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In a career hole? Here’s how you can dig out

Few of us anticipate long chapters of unemployment. It can lead to defeatism and sorrow when we find ourselves in living through it. Here’s some advice for getting back on your feet.

This month, Ron Diamond hit the two-year mark of joblessness, and despair is starting to set in.

The 58-year old technology professional from Arlington, Mass., has sent out about 1,000 resumes and he has taken courses to keep his skills up to date; he’s been networking, and recently dyed his hair.

“At this point, I don’t think I can get another job,” said Diamond, who has never been out of work this long in his career as an IT professional. “Unemployment runs out at the end of this month, and then I’m done. I would say at this point I’m completely hopeless. My spirits are long gone.”

When it comes to how we envision our career stories, few of us anticipate such a long chapters of unemployment. It can lead to defeatism and sorrow when we find ourselves in living through it, mental health experts say.

“It’s so devastating because you don’t go through life thinking this could ever really happen to you,” said Deborah Brown, a clinical psychologist and business coach from Deerfield Beach, Fla.

“Historically, career development has been seen as a kind of train,” she said. “You get on that train and ride that train, work your way up and retire.”

All that has changed now.

“People are seeing major gaps in their resumes,” she added, “because of this long protracted economic downturn.”

In this economy more and more workers are faced with long-term unemployment, or underemployment, when a worker is employed, but not earning enough money or working in their desired capacity.

The nation’s jobless rate has been hovering near 10 percent for many months now, but one of the most disturbing statistics is that as of October, 6.2 million, or four in 10 unemployed Americans, had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. That’s the highest number on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These data do not include discouraged workers who have given up the job search altogether. In October, 1.2 million workers stopped looking for work, up more than 400,000 from the same month last year; and another 9.2 million employees were underemployed, or working part time, because their hours were cut or full time work was just not available.

What’s more, some 800,000 jobless Americans will lose their unemployment benefits at the end of November if Congress does not renew them. Congress has let the program lapse twice this year as Republicans have argued that the cost of extending benefits should be covered by budget cuts elsewhere.

These job market realities can do a number on anyone’s optimism.

“To say that I have at times been depressed and unmotivated is an understatement,” explained Brian Lantzy, 41, who lost his job at a regional manager for a residential builder in Bend, Ore., 26 months ago.

Lantzy’s wife Sibila, who had been a stay-at-home mom, started waiting tables after he lost his job, but in August the restaurant where she worked shut down.

Despite their challenges, Lantzy decided at some point that he just couldn’t wallow in hopelessness or he’d never get his life back on track.

“You have to talk through it and say, ‘it sucks, but we’re not going to be homeless or destitute,’” he stressed.

They decided to relocate to Boulder, Colo., because a friend has a vacant house they can live in and the job prospects are better. They also launched an Internet company called Resort Business Opportunities two years ago, but have only made $50 off of it so far. Having the company, however, meant Lantzy didn’t have a big gap on his resume. He could show he had been CEO of his own company.

Now he has two good prospects for sales jobs and is confident he’ll get an offer soon.

“I’m not hopeless anymore,” he said, and that keeps him going.

Indeed, feeling hopeless — and appearing hopeless to others — can actually keep you from landing a job, according to Savitri Dixon-Saxon, associate dean of the School of Counseling and Social Service at Walden University.

“It’s very normal for people in this day and age, in these tough economic times, to feel really hopeless about the job market and feel like they have very little control over their futures with regards to being able to secure another job,” she explained.

However, she stressed, when you force yourself to take back control by drastically changing your job search strategies, going back to school, or even considering a whole new career, “you’re more likely to feel invigorated, and you’ll be more attractive to prospective employers.”

Taking back control, however, can be the biggest challenge.

Nick Synko, a career transition coach and founder of Ann Arbor, Mich., based Synko Associates, has seen many people managing their careers through fear and he says the strategy works against them.

“The fears can be, ‘I’ll never get anything,’ or ‘I couldn’t go back to school,’ or ‘I couldn’t sell my house,’ or ‘my spouse won’t agree,’ or ‘I’m too old,’” he explained.

These people, he continued, are “coasting.”

“They are not putting enough thought or action into [a job search] because they think it’s not going to work out,” Synko said.

These job-seekers might want to step away from their computers and online job boards, he added, noting that all opportunities he has received in the past two years have come from personal contacts.

“It was really depressing for me when I was in the mode of waking up and checking Craigslist, Monster, Yahoo! Jobs and CareerBuilder every day. It got me absolutely nothing” in the way of jobs and opportunities, he said.

It may also be time to change your perspective, advised Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist on the clinical faculty at University of California, Los Angeles.

“Instead of bemoaning your fate, look at this period of joblessness as an opportunity to get back to your childhood dreams of what you really wanted to do with your life,” she said.

“Maybe this means going back to school, or starting your own business, or starting your first novel,” she added.

Ron Diamond, the IT worker who’s been out of work for two years, is looking for a job in desktop support in the greater Boston area. His wife has a job as a social worker in the area and his son is going to college part-time and working full-time to help the family out.

Diamond says he’s willing to take any job he can find since his unemployment benefits will soon run out.

“I don’t care if I’m swabbing toilets,” he explained.

An unemployment extension would be very helpful, of course, but Diamond says he’s given up hope on that.

“They want to extend tax cuts for millionaires but we can’t afford to extend unemployment,” he quipped.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.