When a Lost Career Means a Lost Self

Looking for a self

It may be that we don’t realize how much self-worth we derive from our work until we’re shown the door. It’s a dizzying sensation. And when you realize your age means you won’t ever get another job like the one you lost, it’s a punch in the chest. At this age, it feels like Death approaching, or like you’re ready to just be blown off the face of the earth.

It’s been your career. It’s been who you are. So who are you now?

After I posted my first gig-economy article in dadinautumn, I received comments in which I could hear the desperate echoes of this very question. I gather that many of us feel this loss of self as we’re dumped out of our careers. Saddened as I was by some of the comments, honestly, it made me feel less like there was something wrong with me.

So there are two things that should be said.

If you’re flirting with the idea that there’s something wrong with you, some way in which you’re failing, that’s not what’s going on. What’s happened/happening to you has happened to many of us. We’re not actually losers, it’s just that in this economy, at this time of life, this happens. It’s not about you or me at all. Of course the financial issues are real, and do have to be dealt with. But feeling useless and defeated only robs you of the energy you need to move forward again.

Here’s the second thing: You never were just your job. Who are you? The same self you’ve always been, except smarter and with a clearer view of The Big Things in life. (These are the upside of aging.) A career was an easy thing to point at and say, “That’s who I am,” but it was just a convenient simplification. The truer answer is harder to wrap your hands around. It would have been—and continues to be—that you’re a complex and interesting human being. You’re the sum of your skills and knowledge, your relationships, love you’ve given and received, your interests, and your memories. You had value during your career, and you still have value.

When I was at my lowest, an old friend who’d been through this offered me some very shrewd advice about how to use all my own good stuff for fun and profit. I plan to share his wisdom soon.

Eyecatcher: akif mert