Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

In pastoral counseling at Loyola, students invest long hours preparing for the
diversity of clients who we will counsel during our clinical internship and afterwards in the “real” world. We learn to identify and treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. We learn how humans become who they are and the dynamics of family life. We investigate the insidious disease of addiction and avenues of therapy. We choose our theoretical approach to practice and how to integrate psychology and spirituality. When I took a class in career counseling, however, I puzzled about its usefulness in pastoral care.

Then, America found itself in a recession. Suddenly, my internship was full of clients who were unemployed and looking for more than self-esteem boosters. They knew why they felt bad and what would help them feel better: a job. I turned to Loyola affiliate faculty, Deb Rollison, Ph.D., who teaches career development, for some guidance.

The people who were having the hardest time finding employment were in their late 50’s and early 60’s. For these clients, Dr. Rollison recommends:

  • Do not put dates of graduation on resumes
  • Summarize work experience that is ten years or older
  • Reframe what older means by exploring advantages: experience, loyalty, fewer sick days, wisdom, and perspective
  • Think in terms of accomplishments, including volunteer experience; list 6 to 8 PAR key accomplishment statements that show:
    • Problem – what did you face?
    • Action – what did you do?
    • Results – what happened specifically and measurably?

Exploring your clients’ accomplishments, what they enjoy, and how they effectively managed difficult times in the past is key to helping people develop self-reliance and coping skills. I encourage and coach unemployed clients to talk about what they have done and why it mattered. This helps them sell themselves both to prospective employers and to themselves. It is a constant reminder of their self-worth.

AARP’s job hunting web page is a good resource for older Americans. America’s Career InfoNet is a gateway available to everyone to explore careers, State job banks, occupation and industry information, and much more.

The longer unemployment goes on, the more strain there will be on relationships, finances, and families. If you are counseling a person with a history of substance abuse, unemployment may be a trigger or a slippery place. I have helped clients with social services, fill out forms, identify their current assets and budgets, and find the closest AA meetings.

Deb Rollison put it very clearly: Career is not just a job but a whole life – it is leisure, priorities, and purpose. In helping others define their careers and make their lives whole, my career and life as a pastoral counselor become whole.




8 thoughts on “Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

  1. Pingback: The presence of a paycheck « Eternal Presence

  2. Barbara, I’ve seen many inspirational slogans floating around these days, some of them prefaced by “You are not your ______.” Job, stuff, finances, any number of things that people use as an identity marker. The sad thing is so many people do define themselves by the job they do, the title they hold, the sign on the door. I’ve seen perfectly wonderful, rational people go down fast when the title disappeared, the door was locked, the job went up in smoke. The last few years of economic distress has but the worthy and unworthy alike on the street, all seeking employment. Somehow the men seem to take it the hardest, after 25 or 30 years with the same company, to be let go is an ego-crusher, a gulf has open that can’t be bridged, they have become the Unemployed. What a dreaded state of being! You have a tremendous job of work cut out for yourself in offering counsel to these people. I know you have the strength, the training and the patience to do this. I do feel like your most often reached for tool will be your Faith, hang on to it very tightly, it is not easily replaced and you’re going to need it. A lot.

    • Hi, Sandi — yes, much of who we are is our job — it is our career. You are a master gardener. You might not be the particular job you do for any particular employer, but you identify yourself with your lovely plants and gardens and the knowledge it takes to put it all together and make it come alive. If someone takes that away from you, it feels as if part of you is missing. It is the heart of counseling that everyone matters . . . everyone.

  3. Barbara – My hat is off to you for the practicality and usability of this piece. Having been a recruiter in the corporate world I’m especially drawn to the clear-cut, easy to follow advice in the bullet points. And let me tell you — PAR is new to me — that’s top notch!

    • Hi, Laurie — I am always finding out new things about you! Corporate recruiter – thank you for visiting us from Speaking from the Heart. You hand out plenty of usable advice yourself with the same source of answers: ourselves. Take care!

  4. Hi Barb,

    I too loved this article for its practical advice (I will graduate in May and I am job hunting now) as well as for the reflection it gave. I just studied/presented on corporate theological reflection in Pastoral Care Integration and as a society, we in America do identify so much with what we do with a company, a title or an organization. I try very hard not to which is counter-cultural since that is the first thing people ask when they meet you, “So what do you do?” I am often tempted to say something like, I breathe, I eat, I sleep, etc. but I usually refrain and just say I am a graduate student. I subscribe to the idea that I am a human being, NOT a human doing. We are all precious and useful and purposeful in God’s eyes regardless of how we happen to support ourselves at the moment. Blessings to you and the good work you do!

    • thanks, JoAnn — you have spoken an ultimate truth about our American identity: we often think of ourselves as what we do and who or what we are connected with. I would like to be brave enough to ask someone the first time I meet them “So, who ARE you?” I think I skirt around the question by asking “So, tell me about yourself.” And then people proceed to give me a litany of where they were born, their adventures, etc. I am not sure most people could tell me who they really are.

  5. Yes, that is so true. Many have identity issues. I have seen it in spiritual direction. We cannot truly know who God is and who we are with God if we do not first know ourselves. It is also dangerous when we are stripped of our identity which leads us open for abuse. Sadly, I have seen that too mostly among women who have suffered abusive relationships…

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