My son is struggling with depression/unemployment. How to help?
December 12, 2013 2:50 PM   Subscribe

My son, a late-20s college graduate, got fired from a job out-of-country and was forced to come home; he has been staying at my place (I am a single parent). I was happy to have him home and figured he would stay for a month or so then be out on his own again, but it has been 3 months with few signs of him actively job hunting. He has confided in me that he is unsure of what to do with his life, and is feeling overwhelmed and depressed. I would appreciate suggestions on how to keep him motivated on finding a job, and also ideas on how he can go about deciding on a career path. Details inside.

The other day he broke down crying for the first time I've seen in his adult life, and told me that he has no idea where he wants to go from this point on in his life and feels overwhelmed and paralyzed with anxiety. He asked me for help, and I feel that the advice I gave was inadequate. He is very intelligent and has so much potential, but cannot focus enough in one area to specialize.

He thinks that he might have made a mistake in his major, a relatively in-demand language. I told him that it would be a good idea to find some way to utilize the degree to find a job in a related field, but I am not sure that he wants anything remotely similar. This frustrates me since I helped out a lot financially to send him to school, but I am trying to see this from his point of view (and I don't want to beat him down further when he's depressed).

He seems to have a new career idea flitting through his head every day, many of which have no relation whatsoever to his undergraduate degree. One day he mentioned wanting to try finding a job on the west coast (I reply "that's nice, but decide on the kind of job first!"). Another day he said he was interested in composing videogame music. I know he is a competent pianist and enjoys videogames, and I know he composes that kind of music in his free time, but it is such a 180 from his degree that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Is it even possible to make a living doing that?

Then he wants to be a writer the next week, but he does not work towards anything he is saying. He is also considering grad school (he took the GRE and did very well on it) but he needs to decide on a career before applying!

He is a bit of a dreamer, impulsive, and has always had a difficult time making life choices. He has been diagnosed with inattentive ADD, which makes sense since he has always had a hard time paying attention. He has so many ideas on what he might want to do that he cannot focus on one and becomes paralyzed. When he has a goal, he thrives - He just can't decide what his goals should be.

I know he is taking steps for the depression aspect of his problem. (exercise, eating healthy, plus he told me he started seeing a therapist). He also has some money saved up, thankfully.

Would a career counselor be a good idea to suggest? Or maybe a career personality test (like briggs-meyers)? Is it even possible to get a masters in a field that is completely unrelated to your undergraduate degree? I would appreciate any suggestions on how to get my son focused on one specific goal to move towards, since having too many goals seems to paralyze him. I keep telling him that he can't do everything!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (42 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Aaaahhh! Encourage him to sign up with a temping agency and start temping!

I was unemployed for a while a while back, and I was stuck in this horrible place where I felt depressed and useless and lost. I thought I might have an idea of what I'd like to do, but none of those things I applied for panned out at all, and so then it was just like well crap might as well be useless and sad.

Probably the most important thing I've realized in my adult life is that jobs usually aren't fulfilling. Or interesting. I'm also in my late 20s and our generation grew up with a ton of "you can do anything!! find your bliss!♥!" utter bullshit, and (no offense to you personally, but) the parents really don't help this much. I had a lot of pressure on me from my parents to do better in life than they did. They both have had steady, solid full time jobs for decades--that's awesome. But they had this idea that if only they had done X then their lives would have been better. And so they gave me a life where I could do X and then were extremely disappointed when I didn't magically turn that into profit and success and happiness. Anyway, I digress.

My point is, you need to try to convey to your son that it really doesn't matter what he does or even if he likes it, but he needs to have some sort of employment and some sort of income.

I've been working a job I got from a temp placement for two years now. It's a perfectly cromulent job. I do not find it fulfilling emotionally, but I get a decent paycheck and the benefits are swell. More importantly, working--working at all--and not feeling like a drain on myself, on my parents, and on society really re-boosted my confidence. I'm still not sure "what I want to do" in life, or even if I care anymore about finding a dream job (since I've found fulfilling things outside of work that I'm perfectly happy with), but at least while I'm figuring it out I'm gaining experience, skills, and a paycheck.

Temping is probably the easiest way to get to that point. I wish I had started much sooner into my sadsack joblessness time than I did.
posted by phunniemee at 3:03 PM on December 12, 2013 [28 favorites]

I'd skip the career counseling at first--it might turn out to be an okay plan later, but I think usually they're kind of a waste of money. Regular therapy first. Yes, it's possible to get an unrelated graduate degree, and there's also lots of things that don't require graduate degrees, so he's got a lot of options. Being a smart person and having a lot of options is tough to start with, more so with depression and ADD and anxiety. I know because I am there right this moment.

My advice, not to you but to him, directly: No, you can't do everything, but you don't need to decide what you're going to do with the rest of your life RIGHT NOW. You just need something, not THE thing. Start with just any sort of job at all, because getting out of the house will help with depression a lot. Get a schedule going. Succeed at small things. Work your way up to a job, any job, that will give you enough money to be self-supporting again. Do not burn through all your savings before you do this. I did that. It has resulted in some significant setbacks since. Just get some income coming in, and expect to have to bitch a lot about how much you hate your job. It's all right to hate your job for awhile. Better, because it will keep you from getting complacent.

Then you've got time to actually do the exploring. Don't rush the decisions because you need to figure out the rest of your life before you move out. Take your time with that part. Savor that part. Figure out some broad outlines of what you like, spend months exploring them, honing in on what's going to make you happy, all that. Rushing will lead to stupid decisions. (Going to law school was VERY EXPENSIVE. Don't do that unless you are 1000% sure. Not a typo. Seriously. It wasn't that it was the worst fit ever, it's that there were really good arguments for it that pulled me in--those things are more dangerous than the really bad fits.) So go slow, dabble, just dabble with a day job.

You have the rest of your life to figure out the rest of your life, right now you just need a job and to get to where your mom isn't posting AskMe questions on your behalf.
posted by Sequence at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is just a possibility. But it might be that what is paralyzing him is not that he has so many goals, but that he couldn't pursue any of them unless it was sure that it was the PERFECT path for him to take. In other words he has to find a job that would be related to his undergrad degree, that he could make a good living doing, AND it would have to be something compatible with his Meyers-Briggs result, AND he could be happy doing it for the rest of his life.

That's a tall, tall order for something he's never even tried. That's an immense amount of pressure. And it's kind of impossible in a way. How can you be sure before you even try something that you would be happy making a life-long career out of it? How can you be sure before you even try something that you would be happy doing it for a week??

If I were talking to him I might say the exact opposite thing to him.

I would tell him that he should just go try things and not worry if they end up being PERFECT for him or even good or enjoyable or worthwhile in any way.

There is no way for any of us to see the future or know for a fact that something will be perfect or we will be happy doing it.

He can just go try things. If he doesn't like them he can quit and do something else. Why not? Honestly, why not?

