How to deal with job uncertainty

Job uncertainty can keep workers in a perpetual state of anxiety. Dr. Mark Goulston takes a cue from the 12-Step world that can break the cycle of doubt.
This is a photo of Mark Goulston, M.D.
Mark Goulston, M.D.

Recently I was speaking to Dan Wise who is a Federal Prison Consultant and owns RDAP Dan, where he consults to people who have been indicted for a white-collar crime and are awaiting sentencing and going to prison. Dan himself went to prison for a white-collar crime after working for a doctor who was overprescribing Oxycontin.

You may think, “What the heck are you writing about such a person on WorkingNation?”

First, I believe in giving people a second chance if they committed a crime, took full responsibility for it, expressed true remorse, served prison time and corrected the defects in their personality and are trying to turn a corner. And Dan has done all of those.

Second, and the reason for mentioning Dan in this piece is how he explained to me that he has noticed that people have a much greater fear of the unknown, to the point of terror and even at times suicide than when what they will need to deal with becomes known.

He told me of a recent case where a white collar criminal was driving himself crazy waiting for his sentencing and when the sentence of 84 months came through, he was actually relieved, because he then knew what he was going to face.

How does this apply to you?

Whether you’re still employed and waiting to see if the rumor of layoffs comes true and you’re going to lose your job, or whether you’re waiting to hear back from ten jobs you’ve applied for, it’s the waiting that can often stress you out more than when the actual result comes through.

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You may not like it when you hear you’ve been laid off or that the jobs you applied for fell through, but in either case, at least you know where you stand and can then deal with your next steps.

How you can better handle uncertainty?

One place you can borrow from that has a track record of decades is the Serenity Prayer that is embedded into the minds of most members of Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-Step Programs.

That prayer goes:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

With a little modification you can start using this as your serenity prayer:

God grant me the judgment to understand what I have no control over; what I have control over and the wherewithal to let go of the first and take action doing the second.

Something else that another friend of mine does to keep his sanity during uncertain times — as he is looking for another job — is to follow what he calls his P2I formula.

P2I stands for Purpose, Intention, Integrity.


Joe’s purpose is to find another job. He supports that purpose by identifying:

  1. What jobs are in high demand?
  2. What skills are necessary to perform those jobs?
  3. Which of those skills would he really be able to learn most readily given his current skills and aptitudes?
  4. Where can he locate credible places that provide training in those skills that he could pay for and sign up for and that will be accepted as verifiable training by an employer?


The night before he goes to sleep he writes down the answer to: “What can I get done by the end of tomorrow that will move me further towards my purpose of finding another job?” And what he gets done is to follow the steps to fulfill his purpose above.


This is where every day and also one day at a time Joe commits to himself – and possibly others – “I will do what I say I’m going to do without excuses.”

Sound too difficult? Sound too daunting? Feel like you don’t have the self-discipline to do it?

If so, follow the advice of Dan Sullivan, Co-Founder of the Strategic Coach which is the #1 coaching program for entrepreneurs.

Dan says, “Self-discipline is an awful word and you should eliminate it from your vocabulary. That is because most people only use it to beat up on themselves for lacking it. What life comes down to is ‘habits.’ Happy people have different habits than unhappy people; successful people have different habits than unsuccessful people.

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A habit is simply a discrete behavior which when practiced daily for 30 days (hence the 30 day Red bronze chip they give out in Alcoholic Anonymous for maintaining sobriety), begins to become second nature and then becomes easier to sustain. And hence the word habit.”

Practice Joe’s P2I program of Purpose, Intention and Integrity each day for 30 days and see what that does to your uncertainty.

It certainly beats spinning your wheels and just staying anxious during your periods of job uncertainty.

Join the Conversation: How have you dealt with uncertain times while still earning a paycheck? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

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