It’s supposed to make us freak out. Especially as we get older. And the longer we’ve been in that career, the more dramatically it will play out. It’s what the “experts” say will happen. After all, if a man links his personal identity to what he does for a living, then when that job/career goes away, even if by choice, his identity goes away. Makes sense, right?
So it would also make sense that a guy would suffer from depression, anxiety, self-doubt and self-worth issues. But what if it didn’t have to happen? What if your sense of self wasn’t wrapped up in that activity you take part in? You know… the one that takes you away from home for 10, 12, even 16 or more hours every day. Maybe you love it. More likely, you hate it. Yeah. That one!
This article is specifically about how to deal with the psychological and emotional effects of losing a job in mid-life, but it applies to any area of life wherein it’s possible to feel a sense of confusion or self-doubt due to loss.
For example, a married woman often links her identity to her husband, self-identifying first as Bob’s Wife. If Bob dies or divorces her, that woman becomes lost. She questions her worth in the world, and wonders what she’s here for. What if Bob is a corporate Vice President, and she self-identifies as the wife of a corporate VP? If Bob loses his job, she loses her title!
The problem with this way of thinking is that you have NO control over when, where, how or IF these things are going to happen. How do you then deal with these possibilities? Deny, deny, deny? Stick your head in the sand and pray that nothing happens? Avoid conscious, honest evaluations of potential consequences, put on a happy face and pretend that all is well with the world? These things might sound ridiculous, but this is exactly what many people do.
Since your unconscious KNOWS you’re tying your happiness to things you have no control over (and often, not even influence), it begins to feel anxiety. The physical counterpart to anxiety is stress. Another way of saying this is that anxiety in the mind becomes stress in the body.
The body’s mechanism for dealing with stress is the release of “fight or flight” hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. But Nature designed these to be used only on a temporary basis, and they’re physically destructive.
They’re also addictive. This is why so many people find it hard (even impossible) to turn off the TV news, with its non-stop feed of shock and awe; it feeds the addiction. Prolonged stress, regardless of its source, physically breaks down your body, resulting in illness, accelerated aging, mental health problems and more. A good, simple explanation of this can be found on The Huffington Post: https://bit.ly/2ypY5NX
So, what do you do? How do you find identity, meaning and self-worth in the world? How do you find that feeling that what you do matters, if you’re no longer going to be putting that label of lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc, first? Read the full article here. Answer: learn to ask different questions of yourself about what really matters in the world.
The whole truth about your position as CEO of Widgets International is that it only truly matters to YOU. It’s a trophy. Sure, your family and friends are happy for you, but none of them would feel devastated if it was taken away from you (unless your wife is self-identifying as Mrs. CEO). Nor would they think any less of you.
The same is true if you’re a plumber, a shoe store owner, mid-level corporate manager, cowboy, gas station attendant or anything else.
What if – and I’m just asking, here – you measured your worth to the world by something other than how much money you make, or your job title? What if you measured your worth by the level of your children’s happiness, instead of their grades? Or by the quality of your friends, instead of the number? How about by the depth of the conversations you have, the effect your advice has on others (do they even ask?), or the number of times you laugh in a day?
The purpose of these questions is not to belittle financial or professional success. It’s to suggest that there are other ways of looking at your place in the world. One of the foundational principles of my writings and my work with other people is that our ultimate, unconscious goal is simply to be happier. That’s it. Everything we do is an attempt to feel better.
Circling back around to the job loss issue… It’s not a biological imperative that you get depressed if you lose your job. You could feel freed. You could feel as if they did you a favor. You could feel as if you’ve just been given the opportunity to follow your dreams.
What’s the difference between the man who suffers and the man who doesn’t? Mindset. Perspective. Viewpoint. Give it whatever name you like, but it’s all about how you see things. And how you see things is up to you. It’s 100% in your control. And 100% your responsibility.
Some people bristle at that idea. “I can’t help the way I see things. My perspective is a result of what I see around me.” The truth is actually the opposite. The things you see around you are the result of how you think about life.
Your brain filters out the data that doesn’t match what you believe, and hangs onto the evidence that reinforces your existing programs (data to support both sides of the argument is abundant at all times). The result is that you experience primarily things that validate your beliefs. So, if you want to feel better about something – anything! – start looking for a different way to see it.
Tests have shown that if two scientists conduct the same experiment, but each expects a different outcome, they are likely to get different outcomes! This shouldn’t be possible. Science is supposed to be objective, empirical, measurable, repeatable, unchanging. But reality is subjective. It is malleable. It is affected by our thoughts (and possibly even created by them).
Have you ever had some mishap early in your day – maybe you stepped on a Lego piece or broke a dish or ran out of toothpaste or the dog pooped on the floor – and decided that the rest of the day was going to follow suit? Of course you have, or you’re not human. What happened? Much of the time, the rest of your day was… crappy.
On the other hand, have you ever experienced a mishap, but decided it wasn’t going to bother you? Instead, maybe you decided that it was going to be a motivational experience. How did/would the rest of your day play out? Most of the time, a heck of a lot better than in the first scenario.
Why does this happen? There IS an answer, but you might not believe it. Or like it…
Answer: you create your reality by the way you think.
Not brick by brick, but you have far more say-so than you might expect. Today, String Theory suggests, among other things, that thoughts create things.
Thought leaders for thousands of years have said the same thing. Among them are the Greek sage Hermes Trismegistus, Buddha, Biblical writers and more. In more current history, early 20th Century writers who helped to spread the ideas include, William James, Wallace Wattles and, famously, Napoleon Hill.
Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.
~ William James
As a Man Thinketh, 1903
The reason I suggested above that you might not like this idea that your thoughts give shape to your reality is that this gives you, as stated earlier, complete control, and therefore, complete responsibility. Far too many people are resistant to the R word. Hopefully, you are not one of them, or are at least willing to try not to be.
Let’s try to put a bow on this article…
Ultimately, the only reason we do things is in pursuit of happiness/fulfillment.
We all have an inner need to contribute; to leave a mark, a legacy; to feel that our existence here will have mattered after we are gone.
Aspiring to climb the corporate ladder in the belief that it will bring happiness/fulfillment is misguided.
If you identify first as what you do for a living, you are at risk of tremendous emotional turmoil, if/when that job or career goes away, regardless of the reason.
Realizing that the value in improving others’ lives (what we’re after) can be found in everyday interactions; in intellectual discourse; in the simple lending of a hand; in doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job, even if no one else ever knows about it.
Happiness is something we bring forth from within; not something we need to find “out there” someplace.