He can continue in therapy and stay on top of the question of whether or not he is quitting something because he really doesn't enjoy it, or because it seems too hard or scary, or he's run up against a difficulty that is actually possible to overcome but just seems intimidating.
posted by cairdeas at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I read this and thought "temp agency" too! It would be a good way to try out different jobs at different companies, even if just for a short while. He doesn't have to find his life's calling at this point, he just needs to be doing something and moving forward every day.

Yes -- it may seem overwhelming. But he has to just get through today. Stop in at a temp agency. Or submit an application at a retailer he admires. Day after day, just do a little bit.

He may also look into volunteering. Volunteering can lead to a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Anything from walking the dogs at the animal shelter to managing a video game night at the local community center -- just something little, once. And then keep going.

He may also consider taking a class at the community college. Not for credit necessarily, just to get out of the house and collaborate with others. Maybe work on something meaningful and fun for him, like a painting class or metalsmithing class.
posted by Ostara at 3:11 PM on December 12, 2013

Hi, I was your kid once upon a time. The most helpful thing my mom did was to help me find a local therapist and start treatment for depression. I also had to get a job - it didn't have to be Just Any Job (since a job you hate will only contribute to depression), but it also didn't have to be my Dream Career Job. I had an okay job with co-workers I liked; it gave me money, structure, and a couple of people to be friendly with. I think the structure was the most important thing, for me.
posted by rtha at 3:14 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can he join a group like meetup or something. He can also get his mind around college counselors-go talk to a few, it doesnt cost anything and he can get a good sense of what is available. Beside just talking to these counselors would open up his mind to a bunch of possibilities. This changed my life so I am going to recommend it.
posted by ladoo at 3:16 PM on December 12, 2013

It is definitely possible to learn and do many things. Just not at the same time. And of course, there are some careers that are age limited, or locality limit (e.g. becoming a fighter pilot)

From another thread I posted:

Have you considered that your son is a so called "scanner" or "Renaissance Soul"?

The book about Renaissance Souls can really get him focused, if he finds out that he is one of us.

I know I'm doing it. I tried to focus, but I get extremely stressed when I can't explore new avenues. I have one good day job that I enjoy and am pretty good at. I then spend my free time learning and creating multiple things in other different fields.

And yes, it is possible to make a living composing for video games. It seems like a very tough industry though (it's another one of the things I dabble in) - but if your son never tries, he'll never know.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:16 PM on December 12, 2013

phunniemee said what i wanted to say, but better.

This frustrates me since I helped out a lot financially to send him to school. well, tough. a lot of us are frustrated because our $$$$$ education turned out to be pointless. it's not our fault or your son's fault--at least it seems he majored in something possibly useful and not, like, english or liberal arts or philosophy like a lot of us.

why does he need to decide on a career before applying to grad school? a general field, sure, but not a super narrowed down career.

you're looking at life from the lens of a baby boomer and that ain't life any more.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2013 [21 favorites]

Is it even possible to make a living doing that?

Yeah it is. Small field, but it exists. Overlaps with slot machine music. You typically need an in, though. Especially without a degree in music.

I speak as late twenties man with depression :

Get therapy. Do something. Move. (Generally, not necessarily out) Lying around stagnating is an impractical plan.

Or as I tell myself, if you're going to feel like shit, you might as well wash the dishes and feel like shit.

It's hard. It involves a lot of work on oneself. But it's totally worth it.
posted by PMdixon at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2013

well, tough. a lot of us are frustrated because our $$$$$ education turned out to be pointless. it's not our fault or your son's fault

Yeah, I have to agree with this -- not to come down hard on you at all, but to point out that in a staggering array of fundamental ways, the economy we live in now is wildly, horrifyingly, and possibly permanently different from the long boom of the postwar economy up through the '70s. For pretty much anyone who's not the super-wealthy, we are now in the worst economy since the Great Depression. A college degree simply doesn't guarantee a well-paying job in a related field anymore -- and that's not even a super-recent development; it's been trending that way for decades (I'm a Gen X'er who graduated college in '91, and I'm one of a handful of people I went to school with who ever made a decent living in a field directly related to my degree).

The expectations that the Baby Boom generation grew up with regarding education and work are simply not the material conditions that your son's generation is facing. Again, this is not in any way to come down hard on you personally or generationally, but it is to say that the social and cultural promises we (as a nation) were sold for several decades have been totally undermined, if not destroyed outright. This is absolutely frustrating and scary. But it's a boat that we're all in together.
posted by scody at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2013 [20 favorites]

I can really empathize with your son as I'm going through a similar situation. IMO:

1) Your son needs therapy. Ask your son if he ever thinks about hurting himself. Look into a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program/therapist for the anxiety. If you have a history of depression in your family, you might want to seriously consider the idea of medication. However, medication isn't going to fix the problem by itself. It really needs to be used in conjunction with therapy. As a side note though, antidepressants such as Lexapro generally help reduce anxiety as well.

2) Have your son read and perform the exercises in What Color Is Your Parachute?

The job stuff should be put on hold for now. Your son will be able to address this after he's better.
posted by prunes at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2013

If he has ADD, it might be worth it to get that treated first.

I was your son, up until a few years ago. Treating my ADHD helped to both clear the fog in my head, and to sit down and examine and ponder what I *really* want to do with my life - at least for now. That helped me get set on a path, and work towards my goals.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:57 PM on December 12, 2013

You need to let go of the undergraduate degree thing. Your son has a liberal arts degree; it isn't vocational training.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Definitely don't agree with this idea --"My point is, you need to try to convey to your son that it really doesn't matter what he does or even if he likes it, but he needs to have some sort of employment and some sort of income."
There is nothing more invalidating to the very real, and very, very serious issues he's dealing with. What to do with his life. It may be that taking something more temporary can help him get in a better mood, and stop being so overwhelmed all at once about finding THE career, but don't tell him he should just accept that you can't search for fulfillment in a career because "all jobs suck" and "everybody hates their job".
Also, stop fixating on his undergraduate degree and whether the money paid for it was "worth it". Most people do not do work in relation to their undergrad degree these days, and no wonder. Most people go to school in their early twenties. What do people know about themselves at that age, and they are supposed to be commited by their major for their whole life!? I also agree with the recommendation to work with a therapist (which I guess he's doing), and one that knows a lot about adult adhd if possible. I wouldn't expect him to have a career and be happy overnight though. This may take years.
posted by Blitz at 4:04 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need to let go of the undergraduate degree thing. Your son has a liberal arts degree; it isn't vocational training.

Absolutely. I am his age, am gainfully employed in a job with benefits, and the job is NOT related in any way to my undergrad degree. It just simply does not make a difference.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:46 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

"My point is, you need to try to convey to your son that it really doesn't matter what he does or even if he likes it, but he needs to have some sort of employment and some sort of income."

