Monday, March 9, 2009

Perhaps you noticed the economy spinning out of control

I have long since limited myself to no more than one hour of news coverage, so the seemingly endless reportage about the status of the stock market, banks, hedge funds, etc. actually have a fairly limited life with me. That part of my bio that includes my twenty years as a mental health counselor and psychotherapist leads me to offer a few admonitions about becoming a news-sponge. I am not sure that it is EVER healthy, but I am quite sure that it is not healthy for the typical job seeker. Let me first, however, focus this discussion with story.

Brother can you spare a curly fry?
Back in the early 1990's, I was eating at the Arby's on Valley Avenue and Green Springs Road in Birmingham. As I munched on my beef and cheddar, I started surmising who this Arby person might be. This was in the days before Google... heck, it was before Yahoo! The only way I was going to find out was to ask. I choose the 17 year-old counter clerk with the attractive paper hat.

"Excuse me," I said solicitously, "Who's Arby?"
"Huh?" was his not unexpected reply.
"Arby. From the name of the restaurant. Who is he?"
"Wow. I never actually thought about it," he said with a true eureka look on his face. "Just a minute." He turned back to kitchen and shouted, "Hey, Jim! Come here for a minute."
Jim was the day shift manager who arrived looking all day-shifty and in control and the two of them confabbed for a minute or two, looking through a half-dozen company brochures, and then turned to me and said.
"We don't know."
"Anybody you can call?" I was determined to find this out.
"Sure. We can call Atlanta."

People from the South will understand this, but for those of you outside of the South, I will explain. Anything that is not in stock, not known, or not yet retailed or wholesaled in the South, must start in Atlanta. If you have to fly to anywhere outside of the South from anywhere inside of the South, you have to fly through Atlanta. So it made perfect sense to me that the Quest for Arby would find its way through the ATL. I ordered another Beef and Cheddar, sat down, and waited. After a few minutes, Jim approached the table looking quite defeated.
"Atlanta doesn't know." He was more disconsolate than I. He gave me a coupon for a free order of curly fries on my next visit and we parted company. As I left the store, the little neon sign in the window flickered off and on. The ends of the sign were not lighting effectively, but the middle shone brightly and I saw it. aRBy's. RB! Roast Beef!
I ran back in the store and dragged Jim and paper hat kid outside and proudly pointed. "See! RB. Arby. Roast Beef. Arby is ROAST BEEF!" We celebrated for some time and paper hat kid ran inside and got me a free beef and cheddar coupon to go with my free curly fries coupon. Life was worth living again. (Now I know that you are asking yourself, what does this have to do with career development, but it does. Be patient.)
It just so happened that I was teaching a Developmental Psychology class at the time and we were covering the the construct of expectancies. The shortest version of this is "if I expect that the drink you are offering me will get me drunk, I will get drunk and when drunk, I will act the way I believe drunk people act, whether or not there is any alcohol in the drink." We believe what we expect to believe. The next day, I explained the construct with my Arby Ah-Hah moment. Many of my students reported to me that once they had the notion dispelled that Arby was a name, they began to look at the name on any establishment for the hidden meaning. This is the power of expectancy. When we see something that appears to be a name, in a place that we often see a name, we understand it as a name.
Fast forward to 2007. Late one night, I was sitting up with my laptop thinking about this episode and I reflexively typed in to Google "What does ARBY'S stand for," only to find out it was the abbreviation for the Raffel Brothers who founded the joint. So, before I go any further, I would like to apologize to the hundreds of students who endured my lectures over the years and believed me to be correct simply because I was the professor. While my explanation of the construct was correct, the facts supporting it were not correct. It was so intuitive that it was very easy to believe... and THAT is my point for today.

Actually, it is perfectly acceptable to shoot the piano player.
Way back at the beginning of this post, I suggested that it was possible to get too much news. I remember job hunting and the only news I wanted was, "Hey buddy, you're hired!" I'm pretty sure that I have also previously mentioned the odd calculus of applying for jobs and disappointment. If not, it works this way.
  • The more jobs you apply for the better your chances of getting a job.

  • The more jobs you apply for the more often you get rejected for a job.

  • Being rejected for a job is depressing and increases the likelihood that you will slow down your job application process.

  • Slowing down your job application process decreases the likelihood that you will get a job.
Allow me to add to this maxim the really scary news corollary. It is quite simple. When you overdose on too much negative financial news, it will depress you and increases the likelihood that you will slow down your job application process. I absolutely think that it is possible to get too much bad news. Likewise, remember my story above. Just because an authority figure (professor or newscaster) tells you something that sounds intuitively correct and it matches the present moment, it does not mean that it is, in fact, correct.
My recommendation is that everyone, but job hunters in particular, limit themselves to one hour of news a day. In keeping with our mistaken perception theme, a friend of mine said to me a few months ago, "I watch all of Anderson Cooper 360 every night. It is the best 3 hours of news on TV." After I shared that AC 360 was the same 60 minute news show run 3 times back to back, she looked at me and said, "Oh. I thought there was some repetition on there, but I thought the 360 thing meant that they looked at stuff from all angles."
When the recovery comes, you will know about it. Don't be afraid that you will miss it if a news show somehow escapes your viewing. Your time will be better spent researching prospective employers or revamping your resume or just gellin' in front of Monk or House. If you have to listen to "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" financial news, then podcast it to your MP3 player and listen to it while you exercise.
Ultimately, remember one thing. In this economy, with hiring freezes and reductions in force and draw downs of various kinds, the primary reason that you are getting negative news is because of economic conditions that are temporary and transient, not because you are unsuitable for employment. Your job search has to be more focused and more dynamic. This is the time to devote more energy to your career, not less.

1 comment:

  1. I have stopped instinctively checking and and instead favor
    It's not as serious, but I am better for it.