You Can’t Always Blame the Economy

A reader tells me that her 22-year-old son graduated from college last May and returned home to live. She loves having him here, but also realizes that he needs to get on with his life. In spite of the forest of “help wanted” signs out there, he can’t seem to find a job. He rejects the idea of therapy or counseling, and she asks how he’s supposed to handle this situation. She asks me what she should do.

We’re not supposed to say it any more, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s true: Human beings sometimes feel sorry for themselves. “Poor me. I can’t find a job.” Now don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to be outraged over what our government has done to wreck the private economy. But this isn’t the place for that discussion. We have to deal with reality, and your son is no exception.

We can’t blame it all on “the economy.” Yes, many working-age people are still unemployed, but the others are finding a way to eke out some kind of living. Your son is able-minded and armed with a college degree. He doesn’t yet have a mortgage or other major commitments, but he does have choices. He probably feels, “What else can I do? I can’t buy a car. I can’t pay rent.” Of course he’s perfectly willing to live at his parents’ house. But why isn’t he willing to search for a job – perhaps not in a seasonal resort? Once he finds something, he can ask you for some help until he gets settled in. THAT’S “getting on with his life.”

I won’t speak for you, but if you’re willing to let him live with you rent-free, I’m sure you’d be willing to advance him a couple months’ rent to help him get started – IF he’s willing to put in the effort.

If I were to talk to your son, I wouldn’t let him get away with what psychotherapists sometimes call “stinkin’ thinkin’.” I would challenge him to do the work by writing down, in my presence, all his advantages; none the least of which the fact that he’s young, healthy, has a college degree, and can select any city in which to live. “The economy” might even be an advantage. In economic boom times, he might default to the obvious choice of living and working in the town where he went to college. But in tougher times you’re forced to go where the jobs are. Who’s to say he might not find a new and interesting place and job that he might actually enjoy?

The worst thing your son can do is sit home and succumb to low expectations. You’re right to suggest a counselor (hopefully he won’t hire one of the many who will play into his self-pity). People will often listen to an outsider rather than a family member. Though he may be feeling sorry for himself, he may also be embarrassed to be living off his parents. If that’s the case, then I admire him for not feeling entitled (a popular feeling nowadays, unfortunately). He needs to know that there’s no shame in being stuck, as long as he strives to think his way out of it.

I won’t presume to minimize the reality of economic issues, especially nowadays. But moods and outlook are even more fundamental than economics. Societies don’t get out of their economic slumps unless (and until) they first lift their spirits. What applies to societies also applies to your son. Encourage him to get some help to help himself.

Michael J. Hurd, Life’s a Beach

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