Chapter 1: How to Find Hope
It is a strange world we find ourselves in, these days. Old rules are being rewritten. Things are changing that we never thought would change. Events are happening that we thought we would never see. Things we used to take for granted, now are vanishing. Things don’t work the way they used to. And here we are, trying to plot a new course for our life, still needing help with the essential question of our existence:
Where do I go from here with my life?
Maybe things are going well in our lives, right now. Or maybe they’re not. We may have a life that is unfolding just as we’d hoped. Or our lives may have turned into a nightmare, and we have no idea how we’re going to get out of our present predicament. Never mind. So long as we have hope, we’ll be all right. The one thing we must not be is hopeless. So, it must be hope that we seek, above and before all else; the only question is, how do we find it? Well, there are four keys.
The First Key to Finding Hope
Experts have discovered, over the years, what is the absolute minimum for finding Hope. And it is just this: Hope depends upon taking care that we have at least two alternatives, in every situation we find ourselves, and with every task confronting us.
Not just one way to describe ourselves, but two ways, at least.
Not deciding upon just one career, but two careers, at least.
Not getting trained or retrained for just one kind of job, but two different kinds of jobs, at least.
Not just one way to hunt for a job, but two ways, at least.
Not hunting just for one job, but two jobs, at least.
Not going after just one size company, but two sizes, at least, small or large.
Not just choosing one place where we really would like to find work, but two places, at least.
Not finding just one way to approach a place that interests us, but two different ways, at least.
Not securing just one job offer, but two job offers, at least.
And so on. And so forth.
To have only one plan, one option, in any situation, is a sure recipe for despair. I’ll give you a simple example. In a study of 100 job-hunters who were using only one method to hunt for a job, typically 51 abandoned their search by the second month. That’s more than half of them. They lost Hope. On the other hand, of 100 job-hunters who were using two or more different ways of hunting for a job, typically only 31 of them abandoned their search by the second month. That’s less than one-third of them. The latter kept going because they had Hope.
And so this truth should always be on your mind: In order to never become hopeless, you want to be sure that in every situation you find yourself, you’re not putting all your eggs in just one basket. You must determine to always have at least two alternatives, in every challenge you are facing, that you may overcome—and live what the ancients called “a victorious life.”
The Second Key to Finding Hope
In any situation, no matter how much we may feel we are at the mercy of vast forces out there, that are totally beyond our control, we can always find something that is within our control, however small, and work on that.
To illustrate my point, some years ago, when I was doing a lot of counseling, not just about careers, a friend of mine asked me if I would be willing to see someone he knew. Her name was Mary. She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS. She had been to a wide range of medical specialists: neurologist, psychologist, internist, you name it. They all had declared there was nothing they could do to help her with the disease. My friend said, “Would you see her?” “Sure,” I said, “but I’m not sure there’s anything I can do.”
The next day my friend brought her over. She walked very stiffly up the front sidewalk, came in, sat down, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, I got down to business. “Mary,” I said, “what is multiple sclerosis?” “I don’t know,” she said, in a dull, emotionless voice. “Well then,” I said, “that makes us even; because I don’t know, either. But here’s what I propose. I’m sure that a huge proportion of whatever MS is, is out of your control. There’s nothing you can do about it. But that proportion can’t be 100 percent. There’s got to be some proportion—let’s say it’s even just 2 percent, or 5 percent—that is within your control. We could work on that. Do you want to begin that journey?” She said yes. Over the next few weeks she improved, and finally was free of all symptoms (typical of the disease for a spell, but this lasted for a very long time), and now—free of all stiffness—she became a model on 57th Street in New York City.
So it is, that in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you may feel, no matter how much you may feel you’re at the mercy of things that are just beyond your control, some part of it is within your control: 2 percent, 5 percent, who knows? There is always something you can work on. And often, changing that little bit results in changing a whole lot. Maybe not as dramatic a change as with Mary; but change nonetheless.
Above all else, it gives you Hope. I am not as powerless as I thought.
This certainly applies to any time we are out of work, particularly if it drags on and on. To paraphrase what I said to Mary, but now I’m talking to those of you who are job-hunters or career-changers: I’m sure that a huge proportion of the situation you are facing, is out of your control. There’s nothing you can do about it. But that proportion can’t be 100 percent. There’s got to be some proportion—let’s say it’s even just 2 percent—that is within your control. Determine to find what that is. Then throw all your energies into working on it. Who knows what a difference that may make!
[Oh, by the way, some examples of what is within your control: getting more sleep; drinking more water (we usually need more water than we think we do); walking more; reading the book 14,000 Things to Be Happy About1; doing the Flower Exercise (chapter 5, here), learning to become more observant of the world around you; listening harder to other people; getting into a supportive community with other job-hunters; reading this book twice; rethinking your job-hunt; talking more to successful job-hunters, asking them what they did, step by step, to find work. And, like that.]
