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The Cure for Unemployment Neurosis (for newspaper)

My speech at the ICT May 2017 conference was well-received; so I reorganized and edited it for a newspaper opinion piece, which the MetroWest Daily News accepted.

The Cure for Unemployment Neurosis

Few companies want unemployed workers who are over age-fifty. People tell me the most common response is “We have decided to pursue other candidates who we think fit better with our organization.”

Months of this is discouraging. You wonder whether you’ll ever land another full-time position. You worry that others view you as a failure.

All unemployed people fret the financials. Older unemployed also ponder what they’ll do with the rest of their lives.

I’ve suggested people read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. First published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning is considered a modern classic. More than 12 million copies have been sold in over twenty languages. It was the number one answer to a survey that asked “Name a book that changed your life.”

With its descriptions of life in Nazi death campsites and its lessons for spiritual survival, Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations. Based on his own experience and stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward.

Frankl often refers to “suffering” as “in difficult times.” Alas, many Americans—particularly older workers--- are in a difficult time, because companies are outsourcing, rightsizing, and downsizing, and cutting expenses.

When your last company let you go, the HR rep asked you to hand over all company-owned equipment and materials still in your possession. Were you shattered? Did you walk out the door with nothing?

Many unemployed might say “yes.” No job, no pay, no meaning, followed by no interest from companies.

Frankl said we are never left with nothing so long as we retain the freedom to choose how we will respond.

He said the way a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity---even under the most difficult circumstances---to add a deeper meaning to his life.

Frankl also recognized the distinction between having a job and having work. In his postscript to the 1984 edition of the book, he wrote “In particular, I think of the mass of people who are today unemployed. Fifty years ago, I published a study devoted to a specific type of depression I had diagnosed in cases of young patients suffering from what I called unemployment neurosis. And I could show this neurosis really originated in twofold erroneous identification: being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life.”

Frankl continued, “Consequently, whenever I succeeded in persuading the patients to volunteer in youth organizations, adult education, public libraries, and the like---in other words, as soon as they could fill their abundant free time with some sort of unpaid but meaningful activity---their depression disappeared although their economic situation had not changed and their hunger was the same.”

In other words, a job doesn’t give your life meaning; meaningful work---including volunteer work---gives your life meaning.

So, if you suffer from unemployment neurosis, consider Frankl’s cure. Get off the computer; get out of the house; offer your skills as a volunteer for even a few hours to some of the thousands of private and government agencies that can use your skills. The odds are, you will be welcomed; your skills put to good use; and you will find some new meaning for your life.

Ed Lawrence is a technical trainer who found new meaning helping unemployed people with their career transitions. He is the founder of MetroWest Practice Interviewing and

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