Katherine Simons sees it all the time. Hopelessness.
She sees it on the faces of the thousands of out-of-work people who walk through the doors of the Job Networking Ministry that Simons organizes twice a month at Roswell United Methodist Church in the Atlanta suburb.
“That look” is all over their faces. Their smiles are forced. Their eyes are intense. Anxiety has carved lines into their foreheads.
“Stress has drained the life out of them,” Simons said.
“These are people who have run out of money. They’ve run out of direction. They’ve run out of options. They’re discouraged. They’re worried. And they’re afraid.”
Dragged kicking and screaming
Charlie Brown was one of those people.
It wasn’t long ago — a little more than two years — that the unemployed computer programmer was dragged, “kicking and screaming,” to the Roswell meeting.
“I didn’t want to go,” he said, “But the person who was pushing me to go wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I was so miserable and so depressed at the time; I guess I just gave in.”
Unemployment was a shock to Brown, who had worked since he was 18 years old. When he was laid off in 2008 at age 51, it was the first time he’d ever been without a job.
“No recruiters would talk to me,” he said. “In fact, no one was interested in talking to me. Everyone was saying, ‘no, no, no,’ to everything I had to offer. There just were no jobs.”
Brown spent the next several months going back repeatedly to Roswell. He called it a “university.”
“I felt like a freshman on campus for the first time because there was so much stuff going on,” he laughed. “I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to do. I was just lost.”
On the other side
Eventually, he made it through several of Roswell’s workshops on writing résumés, interviewing and job searching for baby boomers. He got his résumé reviewed and revised. Had his picture taken for LinkedIn. Started networking. He may have come in without a to-do list, but he left with many self-improvement assignments.
“My skills had gotten old and stale, so I did a refresh,” he said. “I spent a year attending classes, seminars and doing self-study, all to bring my skill set up to current.”
But more than getting an education in the ABCs of searching for a job, Brown said he learned about himself and the kind of person he wanted to be.
“I wanted to be somebody whom others wanted to be around, and the way to do that was to become a more positive person,” he said. “Up until then, I was always angry, and I was wallowing in it. And I had a lot of fear. I was afraid I was going to fail my family. It was a terrifying time.
“But,” said Brown, “I learned to stay cheerful. To laugh out loud more often. To tell funny stories. The more entertaining you are to people — even potential employers — the more attractive you are.”
Brown said he knew a positive attitude was an asset, especially as a boomer trying to make his mark in a competitive job market.
“You can bridge the age gap if you’re someone people enjoy spending time with,” he said. “You’re only as young as you act. You have to show people you’re willing to continue to grow on a spiritual, educational and personality level.”
But it wasn’t easy.
“The hardest thing you can do is put on a happy face,” he admitted. “But you have to. You can’t just sit around being upset. You’ve got to let go. You’ve gotta work your way through it.”
You’re more than your job
Bob Kashey, a volunteer with the Roswell program, knows how hard it is for job seekers to get to the mental and spiritual place of which Brown speaks.
“People walk in here with an overwhelming fear because they’ve never been out of a job,” Kashey said. “They’ve grown up in a society that says, ‘You are as successful as your job,’ and they truly think their success is tied to what they do.
When you take that away from them, they have nothing to fall back on, so they fall hard.”
While Roswell’s program may focus on making attendees “job-search ready,” the pep talks and prayer prep their souls for what’s ahead.
“We teach them to focus on the content of your character — that’s what makes you successful,” said Kashey. “We need to get away from the stereotype that says ‘my job as such and such’ or ‘the XYZ Company is my life and I’m going to work at it 12 hours a day and never see my kids.’
“That way, when they walk into job interviews, they have their priorities straight, and they’re not worried,” he said.
“They’re able to be themselves and let their light shine through — and be passionate about what really matters.”
Charlie Brown now has good news to share with the job seekers who have become his friends at the Roswell career ministry meetings. He was recently hired as a software engineer in the Atlanta area.
If your church is interested in beginning a career ministry, contact Katherine Simons at 404-518-1377 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But finally having the “un” removed from his “employed” status won’t keep him away from Roswell where he’s committed to giving back as a volunteer.
“Sometimes God’s plan is not about what we want,” Brown said. “Look at Job and Jonah. God dragged them, kicking and screaming, as he did me, to a place we didn’t want to go, but in the end, it was better for us. In my case, it wasn’t only better for me, it’s (also) better because maybe I can help others.”
By Susan Passi-Klaus