The Third Key to Finding Hope
Assume that nothing that happens to us is just senseless and meaningless, including being out of work for a long time. In the context of our total life, it will eventually turn out to have meaning.
I recall a talk I heard many years ago, that made a deep and lasting impression on me. It was a doctor speaking; a doctor turned researcher, as it happened. He was reporting on a study that some colleagues had made of Healing, at the hospital where he worked in New York City. They had long known that some people healed faster than others, but now they wanted to find out why. I cannot cite the study; I lost track of it, over the years. But I can tell you what I remember.
As I recall, they searched through their records of discharged patients to find matched pairs: essentially two people of the same age, with the same background, the same basic health record, who had undergone the same procedure or operation in that hospital. They chose the pairs where one member of the pair healed faster than the other, often by a wide margin. The doctors then contacted each pair and questioned each one of them at length, to find out what was different about the person who healed faster.
The common explanations that would occur to any thoughtful person proved to have no correlation with the rate of healing. Was the one who healed faster more physically fit than the other? No. More optimistic than the other? No. Well, then, was it their habits: eating, sleeping, exercising? No. Was it their family history? No. Was it their status as single or married? No. Was it whether they believed in God, or not? No. Well then, what was it?
To the researchers’ great surprise, it turned out that those who healed faster believed that everything that happened to them had meaning, even if they didn’t know what that meaning was, at the time. The ones who healed slowly did not believe this.
And so, our learning: what you think, can influence your body. It follows that it can influence also our ability to heal as we go through a crisis.
I was most struck by that part of his report which said “. . . even if they didn’t know what the meaning was.” Apparently, just to believe that nothing about our life is meaningless is sufficient.
Naturally, to believe that, always gives you Hope.
So, when we are out of work, for example, we can avoid hopelessness if we believe that nothing that happens to us is senseless and meaningless. We may not see that meaning right now. But in the context of our total life, this experience will eventually turn out to have meaning.
But what do we mean when anyone says, “This time in my life has meaning, even if I don’t know what that meaning is, right now.” Why don’t we know it right now?
Well, who knows? If we want to speculate, I think one reason may be that the time we are in, is like an Act I in a two-act play.
I came to this realization in my own life. One time when I was fired without warning, I had an appointment that very afternoon with my dentist. He was an old man and upon hearing my news, he pointed his finger at me, and said, “You won’t believe a word of what I’m saying right now, but this will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. I’ve seen it happen too many times to doubt it.”
Well, he was right; that was only Act I. Act II was that which led me eventually to writing this yearly “journal” (for that is how I think of this book) which by the grace of God has helped change the life of millions over the past forty annual editions.
The first Act, being fired, seemed meaningless to me, until the second Act, the writing of this book, came along to give the first Act meaning.
So, if you’re in—say—a dreary time of unemployment, and it all seems pointless and meaningless to you, remember it may be only Act I. If it seems meaningless now, you would do well to watch for Act II, that follows it. You may yet discover that everything that happens to you does have meaning.
The Fourth Key to Finding Hope
Pay no attention to statistics if they discourage you. Alternatives do give you hope, but statistics can take that hope away, if you give them undue weight.
Much of it depends on what statistics you pay attention to. The media, the Internet, blogs, tweets, twenty-four-hour news channels on TV, newspapers, and magazines, all love statistics. But they generally are in love with a very particular kind of statistics, namely those that convey bad news. Discouraging news. Doom and gloom.
Why is this so? I dunno. But it is. Example? Let’s take the month of February 2009, the height of the recent Recession. As reported on a website called JOLT (Job Openings & Labor Turnover)2 4,360,000 people in the U.S. found jobs that month. Yes, you read that correctly. And at the end of that month, 3,006,000 additional vacancies remained unfilled and available. Good news, right? 7,366,000 vacancies were available or filled, that month alone. At the height of the Recession.
Ah, but every month there is a second set of statistics, reported on the first Friday of each month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, called the Current Population Survey.3 It is typically called The Unemployment Statistic, though it is more accurate to think of it as “the monthly measure of the size of the working work force in America.” Anyway, the CPS said that during that same month, February 2009, the size of the total labor force in the U.S. shrank by 726,000 jobs. And so, the unemployment rate rose from 7.6 percent to 8.1. Bad news, to be sure.
Okay, there you have it: two sets of statistics, one good news, one bad news. Now, which of these two sets do you think the media pounced on? Yep, you guessed it: the bad news set. “726,000 workers lose their jobs,” commentators and news analysts shrieked. “Unemployment rises to 8.1 percent.” Along with that, they threw in “There are six unemployed workers now for every vacancy.” All in all, it was enough to take the heart out of even the most optimistic job-hunter that month. Or any month.
RICHARD N. BOLLES has led the job-search field for more than 40 years. A member of Mensa and the Society for Human Resource Management, he has been the keynote speaker at hundreds of conferences. Bolles holds a bachelor's degree cum laude in physics from Harvard University, a master's degree from General Theological (Episcopal) Seminary in New York City, and three honorary doctorates. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.