09/01/2005

It Only Hurts When I (Don't) Laugh: Humor Your Clients' Job Search

by Janet Ruck


There was the case of an out-of-work office manager who requested help with her resume. She wrote: "Reason for leaving last job: They insisted that all employees get to work by 8AM every morning. I just couldn't work under those conditions." (source: www.career-magic.com).

Have you ever noticed how much better and more relaxed you feel after a good laugh? How you are better able to manage life's challenges and stresses after a funny joke? Then you have experienced the healing power of laughter. There is scientific evidence for this healing power that has been studied by the medical profession and implemented by the comedy profession. Bill Cosby, Erma Bombeck and their counterparts are not only funny, they are also masters at giving us new perspectives on our lives through laughter. They are healers. Through laughter and the subsequent release of endorphins, the body is able to "de-stress" and energize, giving it the boost it needs to keep going for those stressful and energy-draining activities. Scientists have determined that laughter activates both sides of the brain. Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence, says that "laughter" seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely." Norman Cousins used humor to heal himself after being stricken with a crippling and life-threatening collagen disease. Clifford C. Kuhn, MD, the "Laugh Doctor", a physician, medical school professor, comedian, professional speaker and personal counselor, helps individuals and groups enhance performance, productivity and health by creating and sustaining more fun. The purpose of Joel Goodman's Humor Project is "to help people get more smileage out of their lives and jobs by applying the practical, positive power of humor and creativity."

Light-heartedness goes a long way toward smoothing the rough edges of frustration and despair, for us as counselors as well as for our clients. When responding to the question regarding desired position, a client answered: "Reclining. Ha ha. But seriously, whatever's available. If I was in a position to be picky, I wouldn't be applying here in the first place. (www.humorbin.com) Another client had different aspirations: "My goal is to be a meteorologist. Without any training in meteorology, I suppose I should try stock brokerage." (www.resumesbycpr.com)

As career counselors, we see clients whose stress and challenges take their toll psychologically, physically and emotionally. The time-tested technique of humor may be a tool we can add to our tool kit of assessments, interviews, and referrals. While not the cure for the job search process, it can certainly smooth our clients' journey and provide them with a self-management technique for a lifetime.

There are clients who are genuinely baffled by their circumstances and how they got into the situation they find themselves in. That's when we need to pull out all of the tools in our tool box. One client, when asked what type of work he had done in the past, replied: "I was working for my mom until she decided to move". (www.resumesbycpr.com).

I once conducted a job search group for recently-downsized (right-sized?) adult workers. One of the group members, a man who had been "right-sized" from the engineering profession for the third time in as many years, could not move past his fear and anger regarding the "unfairness of outsourcing and the bottom line." As I tried to help the group write targeted resumes and cover letters replete with action verbs, he kept interrupting with: "But do you think it's fair that so many jobs are being sent overseas?" Finally, a young woman in the group, also a veteran of outsourcing, said: "What does it matter if it's fair or not? You have to move on. After all, are you going to spend all your energy being angry at Asia?" With that, the whole class erupted in laughter, including the man who hadn't been able to let go of his anger until that point. In subsequent classes I saw him working hard on his resume with a renewed sense of purpose and direction focused on his job search - and away from bitterness.

Of course, I am not advocating that we minimize clients' fear and frustration by telling jokes or laughing at their plight. The goal is to provide them with a light-hearted perspective, spiced with humor, to alleviate some of their anxiety. Laughing at themselves and the ensuing surge of endorphins will lighten their load somewhat as they forage through the job-search forest, while giving them a strategy for a life of balancing work with a playful attitude.

As the very funny comedian Milton Berle once said: "Laughter is an instant vacation." And, remember - Nothing in the world is friendlier than a wet dog. (Unknown) It works for us counselors, too!

Some laughter resources:
www.career-magic.com
www.humorbeing.com
www.humorproject.com
www.humorbin.com
www.resumesbycpr.com



Janet Ruck is a career counselor at a federal government agency. She has always loved to laugh, and, in fact, came out of retirement, back to the workforce, because she missed laughing with colleagues (some of whom think this is laughable). Janet has been a psychologist, addiction counselor, trainer and teacher. Through all of her work and with all of her clients, humor has been the key to her (and their) sanity. She can be reached at janetruck@yahoo.com.


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