Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Would You Deal With This Unmotivated Ivy Grad?

Today, I had a career counseling client write what she honestly thought were the reasons she hasn't been successful.

Do note that she graduated four years ago from a prestigious university and the only job she's had is a part-time salesperson at a costume jewelry store. Her parents are supporting her.

Note: to preserve her anonymity, the photo is a publicly posted one of other people. Also, I've changed a few irrelevant details above but the following text is hers verbatim:
Bottom line, I think I'm lazier than a lot of people. I fool myself into thinking, I'll get stuff done later.

Also, I prioritize feeling healthy and looking good. To look that way, I sleep as much as I can and work out a lot, but all that takes time from me being productive, from getting a job.

It's weird, although being healthy is so important to me, I do a lot of weed and alcohol. It's always been hard for me to say no to friends. They can easily convince me to hang out and drink or smoke. I also waste a lot of time talking to my friends who don't live here.

I get down on myself easily, and to feel better, I hang out with friends, watch TV, smoke, drink etc. instead of looking for a job or getting stuff I need to get done.

When I finally do something productive, after a few minutes, I tend to think "That's enough" and go do something more fun. Maybe that's because it's been a long time since I had to do anything productive for very long.

I don't know how I got through school and I don't know how I'll get the motivation to be productive.
If you were her career counselor, what would you say to her? And what other reactions do you have to her missive? For example, I wonder whether her having graduated from an Ivy League school is testimony to massive grade inflation and the irrelevance of what is taught.


Jeff J. said...

I would ask her if she sincerely wants to find a full time job. If she said "No", I would just forget about it.

It sounds like she has no immediate pressing reason to find work and is enjoying her current lifestyle. As long as her family has enough money to support this, I don't see the situation changing.

It's possible she could just be using your counseling as an excuse to say she's trying to find a job, when she truthfully is not that interested.

If she says she is truly interested in finding a job, obviously she would need to make a major lifestyle change to demonstrate she is sincere.

Sean said...

i bet this girl went to an affluent suburban high school where she could take all the AP classes and join all the extracurricular clubs necessary to get into an ivy, while also surrounding herself with people who smoke and drank and probably had lower life ambitions, the cool kids.

College was a 4 year pajama party at the country club that masqueraded as some prestigious university. She got B's with minimal effort. She went to lots of frat parties, theme parties, nights out at the bar etc.

Then she graduated, moved back home, sure she would get a great job in some exciting city in a few months time. She gradated from X University after all.

Unclear of what she wants to do, lacking direction for the first time, she looks through online job postings + classifieds. Applies for several and never hears back.

Began hanging out with old high school friends to kill time. 4 years ago she was a shining star destined for greatness. Now she is back home, like all the other state school kids. Begins to lose confidence, become alienated.

Keeps track of college friends on facebook, monitoring with great envy their initial successes in the "real world." "I was once just like them, what happened to me?" Loses more confidence, becomes more alienated.

Annie said...

First, I think one has to de-couple "good grades in ivy school" from "success in the workplace." It's just not that hard to get very good grades. Put another way, it's easier to produce the illusion of effort in school and still get rewarded for it.

What nobody warned me about was how infinitely harder it would be to achieve success in the workplace, providing you intend to make some sort of difference. I actually thought it would be much easier.

Next I think it's important to realize that to combat procrastination and a lack of motivation, the first step is simply, care. It sounds like she doesn't. It's going to be very difficult to get someone to go through the tiring, often murky process of finding a good job when they seem not to care.

The risk here is that this eventually catches up to you. You miss out on the really important "formative" years in a career when co-workers are far more forgiving for your mistakes and lack of knowledge.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, there is a problem with low self worth. Someone who truly cares about their meaningful employment, health and outward appearance wouldn't indulge in over-sleeping and drug use for obvious reasons.

When you're just out of college, you really do feel like you have all the time in the world. That feeling, in turn, creates a false cushion that provokes lazy behaviour. There's no sense of urgency. If this met by even a small degree of entitlement, a "who cares" attitude and/or drug use, then your client is effectively squandering one of the most exciting periods of self-discovery. It's a terrible feeling to make up for lost time later.

