In the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, tells the story of Travis Leach. The summarised version is that Travis had a challenging upbringing. He first saw his father overdose when he was nine. He grew up in a home with little food and even less stability. They moved frequently after landlords evicted them for not paying or having too many visitors coming and going. His mother was arrested for drug possession and prostitution. While his parents survived as functional addicts it wasn’t the most healthy of environments. On the good days his parents were passed out, on the bad they would lurch into a cleaning frenzy.
By the time Travis was 16 he had dropped out of high school. He was sick of the bullying so he moved two hours away and got a job at a car wash. However he was quickly fired for insubordination. He then got jobs at McDonalds and Hollywood Video but when customers were rude he would lose control. Sometimes he found himself so upset he would start crying in the middle of the day. He was often late and would take time off for no reason. Each morning he would promise himself that he would do better. But he couldn’t get along with people and wasn’t able to cope when people yelled at him.
One day someone suggested that he apply for a job at Starbucks. He did, got the job and within 6 years he was the manager of two Starbucks and oversaw forty employees and a revenue of $2 million per year. He is never late for work and doesn’t get upset on the job. So what happened? Why did someone who struggled to cope with normal job challenges change so dramatically that within six years he held such responsibility? Charles Duhigg explains it was Starbucks’ training program which “taught him how to live, how to focus, how to get to work on time, how to master his emotions.”
For thousands of people, often through no fault of their own, life has failed to teach them basic life skills. Starbucks recognises that and seeks to address it, giving over 50 hours of teaching in the first year and a mentor. Not every company is Starbucks. Many young people don’t get the same opportunity to turn their lives around.
And yet, such an investment into someone can make a significant difference. In Chapter 8 of When Helping Hurts, Brian Fickett and Steve Corbett talk about job preparedness ministries. They share about one ministry, Jobs for Life, which has helped 83 people get jobs. The program provides classroom training in soft skill areas such as work ethic, functioning on a team and communication skills. They also have champions or mentors that provide support and encouragement. They help connect people with suitable working environments to get started – often Christian businesses who want to serve in this way.
Many churches have a vast range of skills amongst those who attend. Would it be possible to find a team of professionals that would be willing to invest 4 hours a week for 12 weeks into teaching the soft skills needed to get and hold a job? Would there be people in the church willing to mentor? Would you be?
The testimony of Travis is a great reminder that not everyone grew up learning the same skills. For those of us who were blessed to learn skills such as how to deal with difficult people and how to handle anger, maybe we need to take time to invest into others who were not so fortunate. Who knows, you could be training the next Travis, someone who just needed some support.