The Question: I hate my job and have been diagnosed with depression. I can’t financially afford to leave and feel trapped and helpless. What can I do?
Life is hard.
With increasing responsibilities, pressures and the bombardment of depressing media stories and nonstop expressions of outrage, the mental and emotional weight we all shoulder can seem hard to bear at times. Lump on a terrible job, and getting out of bed in the morning can require a Herculean effort. Unfortunately, many professionals are in the same boat as you are – depressed, feeling trapped and powerless.
But trapped and powerless you are not.
You have options…and the power within yourself to make things better for You. It won’t be easy and it will take some time, but you’ll get there. So get ready to take your first step forward. Where to start? Before you do, understand that your plan needs to be executed in stages in order for you to make the most progress. You cannot do everything at once…because you’re not ready to do everything at once. For you, the roadmap includes two primary stages. Below are the details for your journey.
Just Do it.
Before you kick things off, I recommend that you make an affirmative commitment to this effort – in writing and say it out loud. And put yourself in the frame of mind that there is no other option for you, but to move forward towards positive change. I know you feel stuck and won’t feel like it now or at many points of this process, but if you want to feel better and get your career…and life back on track, you have to push through and just do it.
Always. While this seems like a no brainer, legal professionals (and many others for that matter) tend to place their “health” at the back of the line. That is, until something major happens. And something major has happened to you. If you are going to successfully navigate your career, you need to be mentally and emotionally healthy, resilient and up to the task. A depression diagnosis is not to be taken lightly and requires action if you are to shine in life…and in the job market. What kind of action? There are different options. Below are a few:
- Visit A Mental Health Expert. Many people find this type of ongoing resource instrumental to recovery. Talking to a trained expert to untangle problems and feelings: Counselor, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Coach…whatever resonates with you. If your financial situation does not afford you this option, leverage books, articles and support groups for the professional side of this guidance.
- Check Your Thyroid. People who are hypothyroid (your body does not produce enough thyroid hormone) can be prone to depression. It can also exacerbate negative feelings for those who are depressed. Other symptoms include chronic fatigue, hair loss, always cold, weight gain, sluggishness, foggy thinking and infertility. Many people are hypothyroid and don’t even know it. A simple blood test will provide a diagnosis so visit your doctor and get tested. If you test positive, medication can do wonders for your energy and well-being.
- Spend More Time Alone And With People You Enjoy. The combination of solitude and spending time with people who make you feel good is effective to recharge the batteries and lift the spirit. So commit to both. If you are spending too much time alone and it’s fueling your depression, schedule more friends/family time. A meal out, coffee, a walk. You may object that you are too busy at work, but if you manage your time and schedule in advance, this activity is easily doable.
- Exercise! It is scientifically proven that exercise produces chemicals in our brains and bodies that make us feel good – it makes us feel alive and lifts our spirits. So get moving…and start small so you don’t become overwhelmed. You don’t have to work out two hours a day or hit Soul Cycle every morning. Take one or two 10-15 minute walks during the day, use the stairs, use hand weights at your desk once a day, stretch, jump rope when you get home, jog in place for five minutes before your shower. These suggestions may sound silly, but they’re not. Once you get in a groove, do a little more each week. There are some great health and exercise monitors that can help you keep track of your progress. Finally, buy yourself a cool pair of sneakers to kick off your effort and reward yourself to taking that first important step forward.
- Food Matters. Like exercise, it is scientifically proven that what we put in our bodies matters…a lot. Sugar, alcohol, processed foods, eating too much, eating too little – these all contribute to the highs and lows of our states of being. So take inventory of your diet, flag the saboteurs and implement change. I’m not saying that you completely alter what you eat or start any goofy diets, it’s simply not realistic given your current state. So like exercise, start small. If you eat a candy bar as a middle of the day snack, try fruit, nuts, a cup of coffee or an energy bar. Don’t eat the entire burrito for lunch – eat half of it. If you eat a lot of dessert, try sorbet or frozen grapes to curb the sweet craving. Do you add Splenda, Equal or Saccharin to your coffee/tea? These artificial sweeteners are poison and mess with your health as well as your mood. Switch to Stevia or liquid/raw sugar – or better yet, eliminate them altogether.
- Force A Positive Attitude And Positive Narrative. Way easier said than done, I know. Especially if you have been diagnosed with depression. But you’re going to have to fake it until positive reinforcement becomes more natural. I know this will sound hokey, but smile in front of the mirror or in the car each day for 30 seconds. Write down the positive things in your day and what you’ve done to move the ball forward with your situation. Listen to inspiring and uplifting music. Whenever a negative thought comes into your mind…push it out. These little things add up and can make a real difference.
- People have different views and philosophies regarding medication for depression. Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, it is one option available to you. So if you’d like to explore this route, speak with your doctor about whether medication would be an appropriate option for you.
Compartmentalize Your Job Situation.
