Two terrific forces silently conspire to undermine the equilibrium of the mid-life underemployed. The first is the economic fear of watching one’s savings diminish in the absence of meaningful employment. The second is the related, private shame of unemployment. It is easy to forget one’s lifetime career of productive economic support for self and family in the self-condemnation of prolonged redundancy. Taking active measures to combat this destructive cycle becomes a psychological imperative every bit as necessary as generating ongoing economic support.
Mid-life underemployment attacks the hard-won foundations of personal identity. We forget not only the pride of accomplishment, but also our thrilling consolidations of learning necessary to achieve our former career goals. How do we reverse the trend? It becomes necessary to labor toward two goals: the first is external; the second is internal.
Externally, we need to detach from the firm resolve to find work in our own fields. Prolonged waiting in silence to hear a positive response from our applications for new positions is toxic. We need to re-examine all of our skillsets, not just the ones which have once productively defined us. And we need to relax our pride, in order to find something- anything- that produces cash flow.
Internally, we need to invest in psychological “flow”. We must find avenues of self-generated activity that not only challenge our capabilities but also locate these activities both within our own control and with concrete, immediate feedback. Playing an instrument, meditating, writing a poem, embarking on a course of weight training—- each of these represents the subjective reclamation of one’s purpose and worth.
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