Home > Natasha Josefowitz > Turning around one’s life in the worst of times

Turning around one’s life in the worst of times

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California–“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” So starts the Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. That was 1859.

This is 2010, and it is the worst of times. We’re talking foreclosures and unemployment reaching double digits in California. We’re talking corrupt politicians and oil spills.

Besides the hard economic realities, there are psychological issues to be considered. There was a time many people lived to work as opposed to working to live. Those are the people who kept working beyond the retirement years even though there was enough wealth accumulated for several life times. Because so much of human identity is tied to the job, the role, the position, they are at a loss of what to do with their time. Loss of position frequently also means loss of colleagueship, loss of perks, loss of status. Controlling resources and people is heady, while time on one’s hands sitting at home, can lead to depression, especially for those who have been out of the house all of their adult lives.

And there are also the people who need to work in order to support their families—they work to live. This is not a matter of choice but of livelihood. Being fulfilled by your job is not a priority, making enough money is.

For some men, masculinity is tied to success; and for many, success means bringing home the bacon. The situation becomes even more difficult for some men if they cannot get work, and their wives become the main wage-earners. On the one hand, it is lifesaving to still have one earner in the family. On the other, it can be felt as demeaning or just bewildering for some men to become stay-at-home dads even if that is the best solution for the family.

And now, all of a sudden, the economy is dictating who will work and who is let go, who is looking for a job and who has given up.

So what is the solution? For the person who still was living to work and who was laid off but has the means to retire, finding volunteer opportunities in order to get involved with projects is the solution. It can be an opportunity to re-invent yourself, to change direction. For the person who had to work to make ends meet and who lost their job, there are several possibilities. One is retraining for another occupation—researching the job market , where people are still being hired. It could mean a longer commute or even moving to a different location. Chances are that you will make less money and will have to seriously cut expenses.

The devastation felt due to intense financial stress cannot be overestimated. Watching what was thought of as a secure future disappear has led to increased depression and even suicides. To make matters even worse, Bill Gallo, a research scientist at Yale University, has shown that older laid-off workers are twice as likely as those who still work to suffer strokes and heart attacks. Many don’t yet qualify for Medicare and cannot afford health insurance.

It’s indeed difficult to maintain a positive attitude while sitting in an unemployment office with no available work and going from a managerial position to a blue-collar job may not seem doable, but it is often the only opportunity that will be available with the new government push for infrastructure: rebuilding our roads, bridges, and schools.

Although the tendency is to withdraw from accustomed social interactions, it is important to maintain one’s friendships and to partake in activities that don’t cost—such as walking, or meeting friends at a park—or to find entertainment at a discount.

It is the people who don’t give up that find a way out. As hard as it is to keep a positive attitude in these dire circumstances, we must remember that we are a nation of immigrants and our ancestors crossed stormy seas and faced bleak futures in unknown and often hostile environments to learn new ways, work at jobs with no experience, and make it. If they could, so can we—after all, we have their genes.

This column appeared previously in La Jolla Village Voice

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