How Survival Work Supports Recovery

We are all guilty of it. We have all, at some point in our lives thought a job is beneath us. Perhaps the position had menial tasks, physical labor or a title that didn’t garner praise. Americans take ferocious pride in their work-based accomplishments. As a society, we’ve filmed movies, written books and glorified the names of those that have reached the pinnacle of success at work. While we enjoy hearing that the billionaire philanthropist started out sweeping stock rooms to pay their bills, many of us have never been forced into such a position where we had to survive on the pay of such a job.

Work Rebuilds Confidence

“Survival Jobs” as we call them in the Employment Skills class at The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center are the jobs that one takes to accomplish a single goal: to survive. Our emphasis on these jobs is not that they will start a career, but rather will offer compensation and reestablish credibility.

Survival jobs rebuild confidence by repairing the self-image of the employee and while also adding to their resume. While survival jobs are a key part of re-entry into the workforce, they are not the end goal. These jobs represent the beginning of a broader career strategy. The goal is to build a positive reputation with an employer or set the foundation for future job negotiations.

From Survival Work to Rewarding Careers

Many men in our program are afraid to negotiate. Destitution and dependency have shaken their confidence. However, a survival job allows these men to engage employers with confidence. After all, they have a job and don’t need to settle for anything less. This line of thinking casts survival jobs in a more positive light. We know that not all work is career work, but it is the work that lays the foundation for a career.

The promise of a career inspires our men in our program. Survival jobs are just one part of an overall career strategy that will help with the transition to independence. Remember, the billionaire philanthropist also started out working to survive.

About the Author

Russell Whitney volunteers at The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center where he leads a weekly employment skills class for men in recovery. Here he addresses the significance of what some would call a dead-end job for men rebuilding their lives.