As someone who sounds a lot like your son, especially when I was younger, I definitely don't agree with this either. Maybe that works for some people, but it definitely doesn't work for certain personality types. Some people need to feel and know that their jobs have meaning, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I feel utterly depressed and discouraged (or, have in the past) if I have a job that is fine but basically totally meaningless to me. And I understand others are different, and like the structure of jobs and the responsibility, but there are others that will just feel unfulfilled with a job like that.

As someone who used to struggle with depression, I have taken random jobs just because "I needed to work", and things started off okay but in the end I'd be further off track and more depressed. I think what your son needs is a plan for how he going to go about making some money doing something that has some meaning for him. I think a career counselor would be a really good idea.

If he happens to have majored in Chinese, he can also consider getting a degree in the language, or taking language classes in China, which are usual free with scholarships from the Chinese govt (including dorm room and stipend). You can memail me if you want more info (or google Chinese Government Scholarships)

I learned Chinese in China and now work doing interpretation and translation- not full time, but I am getting there and do other work to supplement. If he learns the language to an advanced degree, I do think it can help him with jobs (it's a relatively in-demand language, as you say).

For me, finding my interests in life and overcoming depression has been a long process. Exercise, eating right, and seeing a therapist are all great starts. I also think he needs to explore is interests and passions. Maybe he can also start off getting a part-time job related to his interests. But no, I don't think "buck up and work wherever" is going to work at all for his personality.
posted by bearette at 4:47 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm also one of those intelligent / potential types. I've been in academia for a while working on a PhD and with it coming to a close I had a crisis when I had to face the reality that my potential life chasing a professor job was not going to make me happy -- but I had no idea what else I might do. And I went through a period very much like what your son is going through, where my mind sort of wandered wildly, and every day I was pondering a different career (some quite out of left field), feeling very lost.

I remember feeling over-constrained, wanting to settle on a direction that would make me happy, make me secure, have actual opportunities, and sit right inside me, but also not waste my education, not make the last 10 years feel like a waste, not make me feel like I had failed everyone or had failed to live up to my potential, not make me feel like I was doomed to live an unfulfilling/boring/precarious/stressful etc career for the rest of my life. There are two distinct parts to this, and the process was largely about getting over the fear and anxiety -- all the negatives -- so that I could seriously listen to the positives -- what do I actually want from my life and how can I achieve that.

Four concrete things that helped me:
1. Therapy. I am SO GLAD your son has started seeing a therapist. Unravelling this anxiety on my own would have been tremendously more difficult.
2. This advice: Follow your passion is wrong. Helped me get over the idea that my "passion" and my career had to be perfect.
3. Going theoretical job-hunting. Looking on job boards, but especially clicking on 'careers' pages on all sorts of companies (any company, big and small, but especially those I had a good opinion of) and seeing what they were hiring for. Or, if I had an idea of a more specialized job, trying to actually figure out how to go about getting it. This was a really important grounding exercise for me, because it made it clear that some career paths were much more viable than others.
4. Time and space. This took a while to figure out. A life re-evaluation like this is a serious trial.

Best of luck. Try to have patience with him. It is exceedingly tough out there and people of our generation face some pretty unique challenges, not least of which is the pressure to navigate a very uncertain world.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:50 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Other than not living with my parents, I'm in a position much like your son. I'm going to disagree with some of the suggestions above.

Even though I got my current (part time, temporary) gig through a temp agency, I can't recommend that route as a way of exploring different careers. My temp jobs before my current one were few and far between, and even though they were at different offices the work was pretty similar. (Lots of cold calling. Bleh.) It's been hard for me to get a sense of what companies really do as a temp like this. I've gotten to do a little more industry specific work at my current job, but there are still vast swathes of the field that are opaque to me. If he just needs the possibility of income and learning some transferable skills now temping could be an option, but don't expect him to get his big career revelation that way.

I also wouldn't push the 'get a job, any job' line. I think that leads people to work under incredibly shitty conditions and fetishize work for work's sake. My job now doesn't give me benefits, doesn't have any room for upward mobility, but all around me people are saying 'hey, but at least it's work.' Well yes, and I get that I'm probably not going to be some kind of astronaut rock star someday, but health insurance and retirement money would be nice, y'know? The ugly flip side of 'get any job' is 'and you should be fortunate to have any job, even if it's lousy and precarious.' I know way too many uninsured and dissatisfied long-term baristas and the like who took their initial jobs because they were the 'any job' available. That's a real possibility now.

What I would recommend for structure is volunteering. Something during work hours, not a one-off group volunteer thing. That, in my experience, is the better way to see an organization's inner workings. Plus, if you prove to be a reliable volunteer you can start to get more autonomy and maybe even pursue projects related to your particular strengths and interests. I started a community garden as a volunteer three years ago that's still going strong; frankly, that helped me develop a lot more job skills than my paying desk job now.

Finally, realize that depression and joblessness/the current economy are intertwined in complicated ways. Sometimes I honestly don't know where my depression ends and the reality of the current economy begins. When my brain says that I'll never find a partner and be single forever, I can recognize that as my depression talking. But when I see so many of my incredibly smart, qualified 20 and 30 something friends stuck in dead end jobs, it's harder to write off my depression about employment. Maybe depression is magnifying the extent of his hopelessness and indecision-therapy is good for teasing that out. But maybe, in throwing out so many career choices, he's grasping desperately for something that will bring him stability in the current economy.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

i know very few people who are working in the field that their degree is in. a lot of jobs want a degree, they don't actually care if it's related.
posted by nadawi at 5:29 PM on December 12, 2013


If you can, get him to stop worrying about the 'right' job for him - he needs a job that's AVAILABLE. It doesn't necessarily have to just be ANY job, but he needs to be picking and choosing from fields that are currently hiring and/or retraining options that are realistic. Books like What Color is Your Parachute (Bo Pronson is the worst! Ack!) are awful - they make me feel crappy and defeated because 'writer' is too vague when you're unemployed, and architecture school to expensive, and libraries aren't hiring etc... Additionally, I LIKE my job, and it defintiely isn't anything listed in any book anywhere. He may need something he can do 'for now' until he figures things out and/or morphs that job into a slightly different one that's great for him. It's messy business.

I have a whole bunch of articles saved up on 'follow your passion is wrong', memail me if you want them. Our generation (I'm a few years older than your son) got the 'you can do anything!' message, and the cartoon illustrates all the caveats: if you work really hard and the field happens to be booming and you know the right people and can afford an unpaid internship etc. etc. Exactly. I can't do anything I want, and accepting this made my internal life a million times better. Acknowlging the limitations I have to work within and making sure the advice I received respected the fact that I can't afford grad school, etc... made things a million times better.

Remember that a lot of people out there follwing their passions are trust fund kids or willing to make sacrifices I'm not. I like my boring, cushy, day job; I help people and believe in what I do and it's not my passion, and it's fine. You can have a day job you like, and use the rest of your time to write or make art or volunteer or whatever.

