Losing one’s job is often an emotionally and financially devastating experience. It threatens to undermine our identity and to shake the very foundations of our lives – like an unexpected earthquake. Suddenly, with no warning, it seems anyone can find themselves unemployed – no matter how much education or experience one has in a chosen field.
And it is not just the economic devastation that is so difficult. In western society, our idea of who we are and where we fit in is very much tied to the work we do. Sometimes, one needs to transition to an entirely new field. And, for older workers, this can make it especially difficult to find their way back into the employment market. On the other end of the spectrum, new graduates, letting go of their “student” identity, often experience frustrations finding employment in a competitive market at the stage when they are just beginning to shape their “career” identity.
Not surprisingly, therefore, loss of employment can be bad for health – particularly for men. A 2014 study from the UK reveals that unemployed men are twice as likely as women to experience serious mental health problems, such as depression, as well as physical health issues. To counter this inner crisis, many experts in this field advocate counselling, exercise and other ways for keeping upbeat about one’s situation. This may be helpful to some, but really does not get to the heart of the problem – i.e. the feeling that you’ve lost not only a job but also your identity.
I saw this clearly when I worked as an employment counsellor in London, England, during a period of high unemployment. Every day the lines grew longer. As I viewed those lines each morning, I determined that every one of the individuals I met with, would leave knowing that I cared about their situation. However, I soon discovered that all the human counselling in the world, helpful though it may have been, was often just not enough. Despite my careful listening and support, depression and desperation set in for many with whom I worked, if new employment was not found quickly.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
People are always seeking to define their identity and to understand its source. We see this search as a way of finding a sense of belonging, status or an understanding of our place in the world. But the danger of tying our identity to an education, a career, or to a temporary state, such as where we live or work, our finances, or even to leisure activities and relationships, means that it is vulnerable to loss at any moment.
Well aware of mankind’s search for a personal identity, Mary Baker Eddy saw man’s nature quite differently. She placed it firmly in the opposite direction – within the Divine – and wrote:
“Man is the expression of Soul,” which she viewed as one of the Biblical names for God or the Divine.
To begin here is liberating. Instead of thinking of who we are as narrowly defined by the human self and at the mercy of external activities, such as employment, we can discover a nature that is divinely defined, and find qualities and abilities we had not previously realized. That discovery can lead us to new opportunities in work.
I experienced a simple example of this while growing up. Early on, I accepted the notion, “not good at math – in fact terrible,” as part of my identity. I even joked about it in a self-deprecating manner. This view of my abilities limited me in so many ways. However, there came a time when I decided to challenge this. Rather than seeing intelligence as personal and limited, I began to think of it as a reflection of Soul – and therefore unlimited. I won’t say that I became a math genius – overnight, or ever – but I no longer feared math or believed that my math abilities limited or defined me in any way. The result was far greater job opportunities than I could ever have imagined, and I actually grew to rather enjoy math.
Jobs will come and go. It is the nature of our industrialized and information age societies that, as new inventions appear, old ways of doing things disappear, and with them some jobs disappear and new opportunities appear.
So, equipping ourselves with a broader, more spiritual sense of identity that is able to adapt and expand in new and exciting ways is key. And when that identity is seen as a reflection of the Divine, it is no longer fragile and subject to the vagaries of human existence, but grows and develops, bringing with it fresh opportunities and adventures.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE