Recently I’ve had several conversations with unemployed people, each of whom are trying to find some direction in their lives when it comes to their future employment. Now the people I’m speaking of are all on social assistance with few financial resources if any, and most are already in debt with credit cards or existing school loans.
In recognizing that just as each person presents with their own unique unemployment dilemma, I recognize the logic then that the solution for each person must also be arrived at in recognition of their own circumstances. No one option therefore is necessarily the right one for all of them.
My approach in each situation, has been to present myself as a sounding board, then take what I hear and objectively present some options before them on paper, talking of the pros and cons of each, and then letting those choices sink in. Once the two of us have the options before us, I frame some questions for the person which are designed to elicit an emotional or rational response, which might prove valuable in either removing an item or strengthening the likelihood of one option being selected as the preferred one.
Now the thing about identifying pros and cons when faced with any tough choice, is that even when you’ve exhausted all your pros and cons that come to mind, you may still find that what would appear to be the ‘right’ choice doesn’t sit well with your emotional compass. This state is usually reflected when the client is heard to say things like, “Well I know I should choose option 3, but I still don’t know…it doesn’t feel right.”
This inner conflict voiced by the client could be explained a couple of ways. First, it may not feel right because for that client, the choice is the wrong one even though the pros and cons on paper state otherwise. The client’s uneasiness is a warning that to choose that option would later prove to be a poor choice made when looking back. The other possibility is that it doesn’t feel right because that choice is actually the smart one to make and it’s the first of many good choices to come when the client has had a history of making poor choices. It doesn’t feel right to them because their internal decision-making processes up to this point have largely been poorly thought out, and for the first time they are going at decision-making a better way.
One example to help explain this is a situation where a client is already carrying a $35,000.00 debt. It worries them, the stress of that debt hangs over them and yet being on social assistance, there is no way they are in a position to pay down any part of that loan. Now, being unemployed, one option is to return to school and add a university degree to their college diploma. Why take on another $15,000.00 and up the total to $50,000.00 in debt? Wouldn’t that be just more stress, and more to pay back eventually?
To answer this question correctly, you’d need more information, and whether this option is the right one or not for this one client, you’d have to know their circumstances such as the job they eventually want and the barriers to employment they’ve been facing. In this case, the client has a diploma but the job they want keeps requiring a university degree in all the job postings. The combination of both a degree and a diploma in the same field would conceivably give her a unique advantage over others with only the degree.
In speaking with another client also with accumulated debt from previous school loans, they too are considering a return to school to upgrade their education. However, in this situation, the client voiced the opinion that going back to school was in their mind a gamble that when they graduated, there would be a change in the job market and more employment opportunities would exist. This opinion isn’t based on anything more than a hope and a hunch; a, ‘things can’t get any worse’ statement. Going to school is more of an evasion from the real world.
One way to look at things is that investing in yourself by improving your education is the best thing you could actually invest in. You’ll carry that knowledge and those increased skills and general awareness your entire life, giving you more perspective than you currently have. And whether you owe $35,000.00 or $50,000.00, your payments can be identical, you just pay one longer than the other. Debt is debt in other words. Homeowners would see $50,000.00 as a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands they’d invest in a new home. So debt becomes relative.
Another option could be to pass on returning to higher education and change their career goals to something they are currently qualified to do, which may or may not make them happiest, or put them in a position to pay off their existing debts anytime soon.
In all cases, I presented 6 options to move forward, and in zero cases did I force them to choose their decision in front of me or make it for them. That decision is theirs to make, with or without further consultation from me. Once decided, direction is laid, action plans can be developed, and forward movement initiated.
Taking on more debt may or may not be the right move.