Handling the Shock of the Presidential Election

As a career counselor, I don’t normally write about politics, but these are unusual times, and I felt that it was important to share my thoughts. I know that my views won’t align with those of some of my clients, but I wanted to write this precisely because so many of my other clients are very upset and anxious about what this election may mean to them personally and to the country.

This presidential election has left many of us shocked, upset, and worried.


Psychiatrists and psychologists are seeing an upsurge in depression in the wake of this election. Part of the shock is the result of polls that were so wrong. In the span of a few hours as the returns came in, the Trump effect melted away Clinton’s hopes and the hopes of most Democrats for the further development of a progressive agenda in our country. But it is more than that.

In my office building, riding on the elevator, there have been a number of occasions where fellow passengers, seeing the Hillary Clinton pin on my coat, started a conversation about how upset they are, how they cannot sleep at night, and how they are fearful of what is going to happen in this country.

Tammy Duckworth, our newly elected junior Senator from Illinois, reported that the day after the election she was out in the city of Chicago to thank her voters and many of them came up to her crying and asking her for reassurance and a hug. They expressed their fear to her about what Trump would do as president.

This is not a normal response to an election. If any other Republican had won, people would not be this fearful and disturbed.

Trump has used extremely divisive and harsh rhetoric that has ignited the alt-right and KKK. Based on his picks for cabinet posts, he has made a deal with right wing Republicans. He will enact their agenda despite his populist rhetoric on the campaign trail, while they will look the other way when it comes to his ethics violations, and even perhaps, his collaboration with Russia to win the election by hacking the Democrats and disseminating false news, fake news, and WikiLeaks dumps to excite and distract the media.

Trump’s win has shaken our values and beliefs to the core. His actions and words go against so much of what we teach our children about how to behave to succeed at work and at home. We tell our children not to insult, cheat, or lie, and to follow the rules and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Trump does not follow the rules. He insults, he cheats, he lies, he refuses to release his taxes, and he is unwilling to divest himself of his business interests. This is a clear violation of the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution which forbids the acceptance of gifts to a president from a foreign government. The remedy is impeachment. He doesn’t care.

Trump admires Putin and other dictators and demagogues. There are serious questions and concerns about how much the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians, a hostile foreign government, to win this election. What was Trump appointee, General Michael Flynn, doing on the phone talking with operatives in Moscow the day before Obama sanctioned the Russians? What are his financial ties or debts to Russian oligarchs? He refuses to reveal his taxes to the American people. What is he hiding?

John Lewis has decided not to go to the inauguration and has said he does not believe that Trump’s election is legitimate. President Obama has urged us to take the long view. He says that we should give Trump a chance, because if he succeeds then we all succeed. While it is good to be open-minded, we should not be naïve. Trump is poised to become the first leader of our country who could alter our government by changing it into what is termed an illiberal democracy. Democracy relies on cultural norms of compromise and civility and many of these norms have been weakened by strident rhetoric as well as a refusal to play by the rules as evidenced by some congressional Republicans. For example, Republicans broke with tradition and norms by refusing to give Obama’s eminently qualified Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing.

In illiberal democracies there is a so-called popular vote to elect the leader but it is usually a sham because it is accompanied by the loss of freedoms and rights that are the hallmarks of a true democracy, including the loss of free speech, the right to assemble and dissent, and the loss of other freedoms we have enjoyed in our country since it was created.

The free press is usually the first casualty. News becomes mere propaganda rather than accurate and informative. That could happen here because Trump uses Twitter to avoid exposing himself to the press and their penetrating and uncomfortable questions. He tells his followers not to believe the mainstream media, and demands that everyone accept his version of reality. He has chosen to install Steve Bannon in the White House, a notorious purveyor of slanted news and misinformation. He surrounds himself with surrogates who apologize for his every move even if his action or statement is patently ill-advised. His many trolls on Twitter act like a mob, defending him whenever he is criticized. In a true democracy, the President is always criticized. It is a First Amendment right that our press should exercise. But Trump is very thin-skinned, and he retaliates against people who say negative things about him. We will need to support journalists and newspapers that are reliable sources of information so that they are not compromised or shut down. And there is more we can do.

One of the best ways to deal with worry or concern is to get active and “become the change we need.” Rise up! Join Indivisible, a group that is planning to push back against the Trump agenda using the very effective tactics developed by the Tea Party. Join and get active with local groups online and in your own community. Write letters and make calls to Congressmen and women, both Republicans and Democrats, to insist on decency and fairness and initiatives that help all Americans. A public outcry can make a difference.

This election has been a wake-up call. For some of us it feels more like we woke up in the middle of a nightmare and can’t get back to reality. Cherished institutions and beliefs, including civility and honesty, ethics, fair treatment, and truthfulness that are the hallmark and bedrock of our democracy and our workplaces, will be tested by this incoming administration.

