Work and Life: If I Lose My Job, Who Am I?
“I get angry a lot lately,” F. 49, said, “and it seems to be getting more frequent and more intense. That just isn’t me.” F had worked for the same employer in progressively more responsible positions for well over 20 years, and had risen to upper middle management. Yet, 8 months before, he had been laid off. “I know it’s part of working today.” he told me, “No job’s secure. You have to stay flexible, and not be wedded to one employer.”
F had quickly used his business sense and people skills to land another job -– no small feat for a man of his age in today’s competitive, youth-oriented work world. But his outwardly calm, philosophical attitude didn’t stop his fists and jaw from clenching every time one of his former employer’s fleet of trucks went by. Nor did it stop his feelings of rage and devaluation when he had to interact with employees of his former company, as he did at times. F also had disrupted sleep, and his relationship with his spouse was deteriorating badly.
It became clear that there was a whole other level on which F was reacting to his job loss, which, at first, his business training told him, was “soft” and sentimental. He had lost benefits and pension that he had been relying on, requiring him to stay in the workforce for several years longer than he had planned. And his new job meant more difficult working conditions for less salary. Yet, worse, F’s job loss had taken away his identity.
F felt real accomplishment in rising to the position that he held in the organization. He was seen as capable, and respected by his peers, a valuable contributor, in a firm from which his father and his uncle had both retired. F’s trips to his father’s office as a boy had made him proud of his father’s role with the firm. It now felt almost as if he had lost a parent. And after giving 110 per cent, grueling hours, at nights and on weekends, F felt deeply betrayed.
F worked with these feelings for some time. Through artwork and dreams, gradually a deeper sense of self emerged, an identity that was much more than just his work role. He began to be able to find his own answers to questions like, “What do I really want?” “What do I really value?” and “Who is really important to me?” Gradually, he developed new interests and new passions. And above all, F came to respect those parts of himself which had been in the background for so long, and to make them a growing part of a full, rich life.