Whether you take pride in your work and it’s your life’s passion or you are simply putting in time as an means to an end, the truth is that once you leave your workplace, be it forced or not, you will be readily replaced unless your position becomes obsolete. Knowing that, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how and why we spend the majority of our time doing what we are doing.
Most of us who are middle-aged especially know that there is always the possibility of someone younger, more eager with less seniority who could take over at any time. The latter lack of experience being of benefit to employers cost-wise and from the standpoint that it usually means the employee is more mouldable. In this day and age, long-term careers, benefits and pensionable jobs are becoming fewer and far between to reduce overall operating expenses and, of course, technology is replacing people all the time. The younger generations are being warned that adaptability will be the key to their employability as society continues its swift transition from a once-known age of industrialization to one of an obvious digital, ever-evolving nature. Whether or not that is a good thing in some respects remains to be seen; nonetheless digitalization is where we are all headed, like it or not. Indeed, the notion of work is changing at a fast-pace and if you can’t keep up or you don’t have the proper skillset, you will likely find yourself in an unfavourable position to generate enough income to support you and your loved ones until the end of time. Rumours are that rainy day funds and out & out ownership of houses and vehicles for civilians will be a thing of the past leaving our youth indebted more than ever before. As the cost of living rises and industries’ landscapes change to keep up with the times, businesses/corporations, if even still needed, are constantly looking for ways to cut corners often affecting manpower and wages, especially at the lower levels of the organizations.
In the midst of all of the changes as a collective people in the western world, we are also facing a baby boomer population whom have already retired or will soon be retiring. I happen to know of a few of these people myself, be it family, friends, or now former colleagues. Some of them have thrived since entering their new phase of life and they are ecstatic at finally being able to reap the benefits of all of their hard work; the kind of person that we likely all aspire to be when our time to exit the workplace comes. Others that I know have fallen ill (or worse) or their spouses or a close loved one have, and they have been faced with a less than desirable situation. A few have decided to explore other interests or talents and have taken up a new job, hobby or volunteer position to fill their extra time. Yet again, the odd person appears lost and despondent during their post-employment years and you wonder if they have a sense of regret over leaving though for some, it was clearly not a choice. My point being that our retirement years aren’t always what we envision for ourselves after our many decades of contributing to the common economic good, but sooner or later, we will all get there. Even in my present situation of being off of work on medical leave, I can relate to a feeling of disconnect from my so-called former life as a once professionally, employed gal. So then, who are we beyond our ‘productive’ years?
WHY WE ARE KILLING OURSELVES
Regardless of the reason for being a part of the unemployed population, young and old alike, what has struck me the most is how quickly replaceable we all are at the end of the day. While some individuals could care less about things prior to and after they leave, most of the people that I know generally like their work and feel attached to their cause for one or more reasons. In fact, in my particular field (though I KNOW that there are countless others), I have seen many give endlessly of their blood, sweat and tears. My question to ponder is, why? Why do so many of us feel compelled to compromise so much of our personal lives and sometimes even our own health? Aside from the notorious paycheque that we all aim to earn, essential to our living, what is it that we really think we are going to gain for all of our extra efforts? Sure, in many instances, the more time you put in and the higher the ladder you climb, generally the more you make, but at what cost and is it really worth it in the end? Maybe it is. Likely there is no one single answer to that.
