We, the class of 2010 who have graduated into a struggling economy and are desperately trying to keep our wallets above the waters of unemployment may find it difficult to be optimistic about things. Life after college feels like a perpetual Catch-22 situation: we need experience to get the experience necessary to get a job, we need to promote ourselves to employers in cover letters, but with all of the cover letters that we’ve sent out that now probably lie crumpled in the trash bins of disinterested employers, it feels like we’ve got nothing to promote. I swear, half the time I feel like I should follow Yossarian’s example and feign some illness to escape from the job-application battlefield. Anyone with me?
Now there are lots of tips that are thrown out about how to conquer unemployment that stress the importance of networking, perfecting the resume and accepting the fact that the ratio of cover letters written to interviews requested is about 50 or 100 to 1. However it seems to me that the more important thing to receive advice about is how to maintain a positive attitude about life, the universe and everything during the job application process. It is so effortless to sink into that swamp of self-doubt and pessimism, considering all of the things described above, but so important not to do so because that pessimistic attitude is liable to bubble up within the content of cover letters or your attitude during interviews. Let me admit here that I have not yet conquered the aforementioned swamp, I’ve got a great deal of its algae attached to my ankles, but I thought what better to break free from it than by writing about it? So here it goes.
Last summer I went to a lecture about happiness given by an ivy league professor at an event called, “One Day University.” He made the argument that one cannot produce one’s highest quality work while he or she is unhappy. So what about Vincent Van Gogh, you ask? Or Edgar Allen Poe? Or all the other numerous individuals remembered as much for their depression as their works of genius? Well, the professor’s response was this. Yes, they produced works of genius while unhappy, but they would have produced even greater works had they been happy during the act of creation.
I’m not sure how much I buy into this belief for many reasons, one being that many of the paintings, novels, etc created by depressed geniuses throughout the ages were so obviously fueled by the unhappiness of those geniuses. But it is still a noteworthy notion that happiness leads to better performance, and I am sure that it holds a certain amount of truth in many situations. The concept that self-doubt can cause a decline in quality of work is something that I do certainly adhere to. Take my earlier post on writer’s block for example: one of the things that fuels writer’s block is often the acknowledgment that it exists.
Anyway, after the professor talked about the effects of happiness, he gave some tips about how happiness can be achieved. One of his tips was to, at the end of every day, write down three positive things that happened during the day, another was to keep up an exercise routine (yeah, yeah not surprising, but one interesting thing he said about exercise was that a thirty minute workout can provide an effect equal to the ingestion of one antidepressant). A third tip was to get rid of the factors keeping you from picking up the hobbies you’ve always wanted to pick up. For example, the professor always had ambitions to play guitar, but he said that taking the guitar out of his upstairs closet, out of its case, and tuning its strings consisted of exactly enough time to discourage him from even opening the closet door. Therefore, to encourage himself to play more, he purchased a guitar stand which he set up in a room downstairs, and against which he propped his guitar. Easy access to the guitar, according to him, both reminded him that he wanted to play it more and eliminated the “hassle” of guitar-playing-prep. He explained that after three weeks of playing the instrument for a little while each day, he had created a habit of guitar playing and was happier both because the guitar playing brought him pleasure, and because he finally got around to doing something that he had not managed to do for so long. The professor assured us all that if a person were to participate in all of these things (plus some others that I don’t remember) he or she will without doubt begin to adopt a more positive outlook on everything.
Now let me clarify that in this post I am not suggesting every negative situation in life should be molded into a positive one. In fact, according to some, that pursuit is counterproductive, because it can often be stressful to whip up positive angles all the time. However I do think it is important to make efforts like the ones suggested by the professor, to condition one’s self to approach situations with an optimistic flair, without having to think about it.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m off to clock in some unemployed hours, make another draft of my bucket list, and start practicing my check marks.