In less than a month, the job-training participant is ready to graduate the six month program into a job in the community.
Over the last few months, he has been a model employee who achieved much on the job after not working for 5 years because of prison and addiction. All of the sudden, the problems start. He begins to be late for work after being consistently on time. He gets into an argument at home and misses work because of a day in jail. The list of troubles grows to the point where he is fired only weeks from a successful graduation.
Self sabotage. It's a discouraging reality in employment training businesses. And, unfortunately, it is not rare. Over the years, I have seen this pattern repeat causing introspection and a loss of confidence for leaders of such projects.
But while self-sabotage happens, there are steps a program can take to lessen its prevalence and its negative effects.
As a leader, one must never take it personally when self-sabotage occurs. In a crazy way, it's actually a sign of newfound health for individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness or prison. A person who self-sabotages is an individual who has rarely experienced success in their past. Suddenly, they start achieving positive results and fear of success becomes a powerful negative force. Getting in trouble or making bad choices becomes "rational" because they find an odd security in the resulting consequences. So self-sabotage means the program is making a positive impact on a participant's life.
A powerful way to lessen the odds of self-sabotage is to prepare clients for its possibility while developing an early warning system for it. In all of our employment training businesses, we focus heavily on one-on-one mentorship of our clients because life-on-life relationships are the best way to overcome the challenges facing people rebuilding lives. In the context of these meetings, it is important to start talking about what success looks like soon after someone joins the program. We have people write down their life story and what they would like to accomplish in the future. This gives our program staff the opportunity to identify patterns that could lead to self-sabotage. They discuss ways to avoid it in the future by reminding individuals of what they want to accomplish in their life. We talk about how important it is to finish strong in any job because even the best employee can slip into destructive "short-timer" disease when nearing the end of a job.
A temptation of employee-training programs is to lessen the one-on-one meetings with a client as they near graduation because of the mistaken belief that the individual needs less attention than someone new to the program and the desire to transition him into self-sufficiency. That is a mistake. Instead, projects need to increase support over the course of one's time in the program, particularly in one-on-one meetings and community gatherings, in order to fight the possibility of self-defeating behaviors.
Finally, self-sabotage doesn't always have to be a negative outcome. Even when it does happen, it can provide opportunities to make big positive impacts on someone's life. Personal growth is never a linear process, especially for individuals trying to overcome addiction. Mistakes often create growth in the future. If a faith-based employment training business is truly making an impact, slip-ups provide just enough pain that someone doesn't want to lose the positives they have been experiencing. So they then find strength to quickly change direction and return to moving forward with their life and career.
Over the years, we have story after story of individuals who ended their time with us badly only to return later to apologize and to share how they got back on track because of their faith and our program. In the end, it's truly a thing of beauty to watch how God pursues and helps lives to flourish even in the midst of our mistakes.