At the ACA conference last weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday completing career consults with fellow counselors and Masters students who are currently looking for work. Most were very optimistic about their future and all the possibilities. It was truly enjoyable to have the opportunity to meet people from across the country with different ideas, hopes and dreams for their future. I received numerous heartfelt thanks at the end of these sessions. I went into that experience with a quote from Mark Savickas as a foundation: “Career counseling that envisions work as a quest for self and a place to nourish one’s spirit helps clients to learn to use work as a context for self-development.” I was there to help in the self-development process. This was the good part of counseling and was energizing and very positive. Until it wasn’t.
One amazing highly qualified woman, who had done everything one is supposed to do professionally, was completely demoralized that her years of education and experience meant absolutely nothing in the face of looming budget cuts. These budget cuts had nothing to do with the quality of her work or the community need for her program. It was simple economics. As her eyes filled with tears and her voice quavered she asked what she could do. She felt hopeless. Self-development? Spirit nourishment? There was nothing I could honestly do or say outside of the “Don’t take it personally because it isn’t you it’s the economy” statements in response. While those statements are true, it certainly does feel personal when you are the one losing your job. While it may be the economic bottom line, there is still a price paid on a very personal level. It does feel quite personal when you’re the one packing your office essentials in the cardboard box and picking up your last paycheck. It is quite personal when you don’t have the money to pay your mortgage. It is quite personal when you can’t go to the doctor because you don’t have the co-pay or perhaps no longer even have the insurance coverage. It is quite personal when you apply for job after job and can’t get the interview to even let your voice be heard. It is quite personal when you don’t have the extra money for a simple cup of coffee.
In a recent article on The Atlantic Online, Don Peck writes about the current recession stating “If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults- and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue collar white men- and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.” We know from previous research that physical health deteriorates during unemployment. This result is from both the high stress experienced during periods of unemployment and the decreased financial resources to seek medical help. A study following unemployed men in the 1970’s and 1980’s found that regardless of age, “all men were left with an elevated risk of dying in each year following their episode of unemployment, for the rest of their lives”. These statements are stunning to me in terms of the longevity of the impact. Unemployment is personal and it is painful. I would like to be able to close this entry positively and report that we found her a perfect job. Sadly, that didn’t happen. I know she left our appointment with more ideas than she came in with. The sad look on her face told me that she still felt hopeless. I guess I’ll take my own advice and not take it personally.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.