My job is to facilitate public access to government held information and apply privacy legislation. I know I know - it doesn't even sound fun does it? But I LIKE it, and it really suits me. I have a BFA in Photography from a 4yr private art school. ;)

Temping can be hit or miss, depending on where you are and what your skills are. Sydney = easy, Chicago = ok, anywhere in CA = nothing. YMMV.

You're getting lots of good comments =)
It actually sounds like he's taking a lot of good steps (saving some $, therapy, exercising).
posted by jrobin276 at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think that volunteering and taking a part time job would probably be helpful to your son's state of mind, even if neither of those things ultimately further his career. Since he lost his job and moved in with you, it sounds like your son's life has become lonely and aimless -- how could he not be suffering from anxiety and depression? Not that structure is a cure-all, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

He is very intelligent and has so much potential, but cannot focus enough in one area to specialize.

Who does he admire? Who are his heroes? The people he admires can act as role models for him, and he can use their lives as maps for his own. He doesn't have to reinvent the wheel, he can study a Ferrari tire and model his own facsimile directly off of it.

What fields do his role models work in? Which ideals do they further in their work? Did they go to grad school? If so, at which schools, and in which subjects (he can apply directly to those schools and for those degrees, if he wants)? What skills does he have or could he acquire in order to be useful to people like them? Is there any way for him to engage in that field (or even with those people) right now?

If he can't think of anybody who he admires, then maybe he has to start from an even broader perspective: what problems does he see in the world that bother him the most? Who has tried to tackle those problems in the past?

Is it even possible to get a masters in a field that is completely unrelated to your undergraduate degree?

It is possible, and he might end up needing to do that in order to be qualified for the field he ends up settling on. I'm doing that right now. In some ways, it can be very difficult, because even as you're tackling grad-level work, you're also scrambling to adjust to the culture and acquire the background knowledge that a lot of people in your cohort have spent their entire adult lives mastering. But in other ways, you're coming into the field with a skill set and passion that a lot of people in your cohort don't have, also because they've been focused on that particular field for their entire adult lives; his previous training and experiences might end up being a wash, but they won't be a waste, even if he changes track now.

Even if right now he's not qualified to do what he thinks he's ultimately best suited for and believes most in, then that's OK, he can work at getting the qualifications. His life wasn't set in stone at 19 when he declared his major, or at 17, when he sat for his SATs.
posted by rue72 at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2013

Is he paying rent/ board? He's in his late 20s, he should be paying rent regardless of anything else. Get a job as a barista, a library assistant, a shop worker, whatever. Get out of the house, get into a routine. Unless he has a significant disability which precludes him earning money, a person in their late 20s should be paying rent. Good lord.

What did he do in his previous job, in the other country? You don't say in your question. Is that a field in which he could seek work where you are? Could he work freelance as a translator? What other entry-level jobs are being advertised needing an undergraduate degree without any other qualifications? Is he applying for them? If not, why not? He needs to pay rent, so he needs a job.

You say he's working on his depression through therapy, diet and exercise. That's great! He also doesn't get to live, as a person in his late 20s, for free. Anywhere, including your house. Decide on an amount you are going to charge for rent/ board and make it so.

And - you sound as though you resent the amount you have paid for his education. Stop that. You paid for his education, which is unfortunately your obligation as an American parent. But! He is an adult now, and should start acting like one. Charge him rent. The job he gets to pay the rent may lead to a career, or it may not. It's really his problem now, not yours.
posted by goo at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jobs with the government in which someone is fluent in another language - especially with such agencies as the CIA, FBI, and NSA are in high demand.

Alternatively, at his place and time in life opportunities with international organizations such as the Peace Corps or Dept or State might be an option.
posted by matty at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2013

I was in a similar position once. I remember finishing my internship at the end of undergrad and everyone at the end-od-semester dinner was talking about what they were doing next and I didn't have plans. It was scary but I got through it and your son will too.

He doesn't need to figure out what he wants to do for the rest of his life. He just needs to work on figuring out what he wants to do next.

I'd also discourage him from going to grad school right now. A lot of people go to grad school to avoid having to figure out what to do with themselves and then when they finish, they're still not sure what they want to do but now they're older and have more debt. A lot of people in my field don't have graduate degrees so that's not a priority for me right now. If I get to a point where not having a grad degree is holding me back, I can get the degree.

I would encourage him to do something, though. It's not healthy to not be doing anything when you're depressed (at least in my experience). I'm the sort who needs to be working, even if it's not the best job. But your son would benefit from having some type of commitment, whether it's volunteering, taking a class or something. When I was stuck, I worked a part time job at a bookstore while doing a paid internship. If he can swing a situation like that, I'd recommend.
posted by kat518 at 6:56 PM on December 12, 2013

I would advise him to make sure and eat well, sleep normal hours and get exercise just about every day, like cardio, assuming he is healthy. It will clear your head and help immensely with the anxiety.

Start applying to jobs that match his skills and experience; the only limitation I'd put is that if he imagines he'd be in an office job in an ideal career, look for an entry-level office job now; the environment should be somewhat complementary. But the job doesn't have to be exciting or in his field/language or have an obvious career path to some ideal career. Don't worry about it. You can always get another job and move up in a year or two. Don't freak out about the big picture, start small, and if it's an entry-level job that is totally fine - having a job and income gives you options and better experience to land a better one. I spent a lot of time learning another language but did not get hung up on finding a way to use this degree when job-searching; it would be limiting to do that. It is really valuable to have income, structure, and a social environment on a daily basis.

When I had to quit a career path and move home and start over in my 20s, it took me longer than 3 months to get myself together and get out of the house on a daily basis and start actively looking for a job and a place to live. More like 6-9 months, because I was also overwhelmed, broke, anxious, isolated and depressed. I thought I had ADD, but I was just unhappy and not getting enough exercise. It will get better. It happens to lots of people. There's nothing wrong with him. It's just hard not knowing what to do and having no structure and routine. I would just advise exercise, living well, getting enough sleep, and taking small steps.
posted by citron at 7:03 PM on December 12, 2013

He sounds 1) perfectionist 2) talented in many areas 3) easily frustrated 4) idealist 5) doesn't know how to work "the system" to shake out a good-enough job

I think a career counselor could be useful but you have to find a good one - asks the right questions given the skills he has now (no pie in the sky ideas here):
- what are his skill sets? languages? writing reports? office work? project managing?
- what kind of work environment or topic is he comfortable in? office? school? high-tech? artsy? for profit? non-profit?
- who does he know? what are his networks, from previous employers and school mates

Help him narrow it down to 2, possibly 3 jobs, such as:

- project manager on language projects (communication, translation....)?
- teaching language?
- admin assistant in a company in a field that he likes? (temp)

I'm just throwing ideas out there. The idea is to come up with 2-3 good enough options that are broad in definition but common in skill set.

