Section 6: Aspiration

Aspiration:

We want those who proceed through our training programs at Straight-A Guide Staffing to understand the purpose of our services. Although we strive to provide a bridge for the formerly incarcerated to transition into the labor market, those who use our services must recognize our limitations. Our organization helps individuals cross over obstacles that separate many formerly incarcerated individuals from employment, yet individuals serve themselves well when they visualize higher levels of success.

Entry-level positions do not represent ends, but beginnings. We serve formerly incarcerated individuals by helping them visualize higher levels of success. First jobs provide a toehold, but individuals should look to climb higher. Sometimes the first job may pay the minimum wage or perhaps slightly higher. Rather than celebrating the wage, individuals on the Straight-A Guide celebrate the fact that they’ve broken into the labor market. By breaking into the labor market, individuals understand that they’re taking steps toward their aspiration.

In the context of our Straight-A Guide, aspiration represents a vision individuals have for their future. When we train our mind to visualize success, we clarify thoughts. That exercise propels us from current circumstances to the reality that we want to create.

The literature we use to teach our course illustrates aspirations that Michael Santos used to empower himself through 26 years of incarceration. Michael wrote that at the very start of his journey, he visualized the way that he wanted to return to society. He aspired to return to society as a law-abiding citizen, and that aspiration dictated every choice he made while climbing through 9,500 days of imprisonment. The aspiration of how he would emerge from prison brought the strength he needed to sustain a high level of energy and discipline even though rewards would not come for decades.

The Straight-A Guide suggests that we can profit from using those same techniques when we begin on an entry-level job. Rather than complaining about how difficult or challenging the job may be, or wishing that employers were paying us more money, we should recognize the job as a toehold, a step in the right direction. Once we secure a job, whether through Straight-A Guide Staffing Solutions or by a direct hire with an employer, we must develop ourselves for increasing levels of responsibility. The more we work to develop our skill sets, the more value we can add to the enterprise that employs us. As we add more value, we enhance our prospects for promotion.

To sustain discipline and energy while working on entry-level jobs, we muse see the connection between the personal investments we make today and the success we aspire to create in our future. The harder we work on ourselves, the more likely we become to turn those aspirations into realities. The following questions may help to clarify your aspiration. Please answer the following questions. (One of our Straight-A Guide graduates who advanced from an entry-level job to a career that now pays him a livable wage provides answers that you may use as an example.):

How does an entry-level job relate to the long-term goals that you’ve set for your life?

When I concluded my prison term I had a really difficult time finding any type of employment. I served nine years in prison and I didn’t have any references when I was released. Despite turning in numerous job applications, I had a hard time finding an employer who would talk with me once I disclosed my criminal history. I wanted to work in sales, but since no one was hiring me for a sales position, I took anything I could find. I had to start somewhere. Finally, I landed a job in a restaurant. A manager hired me as a busboy. Besides bussing tables, I stayed busy by cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping the floor, even picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot. The restaurant job paid minimum wage and at first glance, it didn’t seem to relate to a sales-oriented job.

Tell us why you would welcome work at an entry-level wage?

One of the reasons that I wasn’t able to land a sales job was that I didn’t have any work experience. People didn’t seem to want to hire someone who hadn’t worked before. My lack of work experience seemed to hurt me more than my prison record. I reasoned that if I took a job somewhere, I would start to develop a record of trust with someone. My goal was to develop a reference that future employers would be able to call. I was living in the halfway house at the time and I would’ve worked for free just to get that reference, so I considered earning minimum wage a bonus.

Describe steps you’re taking right now to prepare for advancement, regardless of which job that you secure?

In my case, I was willing to take any job that I could find. I saw a help-wanted sign in a restaurant window. It didn’t seem like a restaurant job would relate to my aspiration of landing a sales position, but I saw any job as an advancement in the direction of my goal. Once I landed the job, I made a commitment to arrive earlier than anyone else and to work harder than everyone else. That attitude meant that others quickly noticed me. My boss was incredibly impressed and he told me so. Eventually, he introduced me to his brother. His brother owned a hardware store. Based on the way the hardware store owner saw me working and the restaurant, and the recommendation I received, I got a job in the hardware store. That job led to my learning more about the products on the shelves. I started helping the customers. Soon those customers started to ask for me by name. Within a year of starting at the hardware store, I transitioned from stocking and cleaning to counter sales. Six months later I became an outside salesman, calling on accounts.

In what ways do those preparations relate to the aspiration that you’ve set for yourself?

I’m still preparing. Now that I’ve landed a job as an outside salesman, I introduce myself to contractors and building owners. I let them know about the products we sell and the exceptional service we can offer. Instead of representing myself as a salesman, I represent myself as a consultant. That means I’m always working to develop my communication skills. I read business books and I associate with business owners. That way I learn more about the ways that I can add value. I’m earning a good living as an outside salesman, but I know that this position can lead to my becoming a sales manager.

In what ways are the aspirations you’re setting today similar or different from aspirations you had five years ago?

Five years ago I didn’t have any aspirations at all. I only cared about getting through my prison term one day at a time. I had the wrong vision back then. In fact, I didn’t have any vision at all. The only thing I saw was prison and the years ahead of me. Once I returned to society, and I faced all of those challenges landing my first job, I realized that I had to change. Instead of looking at the job I wanted, I started to look for the job that I could get. Once I landed that first job, I used it as a steppingstone to the next job. Now I’m in a much better position. I’m determined to rise higher and I’ll seize every opportunity that comes my way as I make my way to the top.