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What to Do When You're Flat Out of Friends

The worst part of being out of work is the risk of being isolated. When left alone with your thoughts, it's easy to start believing that you have no network, no social groups, to tap into to begin your job search process.  Here's how to get out from under that spell.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about networking a lot lately. Or at least it seems like it. Networking, networking, networking. Maybe it’s me but don’t you think that when you say it out loud enough, it begins to sound like earwax? Okay…it’s probably just me.

Networking doesn’t have much appeal, does it? It doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as going to your local Applebee’s with some friends for a beer and some wings. Now there’s a problem with even that Applebee’s scenario. Based on the emails I’ve been getting, a lot of you are feeling that you don’t have too many friends either. And the ones you do have are getting, like, really tired of hearing you talk about your struggles to land a job. And you’re getting really tired of talking about it too. In fact, you’d just wish they’d change the subject.

I don’t think my readers are social losers. (At least I hope not, but, then again, what are you doing reading this blog post when it’s such a pretty day outside?) When you’ve been out of work for any amount o time, it’s easy to feel that you have run aground in the contacts department – especially in recent years when we’ve all been so busy taking care of our jobs and our families. We’ve let outside friendships perhaps atrophy. Maybe all your friends were work-related. And now that you’re out of work, you’re also fresh out of buddies. Or you’ve moved to a new town where you really, really don’t know anyone.

Whatever the reason for your feelings of isolation, you know you have to mix it up a little bit, well, a lot. Get some fresh meat, I mean talent, into your tight circles of relationships. Get out of the house. So I thought I’d offer some tips in that direction.

Remember that one thing leads to another. The thing about circulating is that your first dip into big world probably won’t net you a job. It’s a cumulative kind of thing. So leave that desperate, graspy, over-eager feeling at home when you head out the door. Just be open to meeting who you meet. Maybe tonight you’re destined to actually help someone else. And you’ll come home feeling just a little better about yourself.

Look for opportunities where you can become a regular. And no, I don’t mean the Applebee’s bar. When your face starts becoming familiar, you will emerge from invisibility to someone who people will be glad to see. Maybe they’ll even shout out your name, like, “Norm!” (But don’t count on it.) If you try a business mixer or worship service or volunteer opportunity, and people completely ignore you, keep going. Week after week. Introduce yourself as often as you can. And just let the cumulative effects of time work their wonders.

Stay away from solitary pursuits, even if they’re out of the house. Going to a matinee movie doesn’t count as “getting out there.” Go to local economic development or chamber of commerce meetings, receptions, mixers. Your local bookstore probably offers booksignings, author lectures or special classes. A friend of mine who is a professional coach is part of a team who gives courses at Whole Foods! Go! The home improvement stores offer free courses. Go! The American Red Cross offers courses in first aid, cpr, etc. Go!

Make job-related networking events only a small percentage of your out-of-the-house activities. First of all, you’re so much more than unemployed. And you need to nurture those other parts of who you are. At the very least, this way you’ll lead with an opener that’s so much more interesting than, “Hi, gotta job?” But most importantly is that your self-definition has a chance to stay strong and defined beyond this immediate need of landing a gig. You will also stand a better chance of meeting people other than fellow job-seekers. You know…people who already have jobs? And who would be thrilled to help you get inside their companies or organizations.

Learn something. Go to local college courses – especially the ones at night, when employed people go to school. You don’t have to matriculate and take on the expense of a formal semester. Continuing ed courses can be inexpensive. The teachers are often professionals in the community (hint: employed people!). It’s probably best if you took a course that would help you be more qualified for the kind of job you’re looking for. But even taking a non-job related course will at least remind you that there’s more to life than your daily bread (although, it’s kind of hard to make that argument right now, I know).

Teach something. Surely you know something that will benefit others. How to read, for adult literacy programs, for instance. If you have a profession or skill that’s useful in the for-profit world, surely you can introduce at least the basics to young people. Convene a panel of other experts and put on a program! (You’ll be able to find a venue. A friend of mine hosted the annual meeting of his professional association – on the premises of the company that had just laid him off. Awkward.)

Volunteer. Those same skills you can teach you can donate. It will make you feel good about being who you are and what you can do. That boost in self-esteem will give you the added confidence that will send out the signal that you’re a valuable contributor to the world.

Call old friends – even if they haven’t heard from you in a long time. This is where Facebook comes in handy. The other day I heard from a dear friend for the first time in about 8 years. We’d been looking for each other off and on over recent years but, thanks to Facebook, she found me first! And we talked on the phone for a full three hours. A lot of it was catching up. But, she was also very candid about the fact that she needed some professional advice from me. Did I see this as a cheesy ulterior motive? Heck no! First of all, I owed her a gigantic favor from 10 years ago (I mean, huge). Secondly, I love her and I know she loves me. So whatever I have is hers. (Advice, I mean.)

Ask for introductions. Unless you’re a bitter whiner who needs to blow your nose and brush your teeth (and, uhm, a little roll-on?), the friends you have should be happy to give you introductions you need to move your job search forward. If they’re reluctant to help you, find out why. Wouldn’t you want to know the truth, especially if it was something you could fix? And, if they’re possessive with or protective of their contacts to the point where they’re keeping you from helping yourself, or making you feel judged, it’s best that you should know that now. You might have just discovered a brand new opening in your group of friends to fill.

They say that once you achieve a certain age, it gets harder and harder to make new friends. Everyone is set in their habits, patterns, commuting routine, relationships. Well, one of the upshots of these economic times is that everyone is thrown higgledy-piggledy into a big pile of confusion and some flavor of disconnectedness. Now is a fantastic time to build new circles of friends and business contacts.

And vow to take better care of them in the future. Like, don’t wait 8 years before picking up the phone.