We Are Not Lazy! Stories of ‘New Hope’ Beyond Unemployment

Employment

This week’s Better Endings principle that we will discuss on Saturday is “Fortitude,” in relation to our weekly topic of Unemployment. The fiery forge of experience that joblessness or underemployment plunges people into can lead to either despair or ‘New Hope’, and often both at the same time. The following voices and brief stories celebrate the adaptive strategies of four people who have told their stories to help others.

Kelly, Age 58, over 5 years un- and underemployed

      “You have to stay positive because it’s going to work out, it really is.”

Kelly is homeless.  She is 58 and has been alternately un- and underemployed for over five years.  Kelly has a part-time job working a few hours a week at a Taco Bell.  However, since in order to afford an apartment Kelly would need a full-time job, she lives at a Salvation Army shelter.

What has helped Kelly to establish ‘new hope’ is her living situation and supportive family ties.  The Salvation Army shelter has a program such that Kelly gives 70% of her weekly Taco Bell paycheck to the shelter staff, who deposit that into a savings account for her. This way, since her room and board are provided for free at the shelter, Kelly has thousands of dollars saved. In return, Kelly volunteers several hours every week at the shelter and she also volunteers at a local history museum. She uses some financial aid to attend classes at a community college.  Kelly says that the Salvation Army shelter empowers her to maintain hope because she can sleep in a clean, healthy place.  She visits her daughter who is in the military, and she provides free childcare for her grandchildren.  Kelly told us that her self-esteem is very high and, despite being ‘homeless’, Kelly is very hopeful and upbeat.  She says, “I don’t know how to explain it, but I know it’s going to be okay.

 Susan, Age 48, over 4 years un- and underemployed

“I was doing a lot for Habitat for Humanity. I really enjoyed doing that. And I started volunteering for my church group. We sell things at Broncos games to raise money…I’ve put a lot of hours into that.”

Susan, 48 and unemployed in the traditional sense for now over 4 years, engaged for her first two years of unemployment working independently with an entrepreneurial, multilevel-marketing program. She relied on collaborative friendship networks and attended conferences to learn about how to sell products and develop subordinate agents. She saw this program as a way that not just herself but a wide network of people could all achieve financial freedom from traditional work and its capricious nature today. Susan was receiving unemployment benefits plus she relied on prior savings to make ends meet for as long as she could. She said she used to dread going to a traditional industry job every day.  Since the time of her Tell Your Story interviews, Susan has drifted away from the multi-marketing scheme; she is now managing rental homes for one of the friends from her spiritual group. She has moved to live with a boyfriend who is also her management business partner. Although their income is still quite low and most of her savings have now been expended, Susan continues to be very active with her volunteer work and she says she is happy to never have to return to an “industry” based, “9 to 5 job”.

Goddrick and Sybil, Ages 52 and 56 over, 6 years un- and underemployed

“And so he’s not sleeping and I’m not sleeping because he’s not sleeping and we’re both angry and frustrated and so everything else bothers you; the kids leaving their socks on the floor and not picking up you know and every little thing is heightened because of that stress and  it’s the money.  It’s just horrible. And it’s like he would do any job. Even if he got like me; an eight dollar an hour job, that would be twenty four hundred dollars a month and it’s like – I was telling him, and I may do this, but the Broadmoor is hiring housekeeping tomorrow and  it’s ten dollars an hour and I’m  like, you know, for as hard as I’m working at 7-11 loading the cooler and standing on my feet doing all this other hard work cleaning, changing the trash outside, maybe I should go because for ten dollars an hour, that’s four hundred dollars more a month  which would really make a difference in our life right now. So if I’m going to be not respected and belittled and the fact that I went to school and got all these degrees and did all these things I thought to prepare myself to have a better life and it’s just gonna be crap anyway, maybe I should just do another job that’s at least gonna pay more because I’m not happy in what I’m doing and so maybe cleaning up somebody else’s pubic hair for two dollars more an hour is what I need to do. And it’s hard, it’s a self-esteem and pride issue and it’s hard.” 

That about says it all, doesn’t it? Sybil and Goddrick have three boys who are active in Boy Scouts, wrestling, and their spiritual group. Goddrick coaches wrestling for one of the boy’s schools and has been a Scouts leader for many years. Since returning to play saxophone for a local band, Goddrick’s focus has returned after many back and forth stints with jobs. He has finally become a regular high school substitute teacher (despite a head injury that has made any work difficult). Most recently, he has discovered a new calling as Santa for a good-sized mall in California.  Meanwhile, Sybil has been able to maintain a series of part-time jobs (now full-time and permanent) that has allowed the family to achieve stability although their accumulated debt remains a constant cloud dodging their forward moving steps. She too relies on her talent as a singer and actress to elevate herself and her family. Both Goddrick and Sybil have strong identities apart from traditional jobs. The whole family works every summer now at a local Renaissance Festival; where Sybil is a primary singing character, Goddrick runs the sound system for the joust, and their boys act as squires for the jousting with one who wears a costume as a 10 foot tall, smiling King!

These stories, to me, make one thing very clear about the un- and underemployed. As they might proclaim collectively, “We Are Not Lazy!

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Please feel free to share your insights and responses to these stories in the Comments box below. To share YOUR story, please submit it any time!

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