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Escaping the World of the Chronically Unemployed

Few people navigate the world of employment today without at some point finding themselves jobless. Companies fold, they’re acquired, reorged, and downsized. Sometimes you find yourself over your head in a project or on the wrong side of politics–bottom line is you’re out. People get fired—it’s what happens.

Getting the boot used to be a career killer, but today getting fired can be used as an advantage–many companies have really embraced the truth that failing is learning. Your failure may prepare you for an awesome success.

But then there are the baffling people you know who lose one job after another–they are part of the world of the chronically unemployed. I have worked with many people over the years who have come to me and I used to be amazed.

These chronically unemployed are quite often:

  • Very well educated–great degrees from prestigious universities
  • Good looking, poised
  • Engaging personalities
  • Interesting conversationalists–very articulate
  • Great supportive spouse/family
  • Convincing, persuasive

So why are there some people who seem to have everything going for them find themselves yet living on the edge of employment. These people are often quite good at finding potential jobs and very convincing in interviews. They can literally talk themselves into a job with multiple interviews. So how could a person like that have difficulties keeping a job?

The Chronically Unemployed are painful to watch–especially if you’ve ever been one. The network hears the news–Hubert is out of work again. How many does this make? Then comes the downward spiral. First there are months of unemployment followed by taking a lesser paying job with fewer opportunities at companies that has limited possibilities to survive. Unfortunately this cycle will often continue through multiple professional and personal crises.

Of all the people we work with, I find the chronically unemployed are the most difficult to help. Over the years I have discovered a pattern that I think is quite common.

They are Surprised People Don’t See Them as Star Players When They Walk in the Door. Many people chronically fired were actually students who excelled. They studied their books, went to lectures, and scored high on tests. They were stars on sports teams where there were fixed rules and a trophy at the end of the game. They are shocked that their early successes in academics and sports don’t take them far in the workplace where team goals are flexible and change quickly and where relationships are the key.

They Can’t Lead the Team—and They Refuse to Follow. They know what’s best for everyone. As a manager friend of mine shared with me, the chronically unemployed typically find themselves in almost immediate conflict with their manager. They haven’t been in the industry, done the job, but they have immediately can tell you what’s wrong with the whole operation and what to do about it. If you don’t follow their plan, they insist that nothing will work out. They are quick to correct their new team members and colleagues. If they are underperforming in their roles it’s because the system is all wrong, the organization won’t allow them to succeed and they weren’t provided proper resources.

They Are Insecure Egotists Who Demand Recognition. The Chronically Unemployed is often a person with a huge, prickly, and defensive ego. They put their ego before their accomplishments. Underneath they are insecure and push back from any efforts to teach and mentor them. They often demand recognition and deferential treatment from those around them and are surprised and angry because they don’t get it.

They Are Oblivious to Reactions from Those Around Them–They Don’t Learn from Anyone. They have a point of view that says if I’m right and everyone is wrong, why should I care what people think? Since the Chronically Unemployed don’t value what the people around them know, they don’t think it’s important to get their feedback.

They Have Zero Ability to Be Self-Reflective. One of the most important skills a person has is to be able to step out of his/her own skin and to see themselves as others see them with strengths and weaknesses. The Chronically Unemployed has no mirror to look into. In their view, their bosses just don’t get it and they see their team colleagues as deeply flawed and totally clueless. They are never wrong or to blame for where they stand.

The Chronically Unemployed are a tough group to work with. It is incredibly difficult for them to hear feedback of any kind. Sometimes they learn when life has bloodied them so badly that they are ready to listen and recognize they don’t know what they think they knew.

Here are a few suggestions if know someone who is a Chronically Unemployed or find a bit too much of yourself in this description:

  1. Find Employment Where You Can Gain a Footing to Stabilize Your Life and Career. If you can learn in a smaller, stable situation you can move up. Find a place to step back and get a chance to know yourself and understand the world you live in. Shine where you are and you can move forward
  2. Change your Mindset to Respect Colleagues Around You. People make the mistake, and I do too, of seeing people around them as better, worse, more skilled, or less skilled. The same people who interviewed and hired you also hired your colleagues. You’re at similar levels, so learn from them and respect them as peers.
  3. Become the Most Needed Person on Your Team. If you can do what nobody else on your team can do and if you will do things that nobody else is willing to do, you’ll have the most job security possible. Be the most needed person on your team, the person they were looking for when you walked in the door.
  4. Find a Mentor/Coach. There is a saying from a 12-step program that says, “It’s your best thinking got you here. Don’t you think someone else’s thinking might take you to a different place?” Isolation from the best thinking of those around us is our worst enemy–find a wise person who can help you.

The downward spiral of the Chronically Unemployed is one of the most painful life trajectories I see. They start out as intelligent, hopeful, and confident individuals and end up as disillusioned, angry people that life has passed by through no fault of their own. It’s the breaks, the system, or the downfall of America that has caused their situation. It has a huge impact on spouses and children. It ruins the person’s health, and I’ve seen many who end up on disability. The only hope is to understand the opportunity that a person has to use their intelligence and ability to move ahead–with the help of those around them.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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