Life for those who have weathered the storms of school, difficult enough in this age of readily available drugs and alcohol, ever-present bullying, and greater sexual awareness, has become especially so with the global pandemic raging. I currently have two grandsons recently emerged from formal education, facing the enormity of finding jobs they can be excited about in this maelstrom of uncertainty and constraint. It might sound easy as there is a shortage of staff for less-skilled vacancies, but higher-level, career jobs have been in short supply as markets for businesses are buffeted by the gales of the pandemic. The uncertain future for business means employers are diffident about taking on more overhead; indeed, for many, mere survival is still difficult enough. If young men or women ask you for advice, what exactly do you tell them?

Seeking any kind of employment can be a soul-destroying experience in the current job market, let alone trying to get an entry-level position in a chosen career. You hear of people sending out hundreds of carefully crafted resumés with absolutely zero results. What could be more distressing? It can be a lonely path and a depressing one. It is not surprising that self-doubt and inertia creep in, which, if taken to extremes, can result in desperation and tragedy. How can you help young people who find themselves in similar positions? Often, we don’t like to interfere or exert influence in a particular direction, or really don’t know how to go about it—however, any help is often better than none, even just a “shoulder to cry on.”

Probably the first task is to support them emotionally because not even being able to get a start in life is crushing. Bolster their self-confidence, encourage a smile, show them it isn’t the end of the world, and going a few more steps forward is the only way to go. Coach non-verbal language like a firm, dry handshake and erect posture; make sure they look you in the eye with a confident gaze when they speak. While those things are a necessary part of interview technique, they will also help crushed young adults feel better about themselves. Encourage attitude adjustment and discourage tendency to blame: “It’s Covid, it’s the government, it’s where I live.” It’s not; it’s just the way things are and many young people have and are facing much worse challenges—not that knowing that helps a person much. Avoid belittling the inexperienced young adult’s own attempts to rectify the situation. Always be positive in your assistance.

There are many sources of advice on the internet on how to help job seekers and on interview technique. Encourage the person to research these and improve his or her own situation. They need a well-written resumé and cover letter that perhaps you can help with. Assist them to identify sources of job information that relate to their hoped-for career direction. Get them to set a target for applications and check that it is achieved. So many helpful ideas are available online these days, but what if a young man or woman has not yet gained the compass that directs their path onward into a career? Easy choice for those who have known they wanted to be a doctor since they were 10 years old—they have a point at which to aim those resumés, but what about the rudderless adrift in an uncharted sea with no star to sail by? How do we help them find a course to steer?

The late Joseph Campbell, psychologist and philosopher, coined the renowned phrase, “follow your bliss,” meaning that if you base your career on something you love, not only will it not seem like work, but you will also be much better at it than at anything else. Yet there are others who say that if you make something you love your work, then it will take the fun out of it. I tend to support Campbell’s view, but it is easier said than done just now to get that first job. Any aiming to be self-employed who are not independently wealthy or able to rely on relatives for finance will find it hard to begin a career that does not involve working for somebody else in the field first. Nevertheless, uncovering perhaps a long-held wish that seems to the youngster an impossible dream (and therefore may lie well hidden) is a good place to begin.

Bringing such dreams into the light of day provides a starting point for reason to be applied to the consequent difficulties. To get from one place to another often needs a map, and this is where the more experienced can help by charting a course. This is also where, shall we say, “character” enters in. To forge ahead requires a willingness to work at it. Campbell advised to “put yourself in the path of the Gods [so that] they may take you with them.” Sending out those resumés is one way to do that. How much work, persistence or privation is the person willing to put in to gain the knowledge and hone the skills to achieve their dream? I know of one eminent glass artist who ate out of restaurant dumpsters early in his career before he broke through and eventually became famous for his work.

Often it may be necessary to hold down a mundane job that provides a living while pursuing the dream alongside it. The young have the energy to do that provided they also have the mental discipline to sustain it. The old adage in the art world is: “Don’t give up the day job!” until proficiency, knowledge, finance and contacts are amassed alongside “the day job.” There can be no harm in following a dream provided the path is paved with reason. It does no harm to reach for the stars, even if you only make it as far as Mars.

What if there is no dream to be found? There will be many who either have no real dream or the persistence and discipline to put the work in to “make something of themselves,” as the old phrase goes. Happiness can be another key to opening an avenue for them to pursue. What would they be happy doing or where would they be happy doing it? Some may not be looking for a “career” path, as such. Some will want only a reasonable pay packet and a simple life with less stress and responsibility; in that there can be happiness, too, provided they realize the life consequences of those decisions—and who does not want happiness?

Whatever path is pursued, making one’s way is never easy and advising some young man or woman is fraught with difficulty because you could always be wrong. It is a dance between fantasy and fact, encouragement and truthfulness, compassion and reason—always without crushing the fragile flower of hope—while, at the same time, being clear that the ultimate decision and the responsibility for it lies with the individual.

© David Cuin 2022