(PS - If the parents are footing the bill, why not test out a few unique internship programmes that typically pay quite low? What a privilege to test drive some options, fairly risk free).

Marty Nemko said...

Annie, a particularly hearty thank you for your fine comment.

Anonymous said...

Since motivation is genetic, and since contribution is all that matters, I would tell her that she is pretty much hopeless and useless and I would advise her not to have kids, or at least to consider looking into genetic enhancement.

I’m kidding, of course. Or am I?

Anonymous said...

Here are my reactions to this story:

1. My faith in the Ivy League has all but disappeared with this post as the last nail in the coffin; witness the mess that Ivy Leaguers have made in our social, political, and economic spheres.

2. The story that Sean came up with shows how easy it is to make your kid a slacker if you're well-to-do. Perhaps the best outcomes come from the kids who grow up in humble (but not dysfunctional) circumstances, one reason being that those parents, for lack of a better way to describe it, aren't able to coddle their kids and thus push them to be more independent, from not bankrolling their slackerdom to steering them to learn saleable skills at affordable schools.

3. Also, stories like this show that one side effect of being well-to-do on your kids is to insulate them from the real world. For example, if she had spent a night in jail after being caught with pot or for public intoxication at a younger age and not been bailed out, the "scared straight" experience may have sunk in.

Now here are a few things I'd do:

1. I'd talk to her parents about the situation and impress on them that supporting her can backfire, especially when they need to be cared for and they've raised someone who can't even take care of herself.

2. I wouldn't recommend that they cut her off cold turkey, but make drastic enough demands. For example, to pay for utilities and set a date to move out.

3. I'd then tell her parents to use their networks as in, "My friend Bob at Company X is is Field Y. I've set up a time to talk to him about how you might get into Company X, Field Y, etc..."

4. I'd then recommend a physical exam to rule out physiological causes for sleeping so much, as well as to learn about the effects of booze and pot on your body. (Methinks that is a big part of sleeping so much.)

5. Depending on the local market, maybe she should consider moving to where her friends are (maybe the market is better there, maybe they'd motivate her to succeed, maybe she'd get away from the bad influences, maybe being on her own would motivate her more.)

Anonymous said...

I see this every day...I have returned to school to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a chef. I hold a Master's degree in Physical Therapy and I have to say that I am appalled at the low expectations that permeate higher education today. I am more appalled by the lack of motivation and drive in the students. I am confident that when I graduate I will be able to obtain immediate employment because I have something that they lack.....a work ethic. It's something that you either learn as a child from your parents or you don't. There are occasionally individuals that are born with an internal drive to succeed but they are the exception rather than the rule. This young lady's problem is not drugs or alcohol or not being able to find the perfect job....she's lazy. And, she's been raised in a society that enables her to be lazy.

Marty Nemko said...

Most recent Anonymous,

Great comment!

Theresa said...

Amen to that last comment..."she's been raised in a society that allows her to be lazy."

I have a Physical Therapist friend who shows me the egregious resumes he has received in response to a few job openings he's had in his practice. Some of the worst (and most hilarious)resumes are from folks with advanced degrees.

Reading this post makes me realize how widespread a problem we are facing in this nation: entitled, lazy young people.

I just can't get my mind around the thinking reflected in this young lady's musings.

I think those parents could use a good slap upside the head for enabling such irresponsible behavior. Like it would do any good.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog frequently. And although I am ashamed to admit it, I am in a very similar situation to the person in question. I don't drink, smoke or do drugs. I don't socialize with slackers. I do work for a large retail chain part-time, but I work quite hard while I am there. I graduated from a top private university, and although I have done some interesting and productive things since then, I know that I am not currently reaching my full potential. What is holding me back: I feel like there are too many choices, and it is frightening to choose one field when there seem to be so many. I struggle with giving myself a direction, and then sticking with it. I don't want to make the wrong decision. Once I am in a job though, I have no problem thinking for myself, and I don't require a lot of guidance. I ask tons of questions, and I work really hard. Anyway, this is just my experience, and it may shed some light on what people in my generation are thinking.

