Overcoming Unemployment, Reclaiming Spirit

Are myths contributing to unemployment?

Posted Jun 16, 2011

U.S. unemployment is high-9.1%. A healthy economy has an unemployment rate around 4%-6%. While there are many theories as to why our unemployment rate is so high, I'm not an economist or a politician, so I'm not going to debate about the causes. I would, however, like to offer help to the people who are dealing with the devastating effects of unemployment (and underemployment). If that's you, I hope this helps-and/or I hope it offers assistance to someone you know.

First, let's dispel a couple of myths that are prevalent out there.

The first myth stems from that chronic question asked of every child: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question implies there is one singular answer. The myth persists and gets reinforced when colleges ask students to declare a major. Even high schools are increasingly asking students to select one study track. There is no ONE career. Moreover, the average American changes careers a minimum of five to seven times in a lifetime (and probably more since this recession).

Of course changing careers is not a new phenomenon at all. In 1831, French philosopher and historian Alex de Tocqueville noted that Americans differed from Europeans:

In a country like America, where men devoted to special occupations are rare, a long apprenticeship cannot be required from anyone who embraces a profession. The Americans therefore change their means of gaining livelihood very readily, and they suit their occupations to the exigencies of the moment. Men are to be met with who have successfully been lawyers, farmers, merchants, ministers of the Gospel, and physicians. If the American is less perfect in each craft than the European, at least there is scarcely any trade with which he is utterly unacquainted. His capacity is more general, and the circle of his intelligence is greater. ("Democracy in America" Vol 1, 425)

Another myth-one that is beginning to be realized-is the notion that a person can safely find one job and then retire with a pension from that job as long as they were successful and behaved as a good employee. Instead, many "jobs" (that haven't been automated) are now being outsourced to independent consultants and micro-businesses. Thus, job-security is rare.

I am not trying to paint a dismal picture. In fact, I see it as an opportunity to wake people up to their multiple potentials. De Tocqueville said that the Americans of the late 1820s found jobs based on the "exigencies of the moment." Exigency means "that which is required in a particular situation...a state of affairs that makes urgent demands." We are in an emergency and we have to wake up.

An emergency demands action and creativity. The challenge is finding the energy to act and the freedom to create when one is buried under the stress of unemployment/underemployment.

For instance, the first action step is to responding to the emergency of losing a job. If you have been laid off and/or cut-off from an organization (especially if it was a long career), please know that it is completely normal to experience deep grief, shame, loss of identity and meaning, fear, and other negative feelings-even if part of you is glad to be away from the company drama. Finding time to grieve can be healthy and essential.

In addition, you may find that you are reaching out to other former employees and discussing problems and people in the organization at length. This is also part of the grieving process. However, this situation becomes a problem when it slips into obsession (can't stop thinking or talking about the job) or when it never appears (the job loss is immediately replaced by another job...maybe even across the country...but then the grief gets displaced onto family members [via a divorce] or shows up in affairs, addictions, and other escapes).

Taking time to feel the grief of unemployment and/or underemployment can be powerful for a number of reasons. It allows you to process your feelings and release any negativity. It prompts you to confront the shadow of shame and guilt and release them. It also enables you to find the other part of you that is able to nurture and love yourself.

When you are able to move past the negative feelings and access your inner nurturer, you are then able to access creativity beyond your wildest imagination. And it's the creativity that creates ideas for work, along with innovations and inventions in the marketplace.

To accomplish the process of working through the grief phase and accessing your inner creativity, try journaling about it, talking with a supportive group of trusted colleagues and friends, join a career networking group, go on hikes and find time for meditation/prayer, and/or work with a counselor (there are great employment counselors at your local Career One Stop).

Know that you're not alone. Other people in similar situations have achieved great accomplishments. Some impressive companies even began in difficult economic times. Johnson & Johnson, FedEx, Microsoft, and General Electric are just a few of the commonly cited firms. I'm not suggesting that every unemployed person has the ability to create such an enterprise (although I'm not saying you can't!). I am pointing out that people have gotten creative during difficult times and found success.

If you realize that you're not a failure and that there aren't many jobs out there, what can you do differently? Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

>Have you reached out to your neighbors to explore how you can all trade services? Is there a mechanic? Someone who bakes? Someone who sews? Someone who is great with children? Someone who can type and use the computer? Can you figure out a way to combine services and help each other out? If you all work well together, than perhaps you could create a part-time service company for the larger community around you. Then each of you can take turns networking on each other's behalf.

>Do you have a green thumb? Can you grow organic vegetables? Can your neighbors? Can you have neighborhood potluck dinners and /or share food with each other?

>For those that don't have yards and/or don't want to talk to neighbors, do you have a safe vehicle? How about providing a private service for people who've had too much to drink at a nearby restaurant or bar? How about offering a pet-sitting service? Or offer business development to all the new self-employed people and get a commission.

>Have you considered re-training? There are a lot of online classes and certifications available. Or go to your local community college and take some classes. Universities also have extension courses and certificate programs. Have you considered trades in the service industry? Or do you have specialty knowledge that you could teach?

These are only ideas to help you think about different options. Think of ideas that resonate best with you. Be creative. Take the courage to try. Find people that support you and do the same for them. Volunteering is another great way to meet people, gain experience, and stoke those creative fires.

If you, or someone you know, has an example of how you creatively found or created a job opportunity, please share. We're in this together...

With greatest wishes to all...