Men, sadly, are socialized to believe that who and what they are in the work world is who and what they are period. While there has been a sea-change insofar as realizing the 25 year career in the same company is something from a by-gone era, what hasn’t changed is how men develop their identity and define themselves according to work. Workaholism is still an acceptable form of escape for men – escape from family participation, self evolution and self reflection, from the intimacy in one’s relationship, from dealing with going after what your heart “wants” rather than what you “should” … I say it’s acceptable because it’s often not recognized as workaholism in the first place. Most people look at a man who works 60 hours plus a week and think that he is successful, that he has a “big job”, he is important, depended on, making lots of money.
There is a new population of men however, those that have left corporate life either forcibly or of their own volition, long before retirement is even a consideration. As they adapt to another kind of life, many are finding work in the form of consultancy – offering their expertise in piece meal chunks. They report that while they no longer enjoy the “benefits” of a full time corporate gig such as a health plan, retirement contribution, paid holiday (they are hard pressed to come up with more) – they are discovering that being available for family, living on their own time frame, having time for self-care, and not marching to the corporate drum is life changing, and more importantly, extremely satisfying.
As therapists I wonder how we might help the men that come to see us. Many come questioning where they are at when this work shift happens. There is uneasiness, in the beginning, when not getting up to the sound of a buzzer, leaving the house, getting on planes, coming home late, like so many others. There is a discomfort, in the beginning, recognizing the “differentness” of routine. Many experience a fear of becoming obsolete, worrying that the youth that nipped at their heels in the corporate landscape will leave no room for them to finish off their working years in contentment. Some, after a time, question whether they can re-enter the corporate world at all.
I don’t believe the corporate world can handle these men who have now understood the great cost to themselves and their families paid during the earlier years of their careers. The sacrifice of time away from the nurturing of a marriage, or the raising of children, and investment in one’s self, can’t be reclaimed. The corporate world doesn’t have room for the conscious, relationship-invested man. It’s all or nothing. And happily, that’s just not good enough for many a man anymore.
There is a great need to redefine one’s self, to come to terms with the myth that socialization has fed us. Men are more than the sum of their career. They are human beings in need of contact, in need of a space to be vulnerable, in need of acceptance regardless of what work path they choose. It’s time to embrace the change and respect the differences among us, and the benefit of those differences. It’s time to honour our humanness in every aspect of our lives.