Can a 12-Step Program Solve Your Unemployment Woes?

By Juliette Fairley

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) --Although Kerri Gibbs is an award-winning painter who even appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to paint portraits of Letterman and Oprah Winfrey, she joined a 12-step program known as Underearners Anonymous because she isn't getting paid what she deserves.

"There are a lot of traditional portrait artists who earn a really good living, asking two, three and even four times as much as I do," said Gibbs, whose full-body child portraits sell for $10,500 a piece. "I don't charge more, because I fear I will price my clients out even though my work is worth double the price."

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Originally from Australia, Gibbs worked ten-hour days in Melbourne first as a freelance photo retoucher in the advertising industry before moving to New York to work in publishing and now portraiture.

"Despite my success, my income was dropping, and I couldn't understand why I wasn't earning enough despite my god given talent that everyone recognizes," she said. "Underearners Anonymous is my last stop."

Underearners Anonymous, quite simply, is a 12-step fellowship fashioned after Alcoholics Anonymous that helps men and women overcome underearning traps, which include procrastination, accepting low paying jobs, overworking, perpetual unemployment and putting off career advancement.

Founded on October 16, 2005 with 18 members in a church in Nyack, NY the organization has gone global with presence in 32 cities and countries, including Israel, the U.K. and Iceland.

At a meeting on a recent Thursday night at the Realization Center in the Union Square area of Manhattan, a group of 20 men and women sat in chairs making up a circle. Members talked of being trapped in an "underearning continuum", the "collective underearning" in the world and "prosperity as a consciousness" that can be attained through 12-step work.

"There are some areas in human life where 12-step meetings can make a difference but it's not a panacea for everything," said Vanessa N. Weber, a licensed therapist with a master's in social work who has counseled alcoholics and other addicts in Westbrook, Conn. "Certain 12-step programs can help you show up, take responsibility and participate in your life instead of blaming others. They can also help you get support to take actions and help you be more honest so that employers, friends and family can trust you,"

But with the U.S. unemployment rate at 7.6%, there is still a need for people to boost their earning prospects. Still, Weber warns against a focus on money.

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"If you're unemployed, that's where a 12-step program can make a difference," Weber said. "But claiming that Undereaners Anonymous can make you 'rich' makes me nervous unless becoming wealthy is defined as becoming fully functional with gratitude, then it makes a lot of sense."

UA members like Gibbs attend three meetings a week, work with a sponsor, hold earning plan sessions for each other and act as action partners to cultivate accountability among the team.

There are now even 110 phone meetings to choose.

"I have earning plan meetings with two people that are in the program every four weeks, and they help me to identify my fears and resistance," Gibbs said. "They support me to take actions to overcome these fears and to ask for more money."

Gibbs visited the meetings for three years before officially joining UA five months ago. Since then, Gibbs secured a $16,500 painting job.

"It's the biggest commission after a one-year dry spell," Gibbs said. "UA is helping me value my worth and realize what is blocking the natural flow of prosperity into my life."

Gibbs plans to continue with the program but she's still forming her understanding of underearning as an addiction.

"An outside observer might call it laziness but it's not that easy," said Gibbs. "There's a history behind it and it's different for every member."

Reached by telephone, the founder of the group, who lives in Nyack, NY declined to reveal his identity publicly, other than to note he sells advertising by day and supplements his income as a stand-up comic at night.

"I started the group, because I knew the only chance I had in life was to overcome this addiction," he said. "I felt it was an addiction, because other parts of my life were affected by it and I couldn't stop doing it."

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