Alcoholic prisoner may have a calling

Dear Joan:
I was certainly impressed with your article about being your own career manager. I've tried to succeed many times in life and I always end up giving up. Right now I am incarcerated in a prison in a recovery program for alcohol use. I totally gave up and turned to a life of crime because I became frustrated with life altogether. I am struggling through classes to get my GED so I can go farther in life.

I like the part in your article where you said, "Never get too full of yourself. Cocky, arrogant people set themselves up to fail." I've done that for many years. I'm in a good recovery program and I don't want to set my goals too high so I fail again but deep down inside I want to be a good person, and a successful one at that.

I would like to ask you if you could give me some insight on what type of career I could get into that would be profitable to not only myself but others. One that would not look too hard on my past record but be willing and understanding that I want to better myself so I'm not only productive in society but also respected.

What type of information could you give me on a substance abuse counselor? I not only could keep myself in a recovery based setting most of the time, but also can help someone else at the same time.

I'm career-minded and have strong self-will in my life right now and I just need insight on where to start. Thank you for your time.

I think your idea of being a substance abuse counselor makes a lot of sense. Your past struggle with alcohol has given you insights that a non-alcoholic could never have. And being in a recovery setting would help you sustain your personal goals. The place to start is with the people who run your recovery program. Ask them for information and names of other similar organizations outside the prison, so you can contact them for information.

Besides counseling, there are many other jobs in health care settings and non-profit organizations that would enable you to do good work for others while you help yourself. The key to all of them is your attitude, education and determination.

Getting your GED is the smartest thing you can do right now. But your GED may not be enough to get you the kind of job that will give you a good income and a new life. Most jobs related to counseling require a college degree or at least a technical degree. Even though it's a struggle to get your GED, you may find it's actually easier getting a technical degree in the area you're interested in because the courses you take will be related to your job-related goal.

Your attitude and determination will be even more important. I'm sure you're learning in your recovery program how important self-esteem is. Low self-worth is at the heart of many failed dreams and sidetracked careers. One of the best ways to build your self- esteem is to start having little successes that lead to bigger successes. Even though you're in prison, there may be ways you can begin to accomplish small goals. Goals that help you accomplish something constructive while helping others will create an inner strength that will help you to gain confidence.

When I wrote about not getting too cocky or arrogant I meant those people who think they're better than other people because they've accomplished more things. It's equally dangerous to set yourself up for failure by setting a goal that is almost impossible to achieve in the short run.

There is nothing wrong with setting a lofty goal as long as you don't sabotage yourself in the process. For this reason, I suggest that you make a list of goals that will take you in the right direction and as you accomplish this list, you'll have many options. The risk of setting only one, big goal is that it will be all or nothing. Why set yourself up with this black or white thinking?

Most successful people have an idea of where they'd like to end up but know they will never get there unless they take some smaller steps. For example:

1.      Complete my GED

2.      Find out about at least three different kinds of counseling careers by writing to people who do these jobs

3.      Pursue ways to reach beyond the walls of the prison to start helping people before I get out.(For example, write letters to other recovery programs, adolescent treatment centers, and other related organizations. Tell them what you are trying to do and ask them how you can help them from where you are. You may be surprised at the response you get and the influence you can have.) No one can spell out the consequences better than someone who has been there. And there are many people who can learn from what you have to say.

Finally, I think your letter has already helped anyone who is reading it. Your personal courage and desire to change your life is an inspiration for all of us.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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