Then have him write resumes that fit these descriptions and paper the town. Post on his FB that he's looking for this kind of work. Create a tailored linked-in profile for this kind of work. Research companies that are related to this work. Follow their tweets, retweet them, get in on the conversation. Go in person to drop off resumes (in addition to online).

FWIW I think the "renaissance soul" bit is garbage; it's called a "jack of all trades", it's not a special snowflake of artistry, you just like lots of stuff... which is great because you'll be creative and be able to morph many different types of job into something you like.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:11 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've often thought of myself as a failure. I had these ideas about what I wanted to do for a career but I was so indecisive and it was not until relatively recently I figured out why. My ideas did not reflect reality. It turns out my adult-preferring, introverted self loves working with children and hates working alone all day.

I found this out because I started working. Your son just needs to get out their and work. Figure out what he doesn't like and what he does. If he needs more education (whether it be grad school, vocational or whatever) he shouldn't do that until he has a focus, a reason for doing so.

I was "let go" from my first job (in HS) technically, but it was really a firing. Turns out retail is a terrible place for me. I was ashamed about that for a long time, and some other failures but I can now see all that stuff helped me to figure out what it is I want.

The depression can cloud things, but for me working gave me a sense of purpose that helped me feel like a whole person again.
posted by Aranquis at 7:28 PM on December 12, 2013

The one concrete idea you mentioned he had was his moving to the West coast. That's something he knows he wants to do. He should do it!

Can he get enough money together to float him for a couple months until he can land on his feet? Does he have friends' couches he can crash on? Then he doesn't need a job first. Once he gets there, he'll start finding his way. Believe in him that he will. I don't know if he needs therapy. What he really needs to do is get out of his mom's house.

And if his adventure doesn't work out, what's the worst that could happen? He'll come back to your house again. Even then, he'll be better off than he is now.
posted by Leontine at 7:29 PM on December 12, 2013

I've had jobs that I hated and really drove home the idea that "money isn't everything", but that's because I had clear alternatives that I had preferred doing. So in the absence of an obvious alternative, getting out of the house and doing something (preferably for money) is definitely going to be better than nothing. If you were frustrated that he wasn't making enough progress in his preferred career and trying to convince him to "do something practical!" then I would have given a different answer.

Depression is a vicious cycle. You're depressed because you've hit a dead end. So you don't do anything about it because you're too depressed to be motivated. Which makes you more depressed.

Like your son and you, neither I nor my parents had any idea what you did for a living if your degree what not directly applicable to a job. In fact, I ended up not pursuing some career paths that would have ended up being extraordinarily lucrative because I couldn't get a clear answer that made sense to me given my perspective from some companies about "where do you go with this job?" So in that sense it might be very useful to talk to a career counselor simply because your son will hear about possibilities that he wouldn't otherwise be aware of.

Also keep in mind that the current economy is much unlike what previous generations have had to face since the Great Depression. That's not to say there's no way out, but rather that the old prescription of "just show some pluck and be persistent, and your effort will pay off, ya lazy bum!" no longer applies.
posted by deanc at 7:35 PM on December 12, 2013

Unskilled temp work was one of the worst experiences of my life. I didn't "learn" anything except that people in "professional" environments can be amazing cruel and unfeeling towards someone with the label "temp" slapped on them, and that temp agencies are incredibly exploitative and staffed by some of the worst human beings I've ever had the displeasure to meet.

Look, he's depressed, to the point where he broke down crying asking for help. I know you don't want him at home forever, but he needs therapy and he needs your support and he needs to know it'll be ok and you don't consider him a failure if he doesn't figure out the perfect career path right this second. The job stuff will come with developing a better overall outlook through therapy.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Keep in mind that for some people, it's not your title or industry that matters. I've industry-hopped three times in ten years and have been moderately successful in each, thanks to some basic transferable skills (writing, desktop publishing, client relationships, etc). And I'll probably hop again... If anyone asks me what my five year plan is, I just laugh and laugh -- most days, I couldn't tell you what I'll have for lunch!

What's important to me is working with smart, interesting people, so I seek that out. Other people want to live in a particular geographic area, so they find work that fits for them there. Other people don't care what they do so long as they have flexible hours, etc. There's no bad reason.

I like your son's idea of moving to a different area -- change is good, a fresh start is good. And I like the idea of him temping for a while for two reasons: 1, he gets to try out a bunch of new things, and 2, if he finds it a grind, he might be motivated to find out what his focus is.

And please remind him that working and being independent can be intimidating, but most of us are just trying to figure things out as we go. The only bad choice is to stop.
posted by mochapickle at 9:24 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, my govt office pays a bonus if you agree to be an ad-hoc translator btw. I reckon knowing another language is always useful!
posted by jrobin276 at 11:55 PM on December 12, 2013

I asked a similar question recently about my son but he's still in college at 19. He's a great student and has an interesting major (biology and economics) but is lost and and struggling. One answer really helped my relationship with my kid is that to let go of your expectations for him. What I want and what he needs are not the same. In other words, your son's degree choice may not be calling to him right now and the loss of his job only exacerbates his loose ends. I suspect your son (like mine) needs to know he has a safe place with you. I like the temping idea and the volunteering above. The great thing about volunteering for the most part is that he try something he may be interested in without a huge commitment, 1 day/week or something like that. It at least can get him going to see what's out there. What about using his language knowledge to volunteer in a health clinic/court system (or something like that) where his skills will be needed? It may expose him to other jobs/professions that he hasn't even thought of yet. I think the fact that he's seeing a therapist a great idea. Sometimes it just helps for them to talk to a 3rd party who's non-judgmental. Our son who has always been anxious, really likes his therapist and while he does not go regularly, he goes when he finds life is tough. I would mention to your son for sure about checking for ADHD. Encourage him to take any job (particularly now with holiday hiring) just to get him moving and also for the $.

My heart goes out to both of you. IMO I think it is much harder now for this age group then it was even 20-30 yrs ago when my husband and I were young. The economy is so unbalanced and add to that the pressure of seeing your friends and the like on media sites apparently having a great time (which I think are mostly lies) doesn't help.
posted by lasamana at 4:46 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I had a period of unemployment a few years ago, I started volunteering as a docent at a local museum. It didn't help me figure out what I want to do with my life but it did help me feel that I wasn't totally wasting my time while I looked for jobs, and I got to spend my days doing something genuinely useful, like explaining light refraction to kids.

I think that his situation is a lot more common than you or he are taking into account. I'm probably around the same age now, and I know a fair amount of people with undergrad degrees who are still living at home or otherwise dependent on their parents for financial support. The unemployment problem in the US disproportionately affects people under 30.

