You Can’t Go To Networking Events In Your Pajamas –Thoughts on the Problem of Disengagement

Now, here is something strange.

When people need to find work, which a whole lot of people need to find right now, they need to absolutely become world-class net-workers.  They need to be the networking energizer bunny.  They need to “Never Eat Alone” (Keith Ferrazzi’s book), they need to meet new people every week, and go to as many events as possible.

And they do – for a while.  But there comes this moment, this horrible moment, when they simply can no longer face having to utter the words:  “no progress yet.”

Thus, they withdraw – just when they need to keep engaging.

I’ve seen this.  I think of someone who is so very gifted, talented, skilled.  Well educated, with so much to offer.  His department was shut down.  His company cut workers, including him.  And after a long while, he said (I’m paraphrasing): “I just don’t want to be around those people who are successful, having to admit, or really even to face the fact, that I have not gotten back to the top.”

This story (and I suspect many of us know others with similar stories) is now being written about.  Here are paragraphs from a recent column by Doyle McManus, Great Recession’s Psychological Fallout — From lower birthrates to decreased civic participation and volunteerism, economic downturns have many non-economic effects:

But here’s something more surprising: As the recession deepens, participation in civic activities — community organizations, volunteer groups, even church attendance and social clubs — is likely to drop. Sociologists once assumed that during hard times people would naturally band together, if only to protest their plight or to give each other solace. It turns out that the opposite is true: Economic distress causes people to withdraw.

“Rather than get together and hold community meetings or march in protest, the effect of unemployment in the Great Depression was to cause people to hunker down,” said Robert D. Putnam, the Harvard sociologist whose book, “Bowling Alone,” examines Americans’ civic engagement in the 20th century. “We found exactly the same thing in the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s … and I’m pretty confident we’ll see the same pattern in this recession too.”

And according to the experts cited in this column, the really disturbing part of this may be that many of the people who withdraw never fully re-engage.  The disengagement may be permanent – it may last a lifetime.    Maybe they have “learned,” or simply think that, “what’s the use, it’s going to collapse again soon anyway.”

By the way, this is a problem for middle-aged folks “in transition,” and for current graduates from top universities and graduate schools.  For example, one nationally regarded Law School has implemented a new “long career launch” program, in which they provide recent graduates “salaries” (small salaries) to work in jobs for a few months.  In other words, they have jobs, but the law school is providing the salaries through the company/agency that “hires” the law school graduates.    This is a help to the graduates; this gives them something to do.  But it also keeps the law school from dropping in the rankings (the rankings are based, partly, on percentage of graduates who do find work).  And here is a note about the “mood:”  on that campus, the most feared question is this:  “Do you know what you will be doing?”

I have no simple solution to this problem.  But if you are struggling during this downturn, and you find yourself disengaging, try your best to fight it.  It really is ok to say, “nope, no progress yet.  But I’ll keep trying.” Because, I assure you, you really are not alone.   There are a whole lot of people in the same boat that you are in.

And we realize, ever more clearly, that a long bout of trying to get back on your feet can lead to real self-esteem issues.  (Duh!).   I have written about a related part of this struggle in my post A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I do not presume to give advice to anyone.  But I have read and heard that one key is to be sure to “go to work everyday,” even if going to work is just sending our more resumes for the umpteenth time, and going to that next gathering for networking purposes.

When Paul Harvey went back to work after one of his bouts of serious illness, he remarked to his engineer in his studio, which was at his home, that things just did not feel right yet.  His engineer said something like this:  “Mr. Harvey, you’re not dressing for work.  You’re recording your programs in your pajamas and robe.  I think if you dressed for work, you’d feel better about things.”  So he did – and he did.

Maybe working in your pajamas on a regular basis is not such a smart idea after all.  Just a thought…  And, if your need is to keep your name out there, and network like the energizer bunny, then you may have to dress and show up for work, even if you don’t want to.  Remember the brilliant advice from Dr. J:

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).

Change it a little:  “being a professional is doing the things you need to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *