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What Should I do Now? Recession and Unemployment

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 20th 2009

 A difficult economy is forcing many people into making difficult career choices. 

Below is the URL for an article I wrote on Wednesday, March 16, 2006. The title is "What do you do when you don't know what to do?"

A second article attempts to answer the question: What you can do when you do not knmow what to do:

At the time many people found it to be relevant to the life-long struggles they experienced over choice of career.

As can be gleaned from the sample of E. Mails below, the same struggle exists today but is further complicated by the state of our economy. There has been a huge jump in unemployment as major companies filed for bankruptcy and went out of business. This is happening across the United States and includes some of the oldest and most respected institutions in the world.

Now, people are faced with a daunting question: "What do I do now?"

Wed, March 16 2006


E. Mail Samples:

1. Twice the pressure. - Jan 19th 2009
While we are all in the same boat as to what to do, I am backed into a corner. I am unemployed, cannot afford to work for 8-10 dollars per hour. I am forced into going back to school and getting into debt, or claiming bankrupcy! It's a real bummer.

2. I am you - Jan 16th 2009
HI, I am 38 and have no idea what I am supposed to do with my life!  What makes it worse is that growing up and in grade/high school, I was constantly told  by friends, teachers and family that I was ahead of my time, or very bright, "will have the world by the tail".  I have been stuck and feel the clock is ticking.  How to find what can truely make you happy and pay the bills at the same time is overwhelming!  So I press on..... Best of luck to you all !!

3. Midlife crisis? - Paul - Jan 13th 2009
I agree, it is good to see I am not alone in this "what to do" predicament. Sad in a way also. And fixable I believe.  I'm 45 and am having a very difficult time finding a job. I give eye exams. 10 years ago I could pick and choose employers and name my price. Now, since insurance companies are running the show, wages have gone down and many services I provided to a practice are not being compensated for by insurance companies... I would like to say, that after several months of deep soul searching, I feel we all know what it is we would like to do! It may sound like I do not understand "Your" particular situation... But if we take out fears of money, job security, or being able to make a living at the one thing we would do, if none of that were a concern, we would all have some sort of answer. Everybody enjoys something! Sounds like fantasy. But there is a grain of truth to it.

...I can think of a million reasons not do try something. If this is your case of worries as it is in my case, we have some work to do. Because these are things not happening yet.and may never. We just fear they might. FEAR!  Well maybe we are stronger than we think. It's like being at the end of that diving board when we were in school. All the kids behind you kept yelling "Jump"! You knew you had to. We waited until almost pushed off. You knew it was inevitable. Even though the others before you made it, we were still afraid. Then something happens and Plunk!  Hey that was easier than I thought you felt...but I'm getting ready to jump! I'll learn how to swim again once I'm in the water.  

4. Midlife crossroads - Jan 9th 2009
So many people here seem to be about my age 43. I have drifted from career to career never happy with any of them. I've worked with animals (low pay), been a nurse(stressful and I hated it), and a paramedic (too hard on my back). I just finished a 4 year science degree and now can't find a job because there are so few jobs here and I have to speak French to get any of them. Now unemployed for 1 year and getting so discouraged I want just give up but thats not an option. Maybe I'll never know what is right for me but I can still hope. It is a little comforting to know I'm not alone.


It is interesting to read Paul's comments, "Midlife crisis? Whether you agree with him or not it is interesting to consider his point that all of really know what we want to do with our lives but fear has gotten in the way. We fear incurring debts, starting a career that will pay far less than we are used to earning and losing job security, even though that is lost when our employer fails and goes out of business. At the end he encourages everyone to make the jump into the water, meaning, do what it takes to start a new career.

However, for others, it is not so easy. As one writer points out, he has gone to school and trained for one career after another and found that they were not right for him for one reason or another. Of course, that is the great dilemma: How does one know what the right career is without ever having done it before? This is complicated by the fact that we enter professions with lots of expectations about what is like to do that type of work only to discover that the reality of the work is different form the fantasy. Lots of things that seem exciting and romantic have a habit of turning out to be disappointing.

Part of the answer to this dilemma lies in personal values. Perhaps no career is perfect. However, when the activities involved in a job match personal values and goals, the chance is greatest that it will feel like a fulfilling career. Just as one example, if helping the disadvantaged is highly valued then a career in social work could be fulfilling. No, the financial gains from social work are not the greatest. Many times, a lower salary can be tolerated if the work feels right and good. Perhaps, for some, the answer lies in becoming a teacher.

Whatever the preferences a person has for a new career, there is one thing I can assure everyone. That assurance is that it is important to avoid listening to the "nay sayers." These are people, either friends or family, who will make discouraging or disparaging remarks about one career and another. Many people attempt to discourage entering into the teaching profession, citing everything from low salaries to poor working conditions. Yet, I have known many people who, despite the truth of those factors, love being teachers and enjoy going to work each day.

The bottom line is that many people are now forced to make career choices all over again because of the economy. While this can be viewed as a disaster, I want to suggest that it is also an opportunity to choose what you once wanted but feared doing or thought you could not do.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Unemployed, depressed...:-/ - - Oct 30th 2009

I'm so glad I found this site.  I have been feeling down since I was laid off in December. I am afraid of what's goign to happen in the future. I have to get a job asap but am reluctant to do so because I have had several bad experiences at work.  I'm a hard worker but I can't stand the coworkers I have encountered.  I've worked at several companies in media and the work environment can be tough.  Mentally I'm not prepared to enter the work force for fear of dealing with corporate politics.

I try to read and hear words of encouragement but it's not helping.  People have offered to help me look for work but I'm stuck because I don't know what I want to do next.  My esteem is at an all time low and I keep thinking about the difficult times I've had in the past.  All of the criticisms from my boss too is not helping.  I want to shake the feeling and focus on the good things. I'm trying so hard to stay positive but it can be difficult.  I feel the worse when I'm looking at job sites.  I'm so frustrated.  I've had headaches for the past week because I have to figure something out quickly before unemployment runs out.  I want to be one of those people that know where she's going in life. Confident and not worried about other people's opinions. 

Thanks for reading.  I needed to vent.  I'm so upset.

Unemployed - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Sep 9th 2009

Hi Tom,

I can fully assure you that you are not alone. In fact, you are luckier than most in that your wife has a pension after thirty years of teaching. Contrary to what you believe, most people do not have that, do not have surplus cash rolling in and are not paying their bills. In fact, this is one of the reasons why so many people, including older people, are losing their homes to foreclosure.

Tom, us males have a disease and it is that we are convinced that the only way we are valuable is if we work and work for money. It is not true.

Your wife has a pension. My suggestion and even plea to you is: Go on some of those bicycle trips and, in addition, do volunteer work. You are more valuable to society than the amount of money you earn. There is strong evidence that volunteer work is good for our heads and hearts. Cycling and volunteerism are things you can do thanks to that pension.

Who knows: If your mind is really set on making money, perhaps something will come out of cycling or out of volunteering.

Lift your spirits, your life is better than you realize.

Dr. Schwartz

What Do I Do? - Tom - Sep 9th 2009

I've read many comments from people who are burnt out from looking for a job, asking "what do I do?"

I think the first, most important trick is to change the attitude, even if it means faking it.  Nobody wants to hire a depressed person, especially in this economy, where enthusiasm is as important as anything when it comes to guiding a business through tough times.

Even if I'm feeling suicidal and I find myself wanting to burst into tears every couple of hours, when I'm in public, I put on a big smile and tell everyone how awesome I am feeling.  This becomes infectious and makes everyone around me feel good, too.

So far, this "phony" optimism hasn't landed me the job I want, but I know it keeps me in the running.

I'm 46.  When I'm frowning, I look 76.  When I'm smiling, I don't look a day over 36.  Keep smiling, my friends.

Glad I'm not alone, either - Tom - Sep 8th 2009

Regardless of how often I hear other people talk about losing their jobs these days, I've had a hard time believing that any of these other people are in the same predicament I'm in. 

For many, it seems they wake up unemployed one day, but nothing changes.  They still seem to have a stream of money coming in from somewhere and their bills seem to get paid, job or no job.  The puzzle of it all adds a lot of additional stress, making me feel that not only am I unproductive at this time, but that I'm also really bad at making money without having a job!

Whatever, I'm feeling really discouraged these days.  I started my life after high school as a professional musician, earning about $50k a year right out of 12th grade (1980).  That was almost a million dollars in those days.  Then the music business changed and I had to start my own business producing audio programs.  When that crashed after 9-11-01, I had to bite the bullet and go to work for my brother, a very successful insurance claims investigator.  For the next seven years, I traveled the country on almost a daily basis, a big shot dealing with the FBI and investigative teams in every major city.  Our specialty was investigating crimes against traveling diamond and gold salesmen and we had a virtual monopoly on the market.  As much as I hated being dependent on a family member, and as much as I hated the job itself, I got very good at it and could have made a life long career out of it...unless the economy took a slam dive and all those jewelry salesmen stopped traveling.  Needless to say, that's what happened in 2008, and I've been out of work since.

Fortunately, my wife has a nice pension from 30 years of teaching and continues to maintain a successful tutoring business; however, I'm a worker and I need to be productive EVERY DAY.  Lately, I spend all day checking my e-mail and planning bicycle trips that I will never take.

