Is it time for you to check into “Vocational Rehab?”

We live in a society where we always strive to make ourselves better. A world of self-improvement. And if we stray too far where we can’t fix ourselves … there’s a “rehab” for that. Now I’m all into personal betterment. God knows I need “fixing.”

Now there’s a rehab for all kinds of things. There are rehabs for alcohol and for drugs. There’s rehabs for gambling, and there’s even rehabs for sex. And I could go on and on … and on. Well I’m going to add another one. And actually I don’t think there’s a rehab for this. I’m going to call it “Vocational Rehab.”

Now work with me here. Imagine if all you ate was meat and dairy products. And then one day, all the animals vanished. I don’t know, maybe they died of some cross-species epidemic. Or maybe they just got together and decided to pack up move away (probably because they were tied of getting eaten, I suppose). It doesn’t matter, they were just gone.

Well you have a choice. You could die of starvation. Or you could start eating something else, say fruits and vegetables. (cannibalism doesn’t count). I would guess you would move on to the vegetarian fare. You may not much like it, at least in the beginning – but you’d do it anyway.

Let’s get back to my idea of “Vocational Rehab.”

Ever since the onslaught of the “great recession,” we’ve heard nothing but unemployment, and rightly so. The 2010 and 2012 election rhetoric was filled with promises of jobs. “We will put America back to work … blah, blah, blah!” Magically the construction workers will find things to build. The sales people will find things to sell and people to buy them. The journalists will find companies that are interested in paying them for what they have to say. And the middle managers will find people to, well … middle manage.

But as people have found out, it really doesn’t make any difference if they elected a Democrat or a Republican. A lot of the country is still without a job. Or if they do have one, it’s not at the level they wan. No matter how hard they look, the construction worker still can’t find something to build or the manager can’t find the people to manage. Hours of sending out resumes and cover letters seem to be nothing but an exercise in pressing the “send” button.

Now switching back to the dietary metaphor. What if the job you just had and had trained for – was gone forever. No amount of resumes would make a difference, no amount of cover letters. What if the only way you could survive was to learn to do something different … learn a new skill and a new profession. Like learning to eat fruits and vegetables. What would you do? Would you just wait for that last dollar of the last unemployment check to run out? What would you do about your family?

Too many of us live in the world of our parents and grandparents. You take up a trade, or go to college to learn a profession, and for the most part – that’s what you do until you retire. Now of course there’s always the exceptions. But that was the goal, and hopefully for the same company. That’s the problem! The world of our parents and grandparents is dead and gone. If you think you can hold on to that mirage … you’ll be dead and gone too.

No matter if you’re eighteen or fifty-eight, you have to “roll with the punches” and adapt. I know for a lot of people change is tantamount to a root cannel without anesthesia. But I don’t care! Get to the dentist and open up! And there nothing you can do about it.

But just because people are unemployed doesn’t mean there aren’t any jobs. Macroeconomic statistics such as the national unemployment rate are irrelevant. You’re just not looking in the right places. You’re not looking at the right industries or in the right locations. You just have to open your mind, and look past the doom and gloom of the nightly news.


This is where “Vocational Rehab” comes in. As long as you’re “Holding on to Yesterday” (my prom song, good song … prom not so good), you can’t move on. Rehabilitation is about “unlearning,” it’s about moving on. You can’t learn if your brain is full of “old stuff,” old habits and old expectations.

When you go through a significant professional downturn, you should admit yourself into a “Vocational Rehab.” Since formally I don’t think any really exist, you’ll have to create your own. It could be in a room of your house or your apartment.  Or it could be somewhere else. It doesn’t matter. The whole point is to “unlearn” and clean your mental palette.

Put yourself back to square one. Look at your skills, not industry specific skills, but personal skills – and take inventory. Do research. What professions look like they have future promise that match up with your skill inventory. And what’s it going to take to land one of these opportunities. What training are you going to need, how long is it going to take and how much is it going to cost. Look the down the road. Get a plan!

Your plan will probably involve sacrifice. “Vocational Rehab” is not different from any other rehab. Alcoholics have to give up booze. Gambling addicts have to give up gambling. And so on. This is no longer about status or image. It’s not about preconceptions and thoughts of “how could things turn out like this.” If that’s the road you’re going down, you might as well go to the window and cash in your chips. This is not about what other people think – or you “keeping up with the Jones.” Downsize, get rid of stuff! That “dream house” you so value may very well be a casualty. Nothing is sacred … physically or mentally!

Change your life. Be whatever you want to be. Grab your evolution and embrace it. Embrace it like you would your children.

Rise, brush off the ashes … and become a Phoenix.


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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6 thoughts on “Is it time for you to check into “Vocational Rehab?”

  1. As I read this I kept hearing Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” saying “I couda been a contender.” His inability to see past one moment in his life, prevented him from being anything else. In addition, those around him were uncomfortable with the idea that he could be anything other than the dock worker. I suspect that part of the difficulty for anyone to check into a “vocational rehab” is that once we have a defined role within our community, and perhaps a role that has brought us some recognition and a certain level of comfort, we coast…until it takes a dramatic event to shake us out of that.

    It shouldn’t have to take being downsized in order for us to notice that a change should take place. Far too many people spend their times muttering “I coulda” instead of “I will.”

    1. Excellent comment Myrdin. It seems like so much of what we talk about seems to revolve around the detrimental affects on societal views and stigma. This is the one of the underlining reasons I used the term “Vocational Rehab.” I had to make the process seem dramatic.

      Just as it’s known by family and friends when someone enters a traditional rehab program, so should be the case with entering “Vocational Rehab.” Some people may think you’re crazy, but some may not. And a t least then, you’ll know who’s on your side and who you will be there to support you.

      1. For me, this post actually connects with your other post about creativity and zolos. Before children enter school they are polymaths, they are interested and excited about learning about EVERYTHING. And they become obsessed with certain things as well and collect them: rocks, stamps, action figures, puzzles, etc. How many children can tell you complicated details about dinosaurs or the weather? Yet, those same children don’t all grow up to be paleontologists or scientists, because when they enter school they are tested and measured and directed to be a future productive member of society. So here’s the thing. You are not the title on your business card. Sure, maybe you don’t want to go back to school to become a paleontologist, but who said you can’t volunteer at the local science center or write a blog about dinosaurs while you figure out your next step?

        Society said so. Parents said so. That doesn’t mean to not respect those voices, but what is the voice inside of you telling you to do? Maybe Vocational Rehab is just the place to go to be able to hear it more clearly, without external interference.

        Again, Clay, thanks for getting the grey cells fired up again. Good post!

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