There’s never an ideal time to face unemployment, but there’s a unique difficulty to turning forty and looking for work. Most of us thought we’d be settled into our careers and thinking about retirement, not job hunting and facing questions like: “What in the world should I do with the rest of my life?”
But as Jeff Goins points out in his book, The Art of Work, “the forty year career is dead.” And while unemployment rates are finally dropping, a 5% unemployment rate still means that if you have 300 Facebook friends, 15 of them are likely looking for a job.
It can be hard to know what to say to our unemployed friends, especially when they’ve been looking for a new position for awhile with no success. They can be so discouraged, and while we’d really like to help, we don’t always know how to be supportive, and it can be awkward – for them, and for us. So we stop calling and start avoiding them, or worse – we find ourselves saying incredibly unhelpful and cliché-like things about closed doors and open windows, and telling horror stories about that one guy we knew who couldn’t find a job for 14 months.
But we can do better than that. We’ve come too far and learned too much about what it takes to be kind, and we know better than to let a little bit of awkwardness stand in the way of being the best friends we can possibly be when our friends need us the most.
Here are three ways to be an amazing friend to your friends who are unemployed:
Believe it or not, ”Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is actually one of the worst things you could possibly say. No matter how sincere we are when we say it, the truth is: a statement like that puts our friends in a tough spot. Being unemployed is already emotionally difficult, and having to ask for help can make it worse.
Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. If you were to lose your job, what would you need right away? What are some practical ways you can meet your friend’s needs without killing her pride? A gift card to a store like Target might be ideal; she could need groceries or diapers or a new shirt for an interview, and not only would your gift let her know you care, but it could also give her the dignity of choosing what needs to meet this week.
What about inviting his family over for dinner? Or volunteering to watch the kids after school so he can get in an extra hour of job-hunting tomorrow? If you’re willing to put some thought into it, there are dozens of very practical ways to support and encourage your friends.
Especially when their job hunt has been going on for awhile, our unemployed friends can start to lose perspective. What started out as a search for meaningful work with the hope of finding something he would really love doing may degenerate as his desperation for an income of any sort increases. While we do need to help our friends be practical, we also need to cheer for them.
Write a note, drop him an email, or just mention in conversation over coffee what you love and value about him as a person. If she’s really good at something, point it out, and help her brainstorm ways to put her talents to work. And if you see him wrestling with a decision about a possible job opportunity that isn’t quite ideal, be the voice that reminds him of something we all need to hear sometimes: “You are more than your work.”
Also – choose to be supportive of your friend’s decisions, regardless of what you think. Have your say and advise them, for sure – don’t, for example, let your friend run off to be a trapeze artist when you know she’s deathly afraid of heights – but if she turns down a job you think she should have taken, or decides to take one you’re not sure is a good fit, make sure she knows you care and will still be there for her anyway, come what may.
Check in with your unemployed friends frequently enough that they feel seen and remembered – and schedule time to do things with them that are inexpensive but fun, like a barbecue, or dinner and a movie at your house. Just as he is more than her work – he is also more than his job hunt, and he needs to know that he is still valuable to his friends for who he is as a person. When job-hunting has started to feel like her entire world, your intentionality will go a long way towards helping her remember her personal worth.
And if you happen to hear about a job opening in a company and know someone who works there, offer to pass along your friend’s resumé. Even if nothing comes of it, both of your friends will appreciate your thoughtfulness in creating the connection.
While having gainful employment that we enjoy is great, life really is so much more about the connections and relationships we form than any of the things we do. Integrity, kindness, and love – these are the things we value in our friends, and the gifts we can offer to them in return. Being thoughtful, positive, and intentional towards our unemployed friends will provide them much needed encouragement in the midst of a difficult situation, and will strengthen the depth and the quality of our friendships.
And if they really truly are your friends – you know they’d do the same for you.
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This post was written by Danielle Thorp exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.