Stay vigilant. And reach out, across our divided country to listen and care about other Americans no matter who they voted for. Those folks who think Trump will bring back their jobs in coal country and the rust belt are in for a big disappointment. It looks like they, along with millions of other Americans, could also lose their health insurance as Republicans rush to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a viable replacement. People who voted for Trump thinking he was their populist hero are going to have a very tough time once Trump and the Republicans implement their likely agenda which rewards the 1% and removes supports and the way forward for everyone else. We are all going to have a difficult time of it if Trump’s many cabinet picks deconstruct the departments they are supposed to oversee, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury, Education, and many others. In Hamilton the musical there is a line that is relevant for this moment in history: “Oceans rise. Empires fall.” Change is happening in our country. We really might fall. We stand to lose a lot with the Trump administration. But it is not a foregone conclusion that we will. It is possible that Trump will surprise many of us and rise to the occasion as our 45th President by preserving and protecting our democracy. If not, “We the People” can do what has to be done in a vital, thriving democracy: namely participate and get engaged to preserve and protect the values and norms that make our nation the envy of every other nation on Earth.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

What Can Trevor Noah Tell You About How To Find a Good Career Path?

Trevor Noah Born a CrimeTrevor Noah, the host who replaced John Stewart on The Daily Show, has written an extraordinary book about his experiences growing up in South Africa. The title of the book is Trevor Noah: Born a Crime. I enthusiastically recommend it!

Trevor Noah was the offspring of a South African mother and a white man who was her friend but not her husband, at a time when in South Africa, relations between the two races was against the law. He was raised by his adventurous, rule-defying, and yet deeply religious, caring, and wise mother. She taught him not to believe in limits.

“My mother took me places black people never went. She refused to be bound by ridiculous ideas of what black people couldn’t or shouldn’t do. She’d take me to the ice rink to go skating. Johannesburg used to have this epic drive-in movie theater, Top Star Drive-In, on top of a massive mine dump outside the city. She’d take me to movies there; we’d get snacks, hang the speaker on our car window. Top Star had a 360-degree view of the city, the suburbs, Soweto. Up there I could see for miles in every direction. I felt like I was on top of the world. My Mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.”

This wonderful image and great insight explains so much about how Trevor Noah could come from apartheid South Africa, where he was only able to make it as a local hustler in the ‘hood in his early adult life, to become the talented, creative and quick-witted host of The Daily Show.

Trevor Noah writes this:

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

This is true for so many people. When I work with clients to figure out a better career direction, one of the first things we do is to imagine a different future, one that plays to their strengths. I ask them to imagine a workplace they would want to go to every day. I ask them to think about a mission or missions that excite them. We talk about what they would do if they won the lottery. We talk about how they would fix their present job. We mine their pasts for information that will unearth strong interests and motivators, as well as aptitudes or natural talents that will help them rise to the top of their chosen field. This doesn’t always get them everything they want, but usually gets them a lot closer to a work life they will enjoy.

If you have not had the experience of imagining a different and better future for yourself, it can be very hard to dream of a career that goes beyond the norm you know in the corner of the world where you live and grow up. Ask yourself what you want to do in life and then stretch that idea further. If you can dream it, you can try to work your way toward it. Identify the goal, and then plan the steps you want to take and start out on that path. Even if you do not end up getting to the exact goal you set, you are on a new and challenging path, which is in itself more gratifying.

I counsel many people who, when looking forward to an alternative career will say, “I cannot imagine being able to achieve the goal I am setting.” But I also counsel many people who, looking back on their lives say, “I am amazed about what I have accomplished in my life. Who would have thought I would someday be the head of the Chicago Bar Association?” “Who would have thought that someday I would be able to run this company and have it be a success?” “Who would have thought that I could become a well-known broadcast journalist?” “Who would have believed I would be able to write blockbuster novels?”

I want to be clear. Just because you have an idea of what you want to accomplish in your career doesn’t mean that you will actually get there. But often the goal is less important than you might think, because the process itself is also gratifying.

In my own life, when I was in college, I watched some of the Chicago Seven Trial in federal court. After that, I got it in my head that I wanted to be an Assistant US Attorney. At that time being a prosecutor was not considered to be a viable career path for a woman. It was a goal that was beyond the range of what I thought was possible. But after seeing a few days of that federal trial, I was so excited, I didn’t care that it was not supposed to be a good career for a woman. I did not know I would actually be able to achieve my goal, but I took the necessary steps to try to get there by studying hard for and taking the LSAT, going to law school, landing a job as an Assistant State’s Attorney, and working in the Official Misconduct Unit because it was similar to the work done by federal prosecutors. I also networked in a creative way to meet key people who could help me interview at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I am happy to say I was able to achieve my goal, and it was a fulfilling job. But even if I had never become an Assistant US Attorney, I had decided on a path I believed in and felt challenged by, and that was gratifying in itself. If you believe in the road you are on, the journey is actually part of the reward.

As Trevor Noah says:

“… the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see.”

So dream beyond the highest rung! You might surprise yourself.