I also want to echo some of the advice being offered here about not worrying too much about pursuing "what you love to do". I got out of college with a firm conviction that I would make it as a writer somehow. After a year or so of floundering around, trying to find some writing-related job, I convinced myself what I kind of knew all along: I would have a lot more time and energy to focus on writing if I held down a normal, boring day job with regular hours so I could write 2-3 hours a day and read in the evenings. So now I work a job that I actually kind of like while making steady progress on my writing outside of work. The idea that you need a single fulcrum about which your entire life revolves turned out to be toxic for me. I write more with a day job than I ever did while I was globe-trotting and living on friends' couches (though that was, I'll admit, a lot more fun).
posted by deathpanels at 6:03 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

This frustrates me since I helped out a lot financially to send him to school. well, tough. a lot of us are frustrated because our $$$$$ education turned out to be pointless.

Yeah, I'm still paying off student loans, and my grad research was in the electronic properties of organometallic compounds. I now manage food security projects in sub-Saharan Africa. So I wouldn't worry too much about any career being different from his degree.

How long was he overseas? Readjusting to your homeland can be much harder in some ways than adjusting to living abroad, because unlike when you first move abroad, when you go home you and everyone around you probably expect there will be no difficulties. But it can actually be overwhelming.

Anyway, that's kind of tangential. I agree with people who say he seems to be worried about finding the perfect career. I'd wager that this is as much a product of anxiety as it is a cause - by constantly flitting between choices, he never has to really face the possibility of failure.

And if his adventure doesn't work out, what's the worst that could happen? He'll come back to your house again. Even then, he'll be better off than he is now.

Word. I tell you what worked for me when I was facing a somewhat similar anxiety about life plans - having someone encourage me to sit down and actually map out what failure looked like. What would it mean if I tried X and then it didn't work out? And the answer was - it didn't look nearly so bad as my anxiety had been telling me. It sounds like your son is in a similar situation: if things really go to pot, well hey, he has some money saved up AND he has a great family support system (go you!). His worst case scenario after getting out and trying something isn't so bad! That worked for me much better than people just saying "Oh, you probably won't fail, you're so [good quality]."
posted by solotoro at 7:03 AM on December 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

He seems to have a new career idea flitting through his head every day, many of which have no relation whatsoever to his undergraduate degree. One day he mentioned wanting to try finding a job on the west coast (I reply "that's nice, but decide on the kind of job first!"). Another day he said he was interested in composing videogame music. I know he is a competent pianist and enjoys videogames, and I know he composes that kind of music in his free time, but it is such a 180 from his degree that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Is it even possible to make a living doing that?

Ah, parents, destroyers of dreams. You didn't say that to him, I hope? Because it's a really terrible thing to say.

Of course it's possible to make a living doing that. It's tough and it's competitive, but people do. They're the type who go out and pursue their passions no matter how unlikely they seem. And they often do look like unlikely dreams to outsiders--our society is predicated on this idea that you go to school, you get a steady job, you find a spouse, often all while living in the same area where you grew up--and then you work and raise your family in relative financial security until you retire.

But that dream, as others have said, is mostly dead for the children of my generation. There is no job security anymore; many white collar jobs have become increasingly hostile to families, asking for more and more hours in return for little in the way of benefits, salary increase, or fulfillment. And you could get fired at any time, and be replaced by someone who will work for less pay, and we're unlikely to get social security, ever, and who knows if we will ever be able to retire.

So it's no wonder your son is saying, "Fuck that. I want to try something else."

I did--I work in an incredibly competitive creative field. The pay isn't lucrative; there's no job security. I bring in extra income from other sources. I'm happy to do this because the work is awesome and makes me happy, unlike white collar work which sapped my creativity and made me so, so, so depressed. For a long time--even though I've brought in a large portion of my income from my creative work--I'd comment to people about how unlikely and impossible and impractical my job was. It wasn't until I'd been in therapy for several months that my therapist pointed this out. "Why are you saying those things? Your job isn't unlikely; you're doing it."

I was parroting back the things I'd heard, mostly from family members who never would have taken similar risks and discouraged me, if I ever asked.

You have given him a tremendous gift in paying for his undergraduate education. If he doesn't have student loan debt, he's got a leg up on almost all of his peers. He doesn't need to be tied down to unsatisfying work to live. The kids I know from college without loan debt all took big risks after graduation---one moved to California to work in movies; another (ironically) works for Rockstar Games doing music. They didn't need to be tied down to their desk jobs or their home towns just to make a living--and they didn't have to try to carve out a creative existence around that living. Without debt, your son can move to California, be a barista for awhile, and try to find creative work. He can dream and scheme and pursue making game music. He might fail, but failure is okay. If he's anything like me (and it sounds like he is) what will really kill him is complacency.

So please, stop focusing on what you've lost if he doesn't become a Chinese translator in an office somewhere. Focus on what your son can gain from the gift you've already given him: a life where he can feel free to pursue his passions, no matter how unlikely they look to you, his parent. I guarantee you that he knows more about these fields than you do, that he'll learn more from trying and failing than he will from staying at home and working in some office.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:49 AM on December 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Oh, and a common trait among people with inattentive ADHD is their inability to focus except when obsessively passionate about something. He will never be able to manufacture that passion for stuff that doesn't interest him. What he will be able to do is aggressively pursue some niche interest that might look strange or silly to outsiders and focus on that to exclusion of all else. But a parent standing in his way and saying, "Don't focus on video game music; focus on getting a job relevant to your degree" is going to muck up that process, really. So you need to be encouraging him when he seems really excited about something, because that's the stuff that's going to spur him toward finding a life where he's doing good productive work and making himself happy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

It doesn't seem to me that the poster is coming at this from an angle of "settle down and find yourself a decent corporate job and a wife" – only that they are concerned about his seeming inability to get back on his feet after this temporary setback.
posted by deathpanels at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2013

Apologize for length/not really edited.

I would appreciate any suggestions on how to get my son focused on one specific goal to move towards, since having too many goals seems to paralyze him.

I'm going to give this a go as a person who has changed jobs/careers many times, and also as a person who used to teach college undergrads, because I sometimes heard their perspectives on some of the challenges you mention.

These are steps that I would encourage him to take to just selecting a career:

• Have him make a list of what he has liked/not liked about his previous jobs and plus things that he can imaginee wanting out of a job. Then have him prioritize the top few okay things for a job/plus a few "hell no/deal breaker".

• Have him brainstorm things that meet his list. Only do it for a limited time period because one can generate lists forever. The idea is not to criticize (can"t do that!) as soon as he lists it, it is brainstorming.

• Now that he has a list, let him cut it down to the top 2 or 3. In the past I've info interviews, but mainly to find out 1) is this a job I could see myself doing (does it meet the list?) 2) what are other ways people got there? 3) can I do this and what are the costs of this? The info interview stage can become very focused. Maybe sign up for societies that have open email lists to ask questions, or locate alma mater from his uni to find out what people who have his desired job title did to get there.

• Eventually, he should/will break it down into a desired career and steps to get there, based on things that other people did.

