At college commencement ceremonies across the nation each year, illustrious speakers urge graduates to “Think big. Reach for the stars. Find your purpose.” Sounds good, but in today’s world, they may be unrealistic ideas, especially for those leaving prison.
It’s important, actually, to think smaller, to take those initial steps that will get you on your way to reestablishing yourself in society.
The title of a mixtape by Nipsey Hussle, “The Marathon Continues,” reminds us that it’s a long race, and you need to run it slow. For those in reentry it’s best to not rush and put too much pressure on yourself, as that could be a setup for failure and returning to the old ways and landing back in prison. And, of course, take your time doesn’t mean drag your feet, but rather realize that things take as long as they take and usually can’t be rushed.
Marty Nemko, a well-known Oakland, Calif.-based career coach wrote an insightful article in Psychology Today (its video version here) on a more honest commencement address with realistic job advice. He says that because of offshoring, outsourcing, automation and an ever-increasing demand for skills and requirements, solid careers that pay well are more difficult to achieve than in the past.
Take any job, and use it as a launchpad
As a result, he writes that “unless you’re quite a star, you’d be wise to take whatever job drops in your lap.” And instead of spending months looking for the perfect job, take a job, any job and use that as a launchpad for something better.
He uses the example of a gravedigger, not something most people would consider. But he writes that when you’re not digging graves, you could spend your time talking to the funeral director, the landscaper and the person who makes the monuments. Ask them for advice and get to know them. They might even have a job for you somewhere down the line. Then, if you get it, become an expert at that job, and you might very well succeed, since so few people consider that type of career.
Nemko provides the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that will give you an advantage in today’s marketplace, especially if you have been out of the official workforce for a while and are a bit rusty on your skills.
And Qa’id, “Q”, Aqeel, the post-release program manager of Defy NorCal, has similar realistic job advice. He comes into daily contact with people who face incredible challenges.
“I’m working with people who are lifers, who did 25+ years. When they come out they have all this excitement. It’s a brave new world,” he says. “They don’t understand that the world has changed drastically. When they come out you have people who say they can do this, they can do that. They don’t know which way to go.”
The direction Aqeel recommends is to start with the very basics, like obtaining a social security card, birth certificate and driver’s license. Take advantage of transitional housing and have a base to begin searching for a job.
Take the ABC approach
“Get a job, any job, so you can be able to save money to use when it’s time to exit transitional housing,” he says. “When people come out, there’s a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, so you have to curb their enthusiasm, so they’re not in a rush. They’re still acclimating to society. It takes some time.”
As for looking for a job, Aqueel’s philosophy is ABC. That stands for any job, a better job, a career.
“We have to have realistic expectations,” he says. “They don’t have a work history. You’ve got to get a job so you can have a work history and references. You have to start establishing a foundation.”
Take your time; don’t rush, but focus and finish.