By Valerie Schmalz
Out of a job? Take a little time to stop, think, pray and discern where God wants you to go next, advises Nick Synko, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based founder of Careers Through Faith.
“The first thing you need to do when faced with an unemployment situation is stop, not start,” said Synko, who also runs a for-profit career transition and out-placement firm, Synko Associates. “So often, people are caught up in a career by fear, and as Catholics, we all know where fear comes from.”
And there is plenty to worry about. Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 8.4 million jobs. A stubborn 10 percent unemployment rate is closer to 17 percent once the discouraged and marginally, or part-time, jobless are counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But Synko says don’t lose heart if your business goes under or your employer hands you a pink slip. Instead, rather than immediately sending out resumes to everyone you know, take a few weeks, get away from the computer screen, go to a coffee shop, and “get in front of the Eucharist.”
“The biggest question is not how do I get a job, but what should I be doing with the rest of my life? When you do all of those things, you actually become more focused, you learn from your silence,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
Synko builds his advice around a 2 a.m. epiphany he credits to the Holy Spirit — SAINT: Skills, Abilities, Interests, Natural Talents. “That’s just too good for me to come up with on my own. That came from him. I had no prior thought about that whatsoever; 2 o’clock in the morning that came through. Even the interest part is important, because we change as we grow,” Synko said.
Mary Lynn Bridge, a married mother of three who lost her job as a global sales manager in the 2008 downsizing of her company, is energized by Synko’s approach. After she first lost her job, an outplacement firm adviser laughed at her desire to move into nonprofit management, which was sparked by work volunteering with her company’s bingo program for patients at a local children’s hospital. But Synko’s advice has her thinking again about whether a nonprofit might be where she should go — and about exploring opportunities when out-of-state recruiters call.
Most powerful for Bridge was Synko’s advice to “listen for your call.”
“What is the one thing you are created to be? What is the one thing that, from the beginning of time, God knew you could do better than anyone else on the planet?” Bridge said. “How great would it be for everyone to know their call and their purpose!”
Synko, who also writes a career advice column for Faith magazine in the Diocese of Lansing, Mich., says jobseekers need to answer two questions: “What do you want to do to get a new job?” and “What do you know you must do even though you do not want to do it?” In his column, Synko refers to Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Synko’s parish priest asked him to help with career counseling for parishioners who were out of work, and that grew into Careers Through Faith, which he says is an example of the Second Vatican Council’s vision for lay involvement in the Church. The program is ecumenical, and has two primary approaches — a six-week evening workshop and a weekend seminar. In all cases, peer interaction is key to helping jobseekers both learn about themselves and to network. Synko begins each presentation with the Gospel parable of the talents, where the man who buried his one talent was punished and those who invested their talents were rewarded.
Synko’s parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Ann Arbor, is unusual in its longtime emphasis on workplace help as well.
“It’s a very difficult thing being out of work, but if we don’t approach it with a solid foundation, we end up doing things we don’t want to do,” pastor Father Jim McDougall said, adding that the parish’s 2,600 families have a strong outreach to the poor, and gave $45,000 to Haiti after the earthquake this year. Some parishioners donate cars that are redistributed to those who need them to get to work.
The parish held a networking event for engineers in February, one of the regular career networking and career training events that St. Francis facilitates. The parish has had unemployment support groups and events for about nine years.
“Networking is very important. One, they need to support one another, and they do make connections with one another,” Father McDougall said. “Everyone isn’t out of work, even in Michigan, even with an unemployment rate of 14 percent — that still means 86 percent of the people are working.”
“We handle this a little better walking with God, and also walking with one another, the Body of Christ, that we are with one another,” he added.
One woman, divorced with children, who had trained as a journalist, realized that her real love was biology and all her volunteer work was with children. But, Synko said, there were no jobs for teachers in her region — now she is training as a pediatric nurse and is delighted with her career choice.
Another man was randomly opening his Bible, looking for guidance, but despite numerous qualifications, was not finding work in the field he loved. Finally, he found a job far away, but in a semiarid state — after finding biblical references to the desert for a year, Synko said.
“Authenticity sells. People want the real deal,” said Synko. “If you try to become who they want you to be rather than who you are, your self won’t come through. Even your soul and your heart won’t come through. People hire people who are real, who are authentic.”
Valerie Schmalz is an OSV contributing editor.