I am a bright, intelligent 39-year-old female with two college degrees and 12 years in a fund-raising career. Seven weeks ago, I lost my job. I had been working for a woman that constantly cut me down, so my ego and self-confidence is a bit shot. I've been getting nervous on interviews and have been told I lack focus. When I try to meditate, I fall asleep. Can you help?

A: Even if you hadn't had a critical, fault-finding boss, just losing your job and its powerful context for self-definition and identity can leave even a very confident person feeling amazingly undone. It's pretty astonishing how quickly a person without her regular job can lose all sense of accomplishment and know-how. Ask anyone who's been laid off or lost their job because of a move.

Add to that the fact that you had this relationship with your superior that was hard on your self-esteem. Well, there you go. You walk into an interview and you're wondering, "Well, what do I have to offer, anyway?" If this boss is an instant replay of some other authority figure in your life, you can triple the vulnerability you have in the situation.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is:

1. Your lack of confidence doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your abilities. You could be the best fund-raiser in America and still feel diminished.

2. This feeling is reversible. Really.

3. You are being presented with an opportunity to redefine yourself. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if you already knew in your heart of hearts that you should have left that last job long ago, and that this is a blessing--painful, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking as it is, a blessing nonetheless. And you may be ready to do something altogether different. In fact, you may be having trouble with these interviews in part because your inner self knows you're interviewing for the wrong jobs.

So what do you do in the meantime?

How about listening to some affirmations? We've got some good ones, and so do a lot of other people. Or use some guided imagery specifically designed to inspire confidence. (See the audioclip at the top of the page.)

This may be a good time to get involved in a regular meditation practice, join a support and/or training group for people who are unemployed, or get some short-term counseling to help you get back on track. Talk to friends about this--the ones who have confidence in you and know what you can do.

Perhaps this could be the time to take some courses in something that excites you. You could upgrade your skills and get back a sense of possibility and adventure at the same time.

Oh! And don’t give short shrift to the standard "shallow" advice, which is good too: Get a massage, a new haircut, or a makeover!

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