In retrospect, outside of getting paid, a lot of my early dedication to my career had to do with my ego in thinking that I was somehow irreplaceable as well as my inherent nature to please and do a thorough job. While I got many accolades not outwardly sought after and became very good at what I did, I was way too absorbed in the professional me versus the personal me and the personal me was suffering. Thankfully ten years in, after some life-altering events for me and my loved ones (my relationship break-up, my dad’s heart attack, etc.), I began to change that very unbalanced equation by reducing my work week to four days, but not everyone has that option obviously. While very passionate about what I do, which often blurs the healthy line of a work/life balance, I now know that for me part of the reason that I poured my heart and soul into my work was because it was a great distraction from myself. Conveniently, I never had enough time to truly develop personally nor did I really need to because Sue, the employee, had her own identity and subsequent life which appeared to fill the void of the real Sue. You see, in keeping with the idea that I needed to throw myself fully into my job to do it well, I could meanwhile escape my past demons (we all have them!) and protect myself from future ones, or so I thought. It is definitely one way to live your life, but what happens when the work chapter of your life is over, and you can no longer define yourself that way. Who are YOU then? Do you even recognize that person or the person you thought you would or want to be? How do you go forward? Many of the lessons that I delved into in my late twenties/early thirties, after reducing my crazy hours, were borne out of not wanting to wake up some day wondering just who exactly I was. Time is not to be squandered while we are here and I wanted to live my life authentically in the same way that I had repeatedly advised others. My rather large, extended family which was beginning to diminish in size by that point in life added fuel to the fire. I was past due in actively trying to figure out who the real me was and how I could contribute to this life, my life, beyond the four walls in which the employed Sue resided.
I think a lot of parents face a similar dilemma of self-discovery when their grown children move away from home–it is usually referred to as, “the empty-nest syndrome”. Some marriages, children or not, have even been known to dissolve as each person realizes that they have been privy to a different persona throughout their relationship and that their true selves have become buried or not fully realized in lieu of time focused on others; again, a good distraction from one’s self. It can be an abrupt and mournful time when we are ‘no longer needed’ in our lives in the way that we had identified with for so long, be it as an employee or as a parent or as a spouse even, but it can also be one of the most positive, meaningful phases if we allow ourselves to truly move through it. The problem is that fear of the unknown often holds us back from either moving on and/or from doing the necessary work within. While learning that we are somewhat disposable, if you will, isn’t exactly the most enticing notion in the world, it can also be the most liberating if you really think about it. Imagine no longer feeling like you are a slave to others or to a life lived outside of yourself! Not every minute of our waking hours need be devoted elsewhere. In fact, we all might be better served from a societal standpoint if we didn’t do that for a plethora of reasons. Just stop and take a good look around and you’ll know what I am talking about. Instead, what if we all invested in ourselves in the same, intentional way that we do at work, or with our kids or our spouse? Many of us have no idea how that would look because we are ‘too busy’ looking to things outside of ourselves.
TIME FOR SELF-REFLECTION
Naturally, it can be a bit of a blow to one’s self-esteem to think that we are not as important as we think we are given our inherent replaceability factor when it comes to our job and/or sometimes our relationship(s). However, it is not new to us to hear the phrases around the fact that true happiness and life purpose must come from one’s self; no one or nothing can provide that for us contrary to how most of us operate. Now, I am not saying that work can’t make you happy or fulfilled–mine does and it is very much a part of my life’s passion, but I am saying that I think we spend far too much time absorbed in it and other things. After all, we are just a number with a finite length of time to give and when our time is up, there is a very good chance that we ourselves, along with our hard work, will be readily cast aside in lieu of the latest, greatest or youngest. If we give our everything during our most productive years, what is left for our ‘golden years’? Time and again, we are aware of how quickly life circumstances change and we readily see people and things come and go from our lives, yet our egos seem to dictate a false sense of self-importance in the role we play or think we must play in the world around us. Why give all of ourselves away if we can be so quickly dismissed and disregarded in the end? I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic. I mean, let’s be honest…very few individuals on this earth get recognized for their efforts beyond their living years, yet look at how many people go until they can’t go anymore. For who? For what? Why? Those are the questions that we really need to examine and if it’s for some sense of validation or recognition of our self-worth, which it often is either consciously or subconsciously, perhaps we ought to re-think the path that we are on and some of our habits. Even if we feel that our work makes a real difference to others, which is noble and often our line of defense when challenged, don’t we deserve the chance to ask ourselves if what we are doing is really, truly, making a difference for us, as individuals? If it is, then great. If not, then it’s due time to figure out what our next steps should and will be. As they say, “There’s no time like the present.”