You Are Not Your Job

A friend lost a job. How often have you heard that one? How often has it been their fault? Lately, losing a job means a corporation downsized, outsourced, or randomly re-organized. Decades ago losing a job probably meant doing something wrong. Now it means being in the wrong box on the organizational chart, or being on the wrong side of a line in some spreadsheet. Unfortunately, a lot of attitudes and perceptions are based on a society from decades ago. Now, young people are the wise ones because they know that careers are an illusion, every job is temporary, but who you are prevails. The trick is to make that nice sentiment mesh with commitments like thirty year mortgages. And yes, it can be done.

I can think of two or three people who have lost their jobs for personal reasons. Nothing that a bit of maturity won’t change. Learning to play well with others is tricky. Almost everyone else I know who has passed or is passing through unemployment was launched into that financial space because a company either ran out of money, or wanted to make a lot more regardless of the cost. The quick list includes vice-presidents of marketing, technical experts in artificial intelligence, programmers with multiple degrees, engineers from every field except petrochemical, linguists, healthcare professionals, information specialists, and at least a few ex-professionals so upset that they’ve become reclusive at the very time they have to step into uncomfortable change.

Corporations lobby Congress to allow more foreign workers to fill critical skill gaps at the same time that I can run into folks with such resumes just by walking into the local coffee shop. I sense a dysfunction that I can’t solve.

The ex-professionals who rebounded the quickest emphasized their expertise and re-created themselves as consultants. Their jobs may have been taken away, but their skills stayed with them. Self-employment requires a new set of skills, but it comes with a large dose of freedom. Take a severance package, if you’re lucky. Take a month or two off because the last few months or years were probably in a stressful position, and then fix up the resume (and the LinkedIn profile) and get in touch with the network that was developed over years.

The ex-professionals who have the most fun are the ones that, with the time to look at their finances, realize that they could retire. It is easy to get so wrapped up in work that a house and a portfolio have quietly grown to more than enough. Yes, you can take money out of your IRA while you are young. The best way to find out is to try, and be willing to change back if necessary.

The ex-professionals who grow the most are the ones who, through choice or necessity, find within their self more skills and talents than their job ever let them develop. Either through entrepreneurship or non-profit participation, there are plenty of ways to grow that have nothing to do with corporate America, and they can pay nicely in both money and satisfaction.

I was an Aerodynamics Stability & Control engineer (don’t worry about what that means), but I was also good at a lot of things that weren’t included in the title: program management, strategic planning, team facilitation, presentations, cross-team coordination, etc. (Check my bio for a long list.) Each was enjoyable for different reasons. And yes, I actually enjoy program management and the rest. Go figure. But then I also learned that I was reasonably good at writing, photography, teaching, and public speaking. I was more than my job title. I am more than any label slapped on me, though I do rather like the title of Renaissance Man.

As people live longer we are redefining retirement. Even assuming a career that lasts until Social Security kicks in, an idea that is foreign to many, when retirement arrives it is necessary to redefine your role. The money is important, but personal values eclipse finance. That can seem like a blithe statement, but losing the identity associated with a job is the best time to concentrate on what should never be lost, a person’s morals and ethics.

Let’s not oversimplify things though. As much as personal finance should be about the person, finances happen. I’m very aware of how money flows can direct a life. I’m also aware of how hard it can be to find a corporate job. (My Jobs Report) That’s the reason for action and backup plans.

As I’ve said before, I’m asked how I’ve managed to stay positive throughout my turmoil.

  • One, I haven’t done a video of my head-banging sessions.
  • Two, I know that a bit of complaining is necessary, but that things will get better quicker if I concentrate on the better parts of my life.
  • Three, I’ve recognized that much of what I am going through has less to do with me than it is does with dysfunctions in the system. And
  • Four, I have learned better and deeper than ever what my true values are, old attitudes that really didn’t matter, and what I won’t compromise regardless of money.

The world of my first mortgage was very different. I’d be within four years of paying it off. ARPAnet was being replaced with the Internet, but hardly anyone knew it. The fears of climate change were being debated but they were overshadowed by the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. Stocks were still traded between people instead of computers. And careers were what people aspired to. Retirement plans were simply assumed.

A lot has changed. Personal values haven’t. For anyone working at that time, decades of training and experience have developed impressive skills, talents, and wisdom. The world still needs such people. Corporations may dismiss them