At this juncture of your process, you are focusing on getting mentally and physically healthier. You are not (and should not) focus on changing your job right now. So don’t even think about it. This task will come in the next phase. So how do you cope with a bad job in the interim? Compartmentalize. Take your job and put it in a box…and put that box on a shelf. During this time, remind yourself that your situation and discontent in this role is temporary and you are taking the steps you need to get to where you want to go. You’ll deal with the job when the time is right. By following the approach of compartmentalization, you will mitigate the negative feelings and cope more effectively with your current job situation.
Create and Execute Your Career Strategy. Getting yourself back on-kilter will take some time. Just how much time will depend a several factors. But once you reach a point where you are feeling positive and strong enough, you’ll be ready to start the next phase of this process: Your Career Strategy.
Below is the roadmap:
- Finger on the Pulse. It’s time to re-engage and reconnect with the job market. Is the market active? What jobs are out there? What skills are in high demand? Where is compensation? How about titles? Before you jump back in, you need to educate yourself about the current market and where you stack up. Recruiters, job boards, professional organizations and other online resources will provide up to date information.
- Get Clear. Before you can move forward, you need to be crystal clear about what it is that you are seeking in your next job: the role, the people, the money, the location, the benefits, the hours…the whole enchilada. This step can be daunting, but it need not be – and can actually be quite fun. With a piece of paper, sit down and write what the perfect job looks like. Include what you must have in order to be happy, where you have flexibility and where you don’t. And be specific.
- Update Resume and LinkedIn. It’s likely that both of these marketing profiles for you are stale. So they need to be refreshed and made current. If you don’t know where to start, ask those in the legal profession for advice and assistance (colleagues, recruiters etc.). In addition, peruse LinkedIn for similar profiles and emulate those you like.
- Polish Your Personal Presentation. You have been miserable in your job and are coming out of a depression. The odds are pretty good that your personal presentation could use a little lift too. Tend to your appearance so that you can look professional and polished come interview time. A new haircut and a fresh take on your interview attire is a great start.
- Perfect Your Professional Presentation. Eye contact, good handshake, big smile, confidence…and your narrative. You’ve got to nail all of these if you want to maximize your competitiveness as a candidate. Regarding your narrative: Who are you? How do you want to be perceived? What are your most compelling skills? How will you add value to an organization? How will you address any obvious objections? Why do you want a new job? Knowing these answers and weaving them into a cohesive and concise narrative will be key to your professional presentation and interviewing success.
- Reconnect with Your Network and Grow It. Possessing and leveraging a good network is table stakes for today’s job seeker. Reconnect with your network and determine how and with whom it can be better. Ask your current connections for introductions and let them know you are ready for your next move. Use parts of your new narrative to let people know what you’re looking for and what you bring to the table.
- Apply For A Wider Range of Jobs. You need to get in the groove of applying and interviewing for jobs. So cast a fairly wide net when applying for jobs, which includes online applications. Most often your resume will fall into the dreaded online application black hole. But that’s ok – applying for these jobs will allow you to practice and build momentum. Practice taking the initiative, practice applying, practice interviewing.
- Cold Call. Which companies would you be in clover working for? What about new companies? Research those that appeal to you most and reach out cold to the GC, hiring manager, executives or HR (depending on what level you are). Tell them who you are, why you are reaching out, what value you would offer to the organization. It’s not a hard sell, but an outreach out to build a new relationship. You may get blown off or receive a “thanks but no thanks”, but who cares? It only takes one yes to change a career.
- Explore Current Employer Alternatives. You are miserable in your job. But is it the role? Your boss? The group culture? Perhaps there are other positions where you could be happy. If this is the case, explore options with your current employer on a parallel track.
- Manage Expectations. Every legal professional in this market has to work hard to find a new job. Even those with “perfect paper” are experiencing challenges in today’s market. Everyone has to apply the elbow grease in the job search process. So you need to manage your expectations that your search will have its ups and downs. And when it does, just stay the course and you will weather the storms that come your way.
Set Search Goals.
The career strategy above may or may not seem overwhelming. Regardless, I recommend that you set search goals as part of your implementation. Every week, month, quarter etc. – whatever makes you feel most comfortable. Write down what you want to achieve – and when – in each of the categories above. If your goals are too aggressive or not aggressive enough, tweak them. But make sure you stick to them. This approach will keep you organized, allow you to feel in control and will facilitate faster progress.
Your situation is not an easy one. But there is light at the end of the tunnel despite your feeling depressed, stuck and helpless. Reaching that light rests on your shoulders – and there is no doubt that you can do it. My recommendations above are not the magic wand for nirvana. But hopefully they will provide the inspiration and path you need to take that first important step. By breaking down the solution into manageable parts and committing yourself to the process, you will make progress towards a new job and a happier life. I wish you the very best of luck and will be cheering you on from the sidelines!