You Are Not Your Job

Dear Paulo, I’m one of the large number of people here in the city who lost an executive job several months ago. At age 55 this is the first time in my life I have ever been fired for anything. I haven’t found other work since, and have been turned down for things for which I was highly qualified. Even an unpaid internship! Do you have any insights into a situation like this? Thank you.

– Judi from Manhattan

Judi: I have much empathy for your jarringly painful situation, and some insights (you’re in such a difficult transition, I hope you can receive them). Most economists agree that we are in for a relatively long period of high unemployment. This could mean a big adjustment to someone who loses a job before you are financially ready for retirement, during a time when your entire industry segment may be shrinking. In any case, no matter what the situation, it only ever makes sense to focus on the things you can change. The larger economy is not one of those.

The only operative question is what you can change. Well, this is certainly an opportunity to change your identification with the past, with what you’ve done, or even the reasons you were doing it. You are not your job … and you are most emphatically not the jobs you’ve had in the past. Your dreams and desires can also be under your control and, although it may not be easy to let go of habitual patterns, they are subject to change too. It may be time to let go of what you thought you wanted, possibly including location and lifestyle.

Those of us who live in the first world are going to have to start consuming less, because our planet cannot support our deficit consumption. In her new book, “Plenitude — the New Economics of True Wealth” (a great book), professor Juliet Schor points out that “business as usual” is coming to an end, and how we need to better leverage our “true wealth” which lies in the value of our time, relationships, knowledge, creativity, community and nature. Look at what your beliefs and values have been up to now, and be willing to change them. Look at what you have identified with, and change that too. If you can let go of the past and find new sources of strengths within you, trust that you will find an opening for something new and surprising!