• You may want to encourage him to get additional people as a support group. Sometimes someone else who made the transition can be helpful, or someone who has the job title that he has now, etc. Or maybe a job search meetup or a job searching group in his community. Suggestions and helpful ideas can come from everywhere.
Now there is another part of what you stated, OP, that concerns me and it sounds like the way that you may be discussing this with him (or it may be your thoughts you are typing here), but just in case here are some things to think about:

He thinks that he might have made a mistake in his major, a relatively in-demand language. I told him that it would be a good idea to find some way to utilize the degree to find a job in a related field,
A couple things. My advisor in grad school taught an intro 101 intro to a particular major class. Something that she told her students at the start of the semester (and she had survey results to show this from industry) was that 1) most people do not get jobs in their major, and this was in the sciences 2) many employers want people with college degrees, but the reasons they stated were that they wanted problem solving skills, the ability to teach oneself, etc. So if we use this perspective, having the college degree should help him. The other thing that stands out is it seems as if you may be putting your value on top of the list(what he needs to seek in a career). It shouldn't be what you on the top of the list, it should be from his own values . Maybe he wants to live somewhere else. Maybe he wants lots of money. Whatever, it is his list. Let go.As an aside, I've seen a few students become absolutely paralyzed or upset (ie, student does not like and hates biology, but parent wants them go to into medicine. Student is failing bio classes, but is afraid to quit because the parent wants A. One student that overcame this was able to verbalize and tell her mother "Do you want me to do your career? Or do you want me to be happy? I'm not happy")- where I am going wit this is that he may want a voice that is either supportive, or don't say anything, but a judgement (it needs to be X) may paralyze him. H already sounds paralyzed

Another day he said he was interested in composing videogame music. I know he is a competent pianist and enjoys videogames, and I know he composes that kind of music in his free time, but it is such a 180 from his degree that I have a hard time taking him seriously. Is it even possible to make a living doing that? Are you saying this to him? Are any of these ideas going through to him in how you say it ("hard time taking him seriously"). He may not make as much money as you would like, which are your values, but it may be what he wants. Again, let him pick his values for his new career. H may succeed/he may fail, but he will only find out if he tries. Don't put a limiting box around him. Other people will try to put him in boxes.

• Don't squash his ideas as soon as says them. Try to search through and find some of the job ask metafilter questions. Occasionally you will see someone ask "Can I get into X as job?" and 10 people will pile on and say how they couldn't do it, therefore, no one can do it. It shuts the conversation. Rather, let him try. He may find a way to get there (remember, he will talk to people who got that particular job). Maybe he will decide it is not worth a certain cost. But let him decide career X is open to him or not. To be honest, stating "you can't" is limiting a person into a box. Maybe they can, maybe they can't, or maybe they don't want to--- but let the person try and decide.

• Another thought that may be paralyzing both of you. Everything is transient, including jobs, and including what one wants. So he may be paralyzed because he thinks that he may be making the wrong decision forever. It sounds like you are thinking that, too, OP, with the need to have it be career A or B. He can try career A for a few years. Maybe he doesn't like it, or maybe his values change. Then he can do career B. Maybe a few years from now he will decide that getting a job related to his major and money are the most important values, but you don't know until you do these things and just see how it goes.
In the meantime, while he makes a list and to pick a career, encourage him to get a throwaway job. Some income comes in. It is not forever. Having a crappy job can help you add more things to the list of "next job won't have this".
Volunteering can also help connect with other pple. It can be a cause he feels is important (maybe related to his second language skills? Again, let him pick), or it could be part of a job searching group and they help one another.

Good luck. My thoughts are with both of you.
posted by Wolfster at 8:49 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

It doesn't seem to me that the poster is coming at this from an angle of "settle down and find yourself a decent corporate job and a wife" – only that they are concerned about his seeming inability to get back on his feet after this temporary setback.

Maybe not, but "you need to get a job in your practical major field to make my investment in your college education worthwhile" is still pretty grounded in old-fashioned thinking, particularly when paired with a rejection of trying jobs that may look impractical or moving without a set career plan (as distinct from getting a job and being able to support oneself). He just got fired, and from the sound of it, he was fired from a job within his field, and his parent is batting down options outside of that field. I don't think that's going to help his paralysis any, particularly if what he really wants to do is left of the center of his parent's goals for him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2013

First of all, if he has ADD, nothing else is going to work until that is treated. Not even "obsessive passion". Do you know how it feels to be obsessively passionate about something and yet unable to stop yourself from screwing it up? Fucking terrible, that's how. IANAD but he needs to see a specialist in ADD who will help him get the right meds in the right dosage.

Also, it's my understanding that many antidepressants given to someone with untreated ADD will worsen the ADD. So when I say he needs to get the ADD treated, I'm saying it in 50-foot letters of fire. TREAT THE ADD. The ADD? Treat it.

Number two, getting fired almost certainly shattered his sense of self and competence. He may have made mistakes as a direct result of the ADD and gotten fired because of them. If that's the case, it will have confirmed the feeling of being globally, fundamentally incompetent and flawed that comes with having ADD. I remember this feeling very well and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. [1]

Number three, the job-hunting process is psychologically horrifying, even for me, even now, and I have gotten so good at it that I am usually able to land extremely enviable jobs very quickly. It is still stressful beyond measure because of the combination of providing for yourself AND PROVING YOUR WORTH AS A PERSON. If you fail at it, you are not only a worthless person, you are a worthless person who can't provide for himself. [2]

I wonder, have you yourself had many job-hunts throughout your life? In recent years? It may be that he has not yet learned from experience that this is just how it is; that in order to reach the Magical Land of Employment you must first claw your way through the Terrifying Forest of Rejection and Self-Doubt and critters with eyes that glow red in the dark and plants that snap at you with teeth. The book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" emphasises the point that job-hunting is NOTHING BUT a process of rejection, until it ends. Many people are so unable to cope with rejection that they give up very quickly, and no matter how tough you are, being rejected hundreds of times over is going to hurt. I have so much experience of this that I fully understand, now, that not being hired and/or interviewed for a job says nothing about me or my employability in general, but that understanding was a long time coming and most people who have not had my experiences do not really grasp that reality.

So, your son now has to do an overwhelmingly difficult task over and over again, day after day, at a time when his belief that success is at all possible, let alone something he deserves, is at an all-time low. And yet THAT IS WHAT HE ABSOLUTELY MUST DO NOW. There really is no other way. He is going to spend the rest of his life like this (and it will rapidly become much worse) if he doesn't.

A lot of people have picked up on the idea that he shouldn't be thinking too much in terms of what he wants to do with his life and that he should take "any job". Others have said that taking "any job" will reinforce a mentality of desperation and kill his morale far into the future.

Here is what I think: contemplating his career and what he wants to do is a distraction from what he needs to do, which is build job skills and establish the ability to earn a living. To this extent, I agree with the advice to take "any job", but not JUST any job. Even at my most desperate, I know that I wouldn't cope with doing something like, say, bar work, so I have never applied to do bar work and most likely would never attempt it unless it were literally the last thing standing between me and disaster. Factory work I can do, but not without crying into the assembly line and counting up to 360 so that five minutes will have passed and I only have to do that 11 more times this hour and 95 more times today. So factory work is something of a last resort for me too.

