THE BLOG

Jobless and Middle-aged? A To-Do List for Getting Back to Work

10/27/2011 02:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 27, 2011

Middle-aged. What a crappy way to be described. Middle-age is for OLD people. At least, that's what most of us thought as we stepped out into the working world, once upon a time. As we built our careers, got married, had babies, middle-age still seemed like a dungeon in the distance. And then one day it happened. We became middle-aged.

Knowing that we had to accept this new moniker, we put a positive spin on it and decided to embrace our "wisdom," our newly discovered "inner peace," and our readiness to "give back" to the world.

And then we got laid off. Right in the middle of our stride, just as we were feeling good about the kids getting ready for college, and the fact that we could still keep up on the basketball court, we got sucker-punched in the gut. The wind whooshed out of our lungs as we collectively shouted "what the #%@$." It sucked. And in many cases, it still does.

So if you're one of those middle-aged folks, who had a good job and are now frozen in time, here's a to-do list to help get yourself back in the game.

Task #1: Write down what's bugging you

The first thing I do with my life -- and career-coaching clients -- is to list out all of the things that are driving them crazy. From money to job-search paralysis to family pressure and lack of sleep, I have my clients write down everything that is having an adverse affect on their lives. Here's why: Once something is on a list, it can be dealt with.

If you're out of work, and have not created a budget of your living expenses, I completely understand why you have such stress about money. Write it on the list.

If your spouse is arguing with you because you're not out there pounding the pavement, and you don't have the slightest idea how to find work, it's easy to understand why family pressure is getting to you. Write it on the list.

Write down all of the things that are making you crazy. Now that these items are on a to-do list, they will feel like tasks or projects that you can take on and manage. The mental freedom that comes from getting it out of your head and onto paper is priceless. It allows for clearer thinking as you move forward in your job search.

Use this list as a guideline for things that you need to tackle. The goal is to stay organized and focused in your efforts to get your career going again.

Task #2: Figure out Your Monthly Nut

How much does it cost you to live each month? Between rent, electricity, food, phone, insurance, gas, spousal support, kids, everything -- how much money do you need for your family to be able to survive while you are out of work?

Take that budget number and subtract any money you are getting from unemployment benefits or any part-time work that you have.

Monthly Nut minus Monies Received = Shortfall

This shortfall number is critical for you to not only know, but acknowledge. It is the elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about it. Yet there it sits.

I can't tell you how many people I meet that don't know how much money they need a month to actually live without sinking further into debt. It's essential that you understand this number and how much money you need to bring in short-term, to make ends meet.

If you're not protected in the short run, your journey to your long-term job solution will be anxiety provoking and painful.

Task #3: Make up the Shortfall

The challenge with looking for a job is that many of us need to work while we're doing it, which make the process 10 times harder. If you have a shortfall in your budget, you're going to need to bifurcate your time and make some short-term cash while looking for your long-term solution.

If you are receiving unemployment benefits, inquire into how much additional money you can make each week to supplement your unemployment income. Each individual is different, but if you can get a couple hundred extra bucks a week by doing some part-time work, that would be great.

Think about things you can do to make up for the shortfall. Maybe you can get work tutoring some neighborhood kids, helping an elderly person with housework and errands or pick up some hours in retail as stores staff up for the holiday season. Once of my coaching clients recently picked up some night and weekend hours driving a limo, leaving time during the day to meet new people and explore new opportunities.

There are jobs available in the marketplace right now. About three million, actually. But you're going to have to work hard to land one of them. In the meanwhile, find something part-time to get you through.

Task #4: Build Your Network

Everyone talks about networking, but what does that really mean? There are two ways to build out the who you know part of your life. The first is re-capturing people you already know, and the second is meeting new people.

In the online world, LinkedIn is a must-do for any job seeker. Join LinkedIn and use their searching functionality to reconnect with people from past jobs, add current friends and colleagues. Over time, LinkedIn will actually start making suggestions of people you might know (or might want to know) which makes building your portfolio of people even easier.

Facebook is a great social networking tool, and a fantastic way to connect with your friends and reconnect with people from your present and past.

Both of these sites help you "collect" people, which is the real purpose of networking. If you know lots of people, and you truly and authentically engage with them, chances are that they are going to be willing to go out of their way to help you meet new people and eventually land a job.

In the real, 3-D world, you need to force yourself to go out and connect -- either in your neighborhood, your place of worship, your alma mater, a sporting event, anywhere. Everywhere you go, you have an opportunity to meet someone who might be able to change your fortune. Be open. Ask questions. Be truly interested. Listen. People love to talk about themselves, and if you listen genuinely, they will end up thinking you're wonderful.

Add these new people to your contacts in LinkedIn or Facebook. Keep collecting. You can never know too many people.

Task #5: Don't be shy about asking for help

Middle-agers are used to being able to do things for themselves, and since you're a middle-ager, you're no different. But now, you need to change. I tell my coaching clients all time, "Finding a job is a team sport.". You need the help of the people around you. Each person you know is the hub of a network of people who could potentially help you get back to work. Ask three good friends to introduce you to five friends or colleagues who would be willing to meet just for a "get to know you"-type of thing. In making this one simple ask (okay, maybe not that simple, but try it anyway), you might end up with fifteen new people in your life (I call this technique Networking by 5s.(TM)

If those fifteen new people introduce you to 5 people each, well... you can do the math. Combine those with your new online contacts and you're building your own Personal Career Network.

Now the fun begins. Go through your contacts, reaching out to people who you'd like to build a deeper working relationship with. Get to know them. Ask them what they do. Ask them how they got there. And when they turn the conversation to you (which they will do if you make the conversation about them, and don't ask for a job), then you can ask for their help.

This is no longer the world of the lone cowboy. In the year 2011, life is hard. Let people help you.

Task #6: Change the record that is playing in your head

I was working with a client lately who saw things one way and one way only -- let's call it gray. This client's world had been so gray for so long that it was impossible for him to see anything differently. He was bound and determined to protect his gray world, and have that be the absolute truth about everything.

I needed to put an end to that. As an assignment one week, I asked him to pick something really gray from his daily activities. He told me that the people walking around Boston were idiots. "OK," I said, "for one week, I want you to have empathy for these idiots."

That entire week, he forced himself to see the people on the streets of Boston differently. At first, he fought this simple reorientation. But eventually, he embraced the color it brought to his gray world. He realized, by adding empathy to his filter, that some of the people he thought were idiots were actually really lost, or tired, or hurt or confused or distracted, or zoning out, or deep in thought as they walked around the streets of Boston. They weren't all idiots.

Sometimes all it takes to give yourself a kick in the butt is to change the record that is playing in your head. Try this for yourself, for an entire week. If you're a lawyer and you've only ever considered a career at a law firm, look at the world from a different perspective by noticing all of the companies and organizations that need someone with the skills of a lawyer. Or if you're a high school teacher who has no idea how to do anything but teach high school, change the record in your head and start to notice all of the places that "teaching skills" might be useful, even if your title isn't teacher.

By getting unstuck, and changing the record that's playing in your head, you can start to see possibilities where none previously existed. With that, you can expand your employment options, and get back to work.