews do not obligate you to take a job, and I am betting you need the practice.

3. Temporary work is an even better idea but you seem pretty reluctant. Maybe figure out why?

4. I am not an expert in disability and careers, but I am betting there are people in your area who are. Where can you go to seek advice from and to network with those people? Find out and try that.

5. Network. The medical coding program sounds kind of great, how is that going? Are you creating a network? Are there interning or temp assignments available? Are you checking for temp contracts in that via your local hospitals/clinics/etc.? I am not sure how it works but it sounds promising.

Is there someone in your life who would be an accountability partner for you? Set some goals and start talking about them. You can do this.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Re: temping and then I'm done, promise: I've registered with all area temp agencies and continuously call and send updated resumes. I'm also trying to get flex work. No one's calling me back, unfortunately. And most of these do seem to have manning phones as a core component of the job description, which is what scares me away. But that doesn't seem to matter because no one responds either way
posted by marsbar77 at 10:26 AM on December 26, 2017

Best answer: ...which is what scares me away.

With all the compassion and respect in my heart, screw that. Make them tell you no. Your job is to ask. Ask for the interview. Ask for the job. Ask for the money. Ask for feedback. Ask everybody. Ask all the things.

I know, I know. Rejection is scary. And it hurts. Jia Jiang has a wonderful TED Talk about seeking out rejection in order to build resilience. (He also has a book on the subject, which is in the tower of books to read next to my bed.)

I don't have a stutter. But I have crushing social phobia, agoraphobia, and panic disorder. It just took me two weeks to call one of my favorite people on the planet, because I was terrified of bothering her. (To demonstrate the depth of this illogic, she's 92, rarely leaves the house, and has told me repeatedly that she wants me to bother her.) So I can relate to concerns about talking on the phone. Most days, I'd rather have abdominal surgery than talk on the phone.

But here's the thing: If you don't ask, the answer is always no. And if you do ask, and the answer's still no, nothing's changed. I'm an aspiring writer, but I haven't sold anything yet. If I ask Forbes to buy an article, and they say no, I haven't sold anything yet. No change. But if I ask and they say yes, I'm suddenly a paid, professional writer. Huge change.

And who knows, manning the phones may not be as core a component as you'd think. I have a direct sales business. Have for more than 13 years. It's typically operated on the home party model. I find a hostess, go to her house where she has friends over, demonstrate my product, they buy stuff, we all go home happy. Between my lack of mobility, lack of transportation, and terror of the telephone, I've had to make some adaptations. I now do 90% of my business through social media. My last "party" was basically a series of Facebook posts with Q&A in the comments; I sold just as much as at my in-person parties. A full 3/4 of my current customers have never heard my voice.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 7:02 PM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know why people keep pushing temping, it's virtually impossible to get hired as a temp when you are disabled. It just is. Everyone lists "able to lift 35lbs" as a job requirement. You are correct that you are largely wasting your time applying for seasonal or temp employment.

Here is the thing though, you have strengths. You are a good writer, a good communicator and you are smart. Play to those. I work in science and while we do not currently employ anyone in a wheelchair at my place of work there are quite a few disabled people there, some profoundly and it's not a big deal as most of their jobs are to sit at a desk and do specialized work and it's so hard to hire specialized people that we will bend over backwards to accommodate them. My program does require fieldwork but quite a lot don't. There are jobs out there for people with your skills and limitations, in fields you are interested in and there is no point in wasting your time trying to get hired in other fields! I'd be happy to talk to you (except my field is not wheelchair friendly) but I bet if you asked around others would too.

If you could get some experience or a degree in data management, database management, statistics, public outreach, design, GIS or the like and are decent at it the wheelchair and stutter will not matter one bit. It is not like programming or working at a corporation. In science it's more like if you can do the job- you're definitely in with a solid chance. I would imagine that if you were competent in the modern admin systems so many governments have gone to now it would be the same thing. They are desperate for people who know how that software works.

Can you type well? You certainly write well enough to do some commercial writing. You've done copy-writing, that is a good start. And these days you can cobble together a blog to have good writing examples out there. you can write about things you know with no real other background. Where do you live? write about your city. Review products, write about cooking. Something bland, commercial and professional.
posted by fshgrl at 9:41 PM on December 26, 2017

Best answer: And really- you don't need a degree in those things. A huge number of people that work in those areas at my work just fell into it when they got too old to want o do fieldwork anymore, or had kids, or got hurt. If you can take a few classes and maybe volunteer for a non-profit for a while or get a job in data entry at a science-y place and express interest in working up to data analysis I think you can do it. Lots of people do. The trick is to have unusual skills, it gets you past the difficulty interviewing. Which a lot of young men have, so that's not just you!
posted by fshgrl at 9:48 PM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm worried, justifiably, I think, about career mobility and getting stuck somewhere.

I'm not trying to sound snide, but you seem pretty stuck where you are right now.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:10 PM on December 27, 2017

My first real job out of college in 2015 was as a clerk at an accounting firm through a temp agency (a suggested job above). Two years later I am nowhere near doing that type of work— my current position has significantly higher pay (and status, which seems to be somewhat important to you), in a field I’m excited about and advancing my career.
posted by flying_trapeze at 6:58 PM on December 27, 2017

Also, sorry, another comment— clerical skills at that tax firm helped me get a position in research project management at a social science research center fwiw. (Not my current job, but immediately followed the accounting firm gig ).
posted by flying_trapeze at 7:07 PM on December 27, 2017

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