Office work, on the other hand, I can stand. I don't find it fulfilling, but I come from a working-class background so the idea of liking one's work is somewhat unreal to me - and yet, at this point in life, I do like my work, and who would have thought it. But I wouldn't have been in a position to do it if not for the succession of unfulfilling jobs that went before. Without trying to insist that he put himself through hell, you should emphasise that he should not expect to enjoy the first few jobs he has.

Also, when I say "take any job," I say this with the full understanding (that many people do not have) that a job is not simply something you take because you decide to have it. You always have to convince a gatekeeper to give it to you. A part-time job in a hardware store is not any more mine "for the taking" than a postdoc at MIT would be. Basic jobs will probably be very difficult to get. This means he is going to have to apply for between one and ten vacancies every day, six days a week, and keep track of the applications and follow them up. There are people who apply for one job at a time, wait to hear back, and are emotionally devastated when their application is not even acknowledged. This is not how you do it. You apply, follow up to confirm that the application was received (you may never get confirmation, but you have to try) and you move on. Only when I get interviews do I stop applying, and I only stop so that I can devote my time to preparing for the interview. Once I have had the interview I send my thank-you notes and immediately apply for the next job; I do not hang around in emotional attachment to the outcome. Also, I never leave a job interview without first asking "When can I expect to hear from you?" and "If I haven't heard from you by then, may I contact you?" And then I put these things in the thank-you note: "As discussed, I look forward to hearing from you by close of business on Friday, after which I will be in touch if I do not hear from you first." I do not post angstful questions to the green about "I haven't heard from them and it's Friday, should I continue to hold out hope?" NO if I haven't heard from them and it's Friday, the answer was no. [3] I also don't ask "I've been waiting to hear about this interview I attended six weeks ago, did I get the job or didn't I?" whereupon I get replies "oh but it's a job in [academia | the beauty industry | clam fishing], it'll probably take them at least six years to get their act together, I wouldn't panic just yet! Hang in there and keep waiting by the phone! Staring at it. Willing it to ring. Pin your hopes on this job, and this job alone." Nope. I do not wait six years for any employer to bestir themselves, I get a timeframe and I go by it and he who hesitates is lost.

So what I am saying is that your son's priority should be to find a job that does not demoralise him unduly, and do that for a decent length of time. Because of his inexperience, he should beware of mistaking a merely boring job for a demoralising one; I have had the benefit of working in some truly toxic environments so my appreciation of the difference is great. An especial hazard for people with ADD is that people say "oh come on, what you need is obsessive passion for your work! The reason it's so difficult is because the tasks are beneath you! Just get yourself a creative job with a corner office and a door and get a secretary to take care of the details and you'll be fine!" This advice was not nearly as helpful to me as proper treatment and mastering the ability to take care of the details myself. Not every person with ADD will ever be able to handle details well, and I'm not going to say you can master anything if someone forces you to... just don't encourage him into the opposite pitfall.

Oh and? The ADD? Treat it.

p.s. Treat the ADD.

[1] Especially since (and I hate to admit it) my worst enemy is probably not globally, fundamentally incompetent and flawed. It's not generally in the nature of humans to be so.

[2] Which, come to think of it, was my worst fear when I was your son's age; it's a precarious time of life.

[3] Except that my current job hired me the following morning. I still officially gave up hope at 5pm the day before and was in full swing preparing for my next interview when they emailed me.
posted by tel3path at 11:01 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have three friends whose sons have all come home to live with their mother because they're depressed and can't find a job that "suits them." Two of the boys, with two different mothers, are in their 30s; my other friend, in her mid 70s, has a 44-year-old son and a 39-year-old son, both of whom live with Mom and neither of whom have earned a dime in at least five years.

All these men spend their days on the computer - gaming, I guess. Their mothers feed them, shelter them, clothe them, give them spending money - and all have learned that asking anything in return - like yard work or help around the house or car repair (even though one of the men is a good mechanic) - is pointless. One of the women is in her mid 70s! and working full-time as a caregiver through an elder-care service. Another of the women is in her mid 50s and also a caregiver with the same service, and the third woman is in her 60s, on Social Security - she does some medical transcription for a private agency to help keep food on the table.

I'm one of those awful old Baby Boomers, just like the three women I'm describing. I can't tell you how many times in my early work life I had to take whatever job I could get and do the job without complaining just to get a good reference for the hopefully better job I'd get later. Very often I had to work two jobs, one full-time and one part-time, just to pay the rent and take care of my children. I got $50 a month in child support, when he paid it at all - there was no agency then to force him to pay up other than hauling him to court, which I couldn't afford. I was never on food stamps, though, never had to use any "welfare" resources - I was lucky enough to be able to keep myself employed, usually by keeping my mouth shut, taking a lot of harassment, sexual and just plain mean (no laws against that, either, then), working overtime for no pay, and doing the crap no one else would do - cheerfully.

And there were a hundred or more nights I cried myself to sleep and wondered what on earth I did wrong to end up with bills I couldn't pay and no way I could send my kids to camp when all their friends got to go, and I couldn't find anyone to love me - only to use me, etc. ad infinitum. And I was a female in my 20s and 30s. I didn't go home to Mother because my mother wasn't someone you went home to - you got away from home asap instead. I did have some friends and some outstanding bosses and coworkers who helped keep me grounded, but it was hard, honey - real hard. One other thing: I tried to never quit a job until I had another job waiting for me; there were a couple of times that that failed, but overall it was a good policy.

I was depressed, but not clinically depressed, off and on. The clinical major depression hit in my mid 50s when I was struggling with physical illness.

I understand that depression and low self-worth makes it nearly impossible to function; therapy is needed, and probably medication. But - I have a real problem with the idea that it's okay to go home to live with Mom - at her expense - until the right job/career comes along and finds you. It's not working for the Moms of three men I know, anyway.

As far as having paid for your son's education - the education he's not interested in anymore - well, write that off - it's gone. And every parent has paid some huge amount of money out for a lost cause for at least one of their kids - it's the part of parenting they don't tell you about. Your son needs to get a therapist, yes, but he also needs to get a job - just a plain old job, where he has to get out of bed every day and punch a clock and do the work and follow the rules and collect his paycheck. When he truly gets sick of such drudgery, if he can't go home to Mom, he'll figure out how to find the right career and work toward that goal until he achieves it. And if he puts enough effort into it and plays his cards right, he'll be able to put an end to the drudgery.

I know one woman who had four kids - good kids, all of them. But as soon as the last one had left home, she and her husband moved into a small mobile home in an "over-50" park - precisely to avoid having to let their kids move back home when life got tough.

I'm sorry you're going through this, and also sorry for your son. I just look at the situation a little differently from many of the other commenters here. Good luck to you both.
posted by aryma at 12:31 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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