Grace said...

I think the problem is in that she probably doesn't really want to work in the area that she is trained in. Maybe she thinks (or her parents think) that she should live a certain life, going for a certain job that matches her education or their expectations. But if she really wanted that, she would do it.

What she seems to want is a job that involves socializing and no real responsibility. There are low-paying casual jobs out there that let you do just that. The security guard in my office building sits behind a desk reading her book or talking on her phone for 4 hours a day. If you can find her a job that is relatively stress-free that lets her, for the most part, do her own thing, maybe she will be willing to put in an 6 hour day a few days a week. Combine her want of ease with the need for a job (a need she doesn't yet have, thanks to mom and dad's cash) and I think you might find she is employable after all.

Grace said...

One more thing - I find that the longer people are unemployed, the longer they stay unemployed. I see this in people whether they are rich or on social assistance. As a people, we tend to look for ways to make our lives simpler and easier. If we can go through life expending less effort, we usually do unless we absolutely love or believe in the work we do.

Your client has lost all motivation and stamina. What motivated her in school? Find out what that is and use it to your (her) advantage.

I suggest that she start something small (even a couple of hours volunteering) and then slowly increase her workload to build up her focus, skills, confidence, and drive. When she really gets a taste of working for something greater than a paycheck, I think she will turn things around. I don't think all hope is lost.

Grace said...

Has she thought about being a beauty consultant or fitness instructor? She does spend a lot of time and energy on looking good and working out.

Finding work that is in line with what we value is key. I know of a truck driver with PhD. He just loves being on the open road.

Jeffrie said...

I don't think I could help somebody who truly did not want to help themselves.

How did she get there to your office? This does not sound like somebody who would be self-motivated to visit a career counselor.

And what has she been doing in the last 4 years since graduating? Did she fall right into the lazy lifestyle? And why are her parents supporting this?

The way her life is now, she is not going to ever achieve independence. She's supported by her parents & listens more to her friends than her own mind & heart. If she seriously wants to be successful, she needs a drastic change, and it's better if she makes it herself than if she has it imposed on her by force.

From this statement, the only positive thing she is self-motivated to do is work out. If true, she's not completely hopeless. That means she has the ability to focus on & care about something positive & constructive. She needs to get out of the environment she's in & build on that as a foundation. But that is a big commitment. Is she ready for that?

Marty, I think this person may be beyond your help. This seems like a waste of time if she doesn't want to help herself.

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Most Recent Anonymous,

There is no one right choice. Pick something and go for it all the way. The only bad choice is to choose nothing.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Grace, long-time reader of this blog. Good comment as usual.

Leonard said...

There don't appear to be - and this is putting it mildly - any financial problems getting in the way of this Ivy grad obtaining as much booze and weed as she can cope with. Perhaps a dose of financial reality would be even more purgative, and curative, than any other form of advice. (For what it's worth, I'm a white, Christian, and heterosexual non-American, whose 30-year working life has been in very hard-scrabble jobs indeed, where affirmative action simply does not apply.)

What puzzles me, and I say this as a long-time reader of Dr. Nemko's writings on education, is this. Were Ivy campuses always this amenable to the unmotivated? Or is it a modern thing? I'm inclined to think the former rather than the latter.

When the once-famous social critic Dwight Macdonald was a Yalie during the 1920s, he reckoned that only about 5% of his fellow Yalies ever used the (apparently superb) main library. The remaining 95% were basically behaving like the 1920s equivalents of "Bluto" Blutarsky in Animal House.

Over the years on visits to the U.S.A. I've met a fair few Ivy grads (all male, it so happens), and while I've never met any actual layabouts or fools among them, I've not been overwhelmingly impressed by their intellectual industry either. They've had an impressive gentlemanly polish, like Oxford grads, and I'm sure they're equally proficient at knowing which knife to use for each dish in a seven-course dinner, but other than that ... every really intelligent American grad, of either sex, whom I've ever met has gone to an unpretentious campus in somewhere like Michigan.

ST said...

