Chronic Unemployment And The Fear Of Success


When faced with an opportunity to gain something of importance, many people will voice their fear of failing to achieve their goal. Sometimes this fear is attributed to only having a single chance, or weighing that which they have to risk in order to achieve what they want. But every now and then, I’ve come across people who aren’t afraid of failure; they’re afraid of succeeding.

And the fear of succeeding is something that can be paralyzing, or cause a pause in what has been up to that point of realization, a determined effort. It then takes yet another push to go after the original goal in order to obtain it. How on earth could anyone actually be afraid of succeeding, especially when it pertains to something as needed as employment?

First of all I think we should concur that people are not all motivated to obtain similar things. We don’t all want material possessions or houses, nor are we all motivated to make money. Employment is no different. Not all of us want a job or career, and if we are provided for with our basic necessities, well, why work? You may disagree, and you and I both might scratch our heads and wonder aloud why all people don’t want the things we think they should because we want them, but we don’t have exclusivity over what others should think and desire.

Think about this situation: A man has been out of work for about six or seven years. He’s lost most of his skills over that period, his confidence is eroded, his references are non-existent, and he’s gone so long without so much of what others take for granted that he’s adapted and found he can nicely do without. So what does a job represent? A job requires a change in daily routine, answering to a boss, being told what to do and evaluated, and most of all it requires effort and a shift in mental and physical energy.

After a period of six or seven years, where is the energy going to come from internally to exert himself and bring about a change in his circumstances if he has no real investment in the process? No matter how much you or I might want him to work and reap all the benefits that come with gainful employment, we cannot want it more than he wants it for himself. And I should add that anyone who would work with a person with such chronic unemployment would also be dealing with issues of mental health, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, physical and mental stamina just to name a few.

In my capacity as an Employment Counsellor, I routinely become introduced to people who are out of work. While many are motivated to work and just need support and guidance, there are some who are more like the gentleman described above. Would they of their own volition walk up and ask for help to get a job? Not likely. So when they are forced to seek out help as a condition of receiving benefits, their motivation isn’t really to get the help to work, it’s more to go through the motions of seeking help in order to continue to receive those benefits. Say all the right things that they think they should, tell the people what they want to hear, and collect one’s financial aid until again required to meet. And in the interim, return to a comfortable life with few external expectations.

I want to add that the last two sentences in the previous paragraph are the comments made by a man to a colleague of mine in a 1:1 meeting. He is in fact, comfortable. Living in a rooming house, he must be out from 8:00 a.m. until he can return at 5:00 p.m. every day. He’s got his regular spots to hang out including the library, our Resource Centre, the local soup kitchen, and in the good weather, the parks and community centres. “After a while”, he said, “you get to know where to go, what days you can get food at different places, where the clinics are and stuff.”

In other words, he has used survival skills to source out information on where to get the basic necessities that he wants in order to live his life the way he wants. Does he want to find a job? He says he does at times, but then at other times admits he doesn’t really. Why not? The reason is that he might get one! And if he actually got one, his established routine would be jolted, he’d have responsibilities, and with those responsibilities comes expectations. As long as he doesn’t have a job, he can continue to say he could get one if he wanted. But if he got a job, he may well lose it quickly and then he’d have to admit he’s no longer up to getting and keeping a job. And that admission is worse than admitting he’s out of work at the present.

It’s important to support and provide help to the most vulnerable in our society. Jobs can’t be thrust upon others just because we think it in their best interest and in the interest of society as a whole. Some will never work again I think, but if they get to the point where they are ready, rest assured there are people who can also provide support in helping them be successful.

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