By Melba Newsome
No one told Muriel to give up her law practice to her younger cousin. She just thought, at age 62, it was time to sleep in a couple of times a week, travel with her husband and read the stacks of books that had accumulated on the floor of her family room.
Marc Cahail survived the first round of cuts at his manufacturing company, and his employer assured the staff that there would be no more layoffs. Six months later, the 60-year-old customer service rep found himself in the ranks of the unemployed. Cahail immediately began to apply for jobs. A year later, he is still out of work with no prospects.
Rich Montrose is enjoying an “encore career,” later-in-life work that combines income with social impact. For the past six years, he has led an organization that fights homelessness, quite different from his former work as a successful writer for stage, television and the big screen.
These three scenarios are typical of changing times in a challenging work environment. We are living longer, healthier lives and, whether out of choice or necessity, many of us are working long past our envisioned retirement, have lost jobs that have taken a toll on our self-esteem, have moved on to fulfill old passions or discover new ones. We are becoming exquisitely aware of how closely our identity and the meaning of our lives are linked to our occupations. Less than six months after leaving the workplace, Muriel and Marc recognized that they had lost more than their jobs. Each felt that something substantial was missing from their lives—a sense of identity for Muriel and a structure that had defined his life for Marc. Rich, on the other hand, says he feels a new kind of camaraderie from a job that is less isolating than his former occupation.
While we’re working, we become accustomed to a certain lifestyle—having lunch with a co-worker, stopping at a bar for an early evening drink with a colleague, making a to-do list for tomorrow’s tasks, feeling the high of a satisfying achievement. On the weekend, we talk with friends about the case we won or lost, the article we wrote, the child who had a seizure in the classroom. The conversation tells others…and ourselves…not just what we do but who we are.