Unable or simply unwillling
Most people would agree that when you have bills, need to earn a living and aren’t working, it doesn’t feel good. Unemployment creates anxiety, stress and fear. It undermines our self-confidence and depletes our self-esteem. Why then wouldn’t someone do whatever it takes to change their situation? The answer to this question gets pretty complicated.
As I work with clients to examine why they remain unemployed, a variety of reasons appear to be at the root of their circumstances. As a coach, I review their entire approach to their job search to determine what we can change to produce different results. It’s not uncommon for some people to have “fallen into” jobs over a period of many years. Sometimes a person has never needed to conduct a formal job search. In those instances, we walk through each step of the process and I educate them on how to proceed. We develop a strategy for getting where they want to be and develop a plan for moving forward. We cover how to establish a list of target employers, conduct research on them, establish contacts, craft a tailored resume and cover letter, prepare for an interview and ultimately negotiate an offer. Sometimes people take a little while to catch on, but for the most part, when they are motivated to go back to work, they will do what it takes to accomplish their goals. When people are willing and able, the process can really be fun and the results are rewarding.
And then there are times when things don’t move forward and we have to figure out why. I am not a psychologist, but after 20+ years of this work, I have become pretty good at understanding and predicting human behavior. Some people learn more slowly or might be stuck in time. In those cases, it is tougher for them to let go of old practices that no longer work. They may have gotten caught up in a rut at work where everything was easy and they were able to get by under the radar. At some point, someone may have caught on and that’s why they were riffed. Or by not striving to improve their skills, their complacency got the best of them and the employer chose to invest in someone else. When a candidate shows earnestness about improving themselves and changing their situation, it’s easy to overcome the challenging parts by just working a little harder/smarter to keep them focused on their goal. We both know that if they are faced with a disappointment, they’ll try again. The key to the success of the whole process is a person’s motivation, persistence and willingness to develop new habits once their eyes have been opened.
It’s easy to sleep until noon when there isn’t an imposed structure for their day. It’s easy to be distracted with family issues and hard to say no when others know they aren’t going to work every day. New patterns develop that keep some people occupied with anything but their job search activities. It is in those cases that my job gets really difficult and any amount of encouraging, coaching, redirecting and retraining just ends up with zero measurable results. As their coach, my hands are tied. Some people are open to therapy and will accept referrals to the right kind of help to get them unstuck. Our process together may be slower, but with additional counseling of a different nature we can make progress.
The key to the success of the whole process is a person’s motivation and willingness to develop new habits.
The tough cases are when a person doesn’t want to do the work. Or they refuse to own the issues that have become barriers and won’t get help to overcome them. They hang on to what they have done in the past and remain unwilling (or unable?) to change their responses to external interruptions. They may stay up all night, sleep all day, answer email when they get around to it and by no means work on their search after 5:00 PM or on weekends. By most accounts, their perception of themselves, their situation and the causes behind their failed attempts to gain employment are distorted and unrealistic. Feedback from me, peers or potential employers about how they are presenting themselves or hanging on to the unsuccessful tactics they continue to pursue falls on deaf ears. Instead, there is often an exaggerated amount of effort put into blaming others for their status and making excuses for why plans aren’t executed. It’s exhausting and draining for me to hear or try to coach to/around this behavior. I can only imagine what it feels like to the person who is stuck and continues to reject additional help, and I wonder why they are willing to accept that status. In these cases, the financial picture tends to get grim pretty quickly and people behave with knee-jerk reactions to job postings that are either irrelevant or impossible to capture. The conversations turn to how many applications they have made that did not generate a response and how expansive their family problems have become. In these extreme but not uncommon cases, unemployment can drag on for years. It’s when I watch the same scenarios and hear the same complaints over and over that I wonder, are they unable or unwilling?
If you have been caught in a rut and are spinning your wheels, take inventory of your own actions. Stop making excuses and really look at how you are spending your time. Start with minor changes: go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Be more accessible to anyone who may be trying to help you. If you are unsure of what to technically do to get started in a new direction, a coach can help you get on track. If you feel paralyzed, you may need a different type of counseling to support the work you and your coach embark on. The key is to stop accepting your current unemployed status as final or permanent and get started making a change. You can do it!