Opinion: Powered by fear

Are you afraid? You probably are. When times are good, many IT people have no fears at all. The rest have a variety of concerns: not gaining that promotion, being stuck on a dead-end project, dealing with an unpleasant boss. But times aren't good, and right now we all dread pretty much the same thing: getting laid off and not being able to find a new job.

That's not unrealistic. You really are at risk of losing your job even if you do it well. And for that uncertainty, there's no end in sight.

So don't ignore that fear. Use it.

Sure, you could rationalize it away. You know these tough times will end eventually. Small retailers saw bottom around the end of October. Manufacturing, the first sector of the economy to slide into recession, is slowly climbing back out. But IT was the last sector into the quicksand, and we'll likely be the last ones out.

And sure, we will eventually see a return to healthy IT budgets and fully staffed IT shops. Talk of a permanently lean IT staff always sounds good to the budget committee. But IT is too strategic today no company can survive without a healthy IT budget in the long term.

But in the short term, you could end up on the street. That's the gnawing fear we'll all be living with for some time to come.

So don't pretend it's not there. Pay attention to it. Use it as motivation. Take the gut feeling that something's wrong and turn it into action.

Last week, Computerworld ran several stories on what to do when you're laid off. This week, here are a few tips on what to do when you haven't been laid off yet:

Make yourself less likely to be laid off. Take the unpleasant assignments. Be pleasant to users. Get to work a little earlier. Stay a little later. Solve problems. Don't rock the boat unnecessarily. Does this sound like selling out? Sure it is right now the company is buying you with that paycheck, and you want to stay bought.

Make yourself more likely to be hired. Learn some new skills on your own time and your own nickel. Join a user group or a professional society, and go to the meetings. Network. Do favors for people who are looking for jobs. Make sure you know which managers will give you a glowing recommendation. But don't worry about polishing your résumé you'll have plenty of time for that if you get canned.

Start behaving like somebody whose job is in jeopardy. Spend less. Delay any big purchases you can live without. Pay down your credit cards. Scale back your vacation plans. If you've been thinking about a home equity line of credit, now's the time you won't get it if you need it when you're out of a job.

Adjust your priorities. Move work up a notch or two on the list. Downgrade hobbies and fun. Don't neglect your mate or kids, but make sure they understand that, for now, your job is going to take more time, energy and attention than before. If something's not important, don't try to fit it into your week. Remember, this is temporary you can always go back to your old ways once the crisis is past.

Take care of yourself. Eat real food, not junk. Exercise. Don't lose more sleep than you have to. Watch TV standing up that'll keep you from spending hours on the couch. Be nice to the people around you and let them be nice to you. And don't beat yourself up or dwell on what you would or could or should have done differently to make your job safer. It's your job, not your life don't confuse the two.

Will doing these things make you less afraid? Probably not remember, you do have something to be afraid of.

But if you put that fear to work for you, you'll have a better chance of keeping your job or handling a layoff if it comes.

After all, if you've got to have fear around, you might as well make it pay its own way.

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