Since she spends much of her time working out and trying to look good, maybe she's unconsciously just biding her time looking for a husband to take care of the standard of living for her. It may be partly unconscious because she's "breeding age", assuming in her mid twenties or so, so it might be her hormones at work.

Otherwise, I see this at work, unmotivated females who would just as soon quit work and let the husband's job take care of the finances for the family, but the husband usually wants the wife to keep working so the standard of living is even better.

These women's only motivation seems to be socializing and family, which is fine, but then it irritates me that men get the back lash that we don't give women equal opportunity (in general terms, of course, and it's usually not these women saying that).

I'm also curious as Jeffrie is, is this a client you're dealing with or a hypothetical question to readers of this blog?

Marty Nemko said...

It was an absolutely real client. Otherwise I would have said it was a hypothetical.

Anonymous said...

She sounds mildly depressed.

ST said...

I guess the better question is, are you asking for advice, or just curious what your readers would do?

Marty Nemko said...

I asked both because I thought you'd find it fascinating and because I thought I'd try crowd-sourcing to get a plan I could embrace other than "She's not worth your time," which is a possibility.

Maureen Nelson said...

My thoughts, in order:

1. OMFG.
2. Is she from Danville?
3. Nothing will change till her parents quit enabling her.
4. She might be mildly depressed.
5. She's like Prince Gautama (the Buddha) before he knew pain, sickness and death.

If I were going to "fix" this problem, I'd not take her on as a client, but I'd tell her parents they'll never get rid of her and she'll never find a job, motivation or a reason to be sober unless they kick her out. I'd not just tell her she had to volunteer, but see if I could get her to volunteer where she can see how the other half lives. When the teens in Walnut Creek go on mission trips to repair schools in villages in Central America or even in the U.S. on Native American reservations, they come back changed people. She could do Xmas in April or Habitat for Humanity. I'd tell her parents if they want to continue to let her feel she's rich enough not to work, they should at least push her to earn her spot on this planet by alleviating suffering. Otherwise, she's just breathing my air and I'm not sure she deserves it.

Marcia Bench's career coaching model begins not with values, skills, interests, etc., but with life purpose. First, the client must figure out their purpose. This client has not figured out hers, so, of course, nothing compels her to do *anything* with her life. Look at you in contrast, Marty. You'll go down fighting your many good fights with your dying breath.

I myself wouldn't take on someone like this but then I don't suffer fools gladly. My daily clients, poor as they are, are head-and-shoulders above her in motivation. When they fail, it's because stupid life stuff gets in the way (one dropped out of school to begin parenting her sister's baby).

What's her reason for getting up in the morning?

BTW, I also thought she might find some satisfaction in the world of the young/ hip/ cool/ beautiful -- in something to do with fashion, beauty, health, entertainment/ media/ magazine publishing, PR, advertising -- a lot of partying is mixed in with all the work. Maybe she needs to move to NY or LA. Danville's probably too boring for her. Look at what happened to all the bored rich kids in high tech Plano, TX, in the 1990's. Rampant heroin addiction. Made no sense.

Marty Nemko said...

Magnificent comment, Maureen. Thank you.

Laura C. said...

I'm jumping with the crowd that suggests she get an internship in fields where she needs to look good. But I would suggest to take it further: her parents should only support her if she gets an internship. They should not be supporting her financially. They are part of the problem. Their support should be contingent on her making reasonable progress. No one should expect an awesome job out of college, no matter where you went to school.

She needs therapy to see if it's not some dysthymia but I'm inclined to believe that she's been enabled by her parents.

K-Man said...

Time for the tough love. If her parents were smart, they'd give her a suitcase for her next birthday or holiday and tell her to use it to get out, say, within two weeks. She'll get motivated then. In the past this was normal for most kids once they left high school or turned 18. Unless she's a productive contributor to her parents' household, and she obviously is not, then she needs to hit the road.

Anonymous said...

I would refer her for drug and alcohol counseling. She clearly has mental-health problems that need to be addressed by a therapist.

Once she is clean and sober and has been working with a therapist, then you will be able to work successfully with her on career issues.

Debra, LMFT