Sadly, these days, I find myself hoping that every pain in my chest turns into a fatal heart attack and every blemish on my skin turns into a malignant tumor.  All this while I am blessed with a beautiful marriage and four awesome grandchildren.

I've been promised a job with our local township, when the time is right.  In fact, I passed up a good one several years ago because the investigations job was going too well.  Now that I really need the gig, it seems almost completely out of reach.

I know I can't go on with constant stress and two or three hours of sleep every night, so I am trying to reframe the situation and get my spirit back.  The first step was finding some other lost souls in the same boat, which I think I have done here.

Thank you all, and good luck to you!

follow up - Bill - Mar 5th 2009

What would you recommend I do - this is a follow up to the comment about abanding life goal.

giving up on life's goals - - Mar 5th 2009



Well I am 53 and I had struggled for many years to make it in the nonprofit sector. I've done a lot of writing and editing work, some paid and most not paid. I also have a Masters degree.

I was in a nonprofit that folded just before the recession started. I have decided I will never get back into the work I tried so hard for. I am convinced that the recession will last long enough and be bad enough that I will be too old to get a job when it is over. Also, I have to make more money to be able to retire someday. I am even afraid I won't be able to get a government job.

It is sad because I have been struggling so long that I have never been able to start a family or get a good financial base. I have pretty much written off my future. 



Depression and Unemployment - Allan N Schwartz - Feb 25th 2009

Hi Paula,

You ask an excellent question and I will respond in the section of Mental Help Net called "Ask Dr. Schwartz." Just click there later today and you will find a more complete answer and explanation.

Dr. Schwartz

Depression helps to contribute to my unemployment! - Paula - Feb 25th 2009

I first started out with Depression, well over Two years ago. Since then, I have lost my job & feel like I am stuck in chicken limbo! I have had more down's than you can imagine!

I've tried to take my own life Twice, because of the Financial state this depression has left me in! I have my own house with a Mortgage, that I am just holding on to, with a thread!

 Because of the amount of time of me being unemployed, without having a job, I have thrown myself into furthering my education. I have completed numerous Courses, to try and achieve a goal in life before I retire!

I feel now though, with me being out of work for so long, that this has in fact, affected me more than I thought! Browsing through the Job Vacancies, I decided to try for a few, in one of these roles that I have just recently qualified in completing my Level's 2/3 in Peer Mentoring with Youths.

After applying for the post and receiving the Application form's, on line, I started filling them in. When I got to the end though, and went to press send, I couldn't do it! I panicked & felt all my Anxiety returning. I felt scared to return back to work!

So... How do I get over that fear of getting back to work, without me falling deeper into my depressive state?  

Still NO idea what I want! - Babbs - Feb 7th 2009

I have never found much satisfaction in ANY job I've had and I've had a lot.

I have switched jobs because of boredom, dislike of boss or co-workers, etc. I have had  so many short-term jobs, that I'm having a hard time convincing ANY employer that I'm a good bet, even though I have outstanding skills and a lot of true accomplishments.

I know that I don't enjoy a competitive, rigid, corporate environment, but I don't want to work retail hours, standing there with my bad back either! I just have NO idea what to do. I'm 48 now and not getting any younger!

what do we as a whole do overthrow our gov? - - Jan 30th 2009
I think the Government needs to overthrow NAFTA. Doesn't take rocket science to figure out if we are importing more than exporting we have nothing to build or sell. Therefore we will continue to be in this depression or recession until the root of the problem is solved. Am I alone in my thoughts?

Older and Unemployed - Allan N Schwartz - Jan 28th 2009

Hi Lynn, as you know, this is the problem that so many people face today and at age 56 it seems hard to reinvent yourself. However, I have to agree with your son. It appears to me that he is smart and you must be proud of that or should be.

I really firmly believe that you should go back, now that you have unwanted time, and finish you college degree. Once you have your degree you will qualify for more jobs. Yes, you will start at a lower salary and that can be discouraging. But, sometimes a person has to take steps backwards in order to move forward. You need to summon up your courage and take the step towards finishing school. Anyway, this is my opinion and you must do what seems right for you. I am not saying that this would be easy but you can do it.

Dr. Schwartz

Older & Unemployed - Lynn - Jan 27th 2009

My son tells me in order to find a job I need to reinvent myself.  I am 56 and have been unemployed for 7 months. I worked in Banking for many years, then went into accounting, my last job which lasted for 6 years, was as an Interior Design Assist. for a new home builder.   I went to college but never graduated.  I have sent out over 200 resumes.  At 56 how do you reinvent yourself?  I would go back to college but I will probably have to start all over since it has been so many years and by the time I would graduate I would be that much older. 

They say to treat looking for a job as a job, and I have.  I spend a good part of every day looking for a job and after doing that I am so depressed. I don't know what to do.

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