I own a house in the woods. Those who know me may find this surprising because of my total and complete dislike of nature and the outside. Nonetheless, through a series of circumstances, I find myself owning multiple acres of New Jersey Pinelands.
On a lark, one nice spring day, I decided to explore the property. I was inspired, having just read Bill Bryson’s, “A Walk in the Woods.” So off I went. Hiking boots over ankles, hefty stick in hand, and a light jacket into the sunny woods. I followed a natural opening and entered the forest.
There were pine trees as to be expected, but I was surprised to find Holly trees a plenty. There were what I have come to call “thorny things” — massive tendrils up to 40 feet long with three-quarter inch thorns. Ouch is an understatement.
As I crossed a stream, the forest became dark and gloomy, and after about 30 minutes of walking I stumbled and, you guessed it, became disoriented. I could not identify the path I was walking, and had no idea as to the direction of home. But I wasn’t panicked yet, so I thought I’d pick a direction and walk in a straight line, leaving markers along the way “just in case.”
After a half hour I was concerned; at an hour I was distressed; and at an hour and a half, I knew I was doomed and was going to die in the woods and be eaten by lions, tigers, and bears. I really do hate nature.
To this day, I can still feel the emotional stages of shock: anxiety, embarrassment, anger, dread and confusion. I remember wanting to do things that were almost instinctual, like change direction, and started to believe things were out of control.
Then, the sound of civilization.
A car or truck with a bad muffler. I started to move faster in the direction of the sound, stumbled again on a thorny thing, got entangled from waist to ankle, and saw the road. Yes, that beautiful road. I was saved, I was not going to be wildlife fodder. And with the exceptions of some cuts and scratches, and being emotionally compromised, realized I was only 3 miles from home.
Shortly thereafter I had a six foot fence erected around my property and never — yes, never — went near the woods again.
I was amazed at my mental and emotional devastation over the 3-hour ordeal, and was equally amazed to encounter the same stages of dismay a few years later when I was walking into the exhibit hall at HIMSS, having recently lost my job.
Job loss counselors will tell you the most common emotional reactions include: shock and disbelief, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, loss of control, distrust of employers, self-blame, loss of confidence, and anger. Sound familiar?
I’ve been attending HIMSS for 24 years, and can tell you it is a completely different experience when you are looking for work. The lights, noise, crowds, and even the giveaways have an alienating effect — at least they did on me when I was “between jobs.” The rush of entering the hall turns to dread, and it’s amazing how lonely you can feel with 40,000 healthcare IT geeks surrounding you. So for those of you going to HIMSS this year and looking for work, here are some suggestions.
- S – Stay calm. Panic is your worst enemy. You will find a job; you just need to have a plan. Searches take time, so be patient.
- T – Talk to executive search firms. Present your strengths and identify where in the country you would like to work. Follow up after the conference with a letter and your CV.
- O – Open up to everyone you know that you’re looking for a new job, and I mean everyone: associates, friends, vendors, sale people, everyone. But don’t be depressed about it; no one wants to talk to a downer. Listen and talk to the people you know. Also, know that your friends may be a little slower in returning your calls. This is normal.
- P – Plan to use the Exhibit hall as a way of finding solutions you can weave into an interview. We are all dealing with the same things: declining reimbursement, improving quality, reducing cost, and improving efficiency. I suggest visiting first-time presenters for this, as they tend to have the most innovative and disruptive ideas.
Remember, you’re not looking for a job; you’re looking for a job you will love. It’s kind of like dating. It’s easy to go online and find a match for a first date — what matters most is what happens after that.
Use your contacts to get the inside scoop on positions, as well as moral support. HIMSS is a great place to have facetime with associates and friends who can help you identify companies and opportunities that could be a good fit. Be sure to identify someone who can be a strong reference.
Remember, interviews are dual-edged sword. You are interviewing a company as much as they are interviewing you.
Finally, be positive at all times. If are one of those people for whom a cocktail has a depressing effect, don’t drink.
Being lost in the woods can be as scary as approaching HIMSS without a plan. Stay calm, have a plan, be positive, and think about stories and tools you can relate to your next interviewer. This will demonstrate what a powerful, perceptive, and accomplished professional you are. Be aware there is an emotional cost, acknowledge it, and let it pass through you. Chances are you won’t leave HIMSS a new job, but you can add to the tapestry of your professional career some golden threads that will make you shine during an interview, and help you avoid the thorny things that can trip you up.
Dan Morreale is SVP and CIO at Hunterdon Healthcare. A CHIME Fellow and Lifetime member, he has served in a number of healthcare leadership roles, and is an active member of NJ HIMSS.