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A few years ago, a layoff might have meant a severance package and a couple of months spent looking for a new gig ... a bummer, but for the most part, a conquerable setback. These days, getting the pink-slip may mean sending out résumés and going on interviews for six-months-to-a- year or longer before finding a new job. Of the more than 15 million Americans that were unemployed as of November 2010, nearly 42 percent had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.
Though long-term unemployment is one of the toughest hands anyone can be dealt in life, there are plenty of people making the most of their bad situations, by concentrating on the still-positive parts of their lives, or by finding new and productive outlets for their energies and frustrations.
"At first [after being laid off], I was excited -- I thought it was an opportunity to change careers and start anew," says Donina Ifuring, who was let go from her job more than two years ago. But after months of networking, registering with various employment agencies and sending out 500 résumés to no avail, Ifuring had a change of heart about her unemployment situation. "I started to panic and feel bad about myself," she says.
Instead of being consumed by her anxiety, though, Ifuring began to focus on improving the aspects of her life that she could control. "I began to work out diligently every day and got to a very fit level. I also read a lot more, took walks to get out of house and started a paint project. I hadn't painted for over 20 years," she says.
Experiencing happiness and success in other areas of her life gave Ifuring the confidence to make a big career move. "I decided in the summer of 2010 that it was time to launch my business and to stop being afraid. I felt like the timing was right and that all things pointed to me being an entrepreneur," Ifuring says. "Do I want to find my dream job? Not anymore. I think my 'thing' is entrepreneurship. I am excited, nervous and free all at the same time."
Like Ifuring, many people who have spent months in the job market with little success are turning to entrepreneurship -- whether in the field they have experience in or something totally new -- as a way to regain power over their careers.
"I've been out of work approximately three years now," says Jim Corr, who worked as a sales trader at Lehman Brothers for nine years before the bank's 2008 collapse. After searching for work for years, Corr, too became discouraged. "I learned that it certainly isn't easy to find your way into a different career path once you've gone down one road long enough. I've tried to stay positive with the support of my family, new spouse and baby."
Eventually Corr, too, decided act on an entrepreneurial idea he had. He "invented a new way for athletes to hang the medals they receive in competition," and his company, MedalEdge was born. "My advice to others that are getting discouraged is that the corporate road ain't what it used to be. The movie 'Office Space' really nailed it. And having your own business isn't easy either, but at least it's yours," he says.
Yet starting a small business isn't a right for everyone -- there's a lot of time, money and risk involved. For those who haven't been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, here are the top coping strategies of other long-term job seekers.
1. Consulting: Consulting is a great way to eliminate a gap in your résumé and develop your job skills while looking for full-time work. "Through LinkedIn, personal networking, and 'volunteer' consulting, I've been able to maintain a reasonable flow of work," says John Clouse, a former professor who was laid off in 2009. "I'm now finishing a six-month contract and am starting a new five-month contract in January."
2. Volunteering: "I help others by volunteering when I can. I have all this time in my life now since it's not easy finding a new position. I can help people who are less fortunate then I am," says Leslie Jacobs, who has been unemployed since August 2008.
3. Pursue a passion: If you're not one of those fortunate people who can count their work and their lifelong passion as one, you may have had to put an activity you love on the shelf while working a hectic full-time schedule. Now that you have some extra time on your hands, use it as a chance to reconnect to your talents and hobbies. Who knows? You may even discover a whole new career path.
"To process fear and uncertainty, and to stay positive I create and market original music, [that focuses on] empowered action, hope, peace and spiritual love," tells Rosemarie Ashley of SassyAlternativeMusic.com. "I've seen much (non-monetary) success with professional Internet and on-air radio play, indie artist chart placements, fantastic comments and collaborations with musicians internationally. Many people have said the music I make touches their heart, reassures and motivates them. I've learned that I have a powerful effect with my written, spoken and lyrical words. In the music I make, I encourage everyone to find and pursue their passion, even during the darkest of times."
4. Exercise: Regular exercise provides numerous benefits the long-term unemployed. Besides the obvious health benefits, achieving fitness goals can help reinstate a positive self-image and boost self-esteem. Additionally, exercise releases "feel-good" endorphins, making it a great way to combat the job-search blues and frustrations that every job-seeker is bound to experience at some point.
No matter how you choose to cope with long-term unemployment, remember that nothing beats persistence and a positive attitude. "We all feel like giving up sometimes," Ashley says. "That is the most important time to keep fighting to control our thoughts and actions."
Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.
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