Employment for the 20-somethings

Monday, October 31st, 2011, Written by jackrosenberger

In a new series of blog posts, I would like to discuss the nature and the problems with employment–you know, that thing that some of us are lucky enough to have to do things that we might or might not like, and most importantly to get paid for these efforts.  Since I am not an economist (Heck, my own checkbook proves that one to be true!), I would like to discuss the issue of work from the perspective of the people that sit with me in analytic psychotherapy.

First up are the 20-somethings!

Gotta love the 20-somethings.  Born at least in 1991, their first political memories are of Bill Clinton, an economy that would not stop.  Jobs were available even if you showed-up to the interview stoned….and the good old days when people discussed the possibility of moving toward a 30 hour work week.  The 20-somethings went to college and expected the world to be even more of their oyster.  And then some things known as derivatives and sub-prime loans became headline news and the next thing you know, people are talking about Hoover-villes and class war.  What does this have to do with the young people in analysis or might need analysis?  EVERYTHING!

See, in a way that many older people find difficult to understand, my 20-somethings feel personally betrayed by history, economy, government, schools, parents, and maybe just anyone else they can get their hands on.  The real questions are why, and how to get them to move past it.

I don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch that my 20-somethings had components of a dream of what their adult lives would be like.  It might have been very nailed down for some, and others just a feeling of how things were going to turn out.  Their inner narrative, which they might not have shared even with themselves, goes like this, “I work some now, get a job out of college that starts at $75,000.00 a year, and then I work a bit harder so the real money starts rolling in.”  Sounds like a good plan right?

That is until the plan falls apart because the world changed, and history has happened all around us everyday, leaving these young adults the capacity to survive in times like this.  How have our 20-somethings responded?  For the most part, I have to say they have not responded all that well.


Now I know these are generalizations, but if you’re a 20-something yourself reading this or know and love one, see how much of this applies:

1.  Many 20-somethings have not kept up with the rate of how the world is changing both economically and politically.  For example, many of my 20-somethings have not registered to vote in the upcoming election.  They sometimes even wear their ignorance of what is going on the in the world as a badge of ideological purity.  Thus, they do not know what they need to know.

2.  Even if they know some of what would be helpful, many young adults find these events so overwhelming and so paradigm crushing, that they reinsert their heads back into the sand.  (Other images come to mind but this is a family friendly blog.)

3.  Since their emotions freeze their emotional advancement, they loose the nimbleness necessary to compete and thus to thrive.  For example, they might read in the New York Times that schools in India are so competitive that those young people are applying to Yale.  When they learn of this, I can see them melting in front of me in complete despair, which robs them of the energy they need to compete.


So, what’s the solution?  I don’t have a magic pill.  I’m sorry.  But I do have some suggestions that might help this age group.

1.  20-somethings need from somewhere a supportive, but challenging, relationship that will help keep them moving forward… but will not be too much of a Drill Instructor.  All the work that is ahead of them will be too much for them on their own.  Thus, if their butts are not on some shrink’s couch, they need to be and SPARK is here to help.

2.  These young people need to examine their assumptions about what life was going to be like with a ruthless honesty.  Here again, we get nowhere if they cannot embrace the painful truths.  This might require digging inside of themselves in order to see what DID they think was going to happen.

3.  Then based on full embrace of the facts about the world today, 20-somethings need to go through a mourning process about the world they expected to join and cannot because it no longer exists.  This arc of mourning will include many feelings, often contradictory but all very real.

4.  Simultaneously to working through their emotions, this age group needs to begin to develop an action plan.  This is essential for several reasons.  First, we might not have the luxury even in full bore analytic work 3 – 4 days a week to take that kind of break.  Second, this can degenerate into feeling so discouraging that despair can set in.  As Soren Kierkegaard would assert, depression can be worked through, especially with the new meds and a skillful analyst.  But despair can be a sickness of the soul and thus is even more dangerous.  We can make up for lost things from depression.  Getting one’s soul back is a very painful process.

5.  Once my people have emerged from the bunkers of their minds to look at the world as it truly is, not what they want it to be, they again, need to be ruthless in their honesty about what they are doing.  Some of my more honest people will admit that they are waiting for the family to step in and deus ex machina style, somehow save the day.  This is where parents might have to change script and think about how they are helping their children.

6.  In order to do all this very intensive work on themselves, they need to bring their A game to everyday life.  Or for my gamers, everyday is day they are picking up the remote and becoming their character in this game called “Life.”  As a result of the intensity of what they need to do , they need to be open to trying to be aware of and jump on whatever little chances the world might be offering them.


What am I suggesting that these young people do in order to change the trajectory of their lives? 

1.  Young people should place themselves in the care of a good therapist that will understand how issues of employment can have deep psychological ramifications.  Therapists that don’t incorporate this insight into their practice not only give their patients incomplete help, but dangerously inadequate care.  Patients trust their therapists to be able to devise a plan to help them reach their goals.

2.  Young people need to identify their own goals and dreams that have gotten delayed and possibly even aborted.  Many of these hopes and dreams are often best identified in their day dreams of fantasies about what they want their lives to look like when they are 30 years old.

3.  They need to identify what gifts, talents and assets they do have… and then capitalize on them immediately.  Even very pedestrian habits like procrastination and avoidance can be goal killer in this situation.  They have to bring an intensity to the goal with a focus and desire they might not have thought they had.  As one of my high school coaches told us, “Success is a child of desire.”

4.  Marshaling all their gifts and talents they need to develop a game plan- exactly how are they going to go about the task of acquiring a employment.  Again, this is where a therapist that can deal with the outside as well as the inside is indispensable.  This is not easy work, even for therapists who might be willing to wear more than one hat.  We might have to serve as analyst, proofreader for resumes, motivation maintainer and sometimes the right kick in the tuches!

5.  Taking all this information, the therapist and his/her patient have to form a plan that will enhance the chances of success for every endeavor the patient attempts.  Even things like socializing and exercise can be very important.  The plan needs to take on all kinds of issues:  time management, how they are looking for a job, the resumes and cover letters, even how the patient spends his/her free time is key.   Have it be organized and organic to the young person’s identity. And it must specific bite sized do-able goals that the young person can engage without feeling overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness.

6.  Finally, the young person needs to get know more people, professional network like he/she means it.  Who knows, they might meet someone who might want to spend time with them on romantic level.  But there will be time for that later! Right now there is a job to be won!

7.  A great mental exercise for my people is for them to pretend that they are the demon charged with the mission of messing this their life in the most destructive and long lasting ways as possible.  In this exercise, I have found people to be amazingly honest.  They will admit things like, “I would mess up my sleep schedule and wake up too late;” “I would make sure I feel so busy doing 1,000 things but none of them actually mean anything.”  I’ve even heard, “I’d make sure I don’t lose this belly because I know it makes me self-conscious and want to avoid having to interact with people.  Then when I get home, I’d make sure that I’d eat that large pizza with a few beers because it will make me feel less in control of my life.”

Will these stalled young people have a million reasons for not doing the very things that will bring them the success they need?  You can count on it.  Perhaps this is why Sun Tzu’s The Art of War might be the most important book they could read right now.  Not to make actual military soldiers out of them, but to prepare them for the economic war they need to fight right now, a fight for jobs, salary, and future happiness.


I invite any/all comments to this post….just don’t curse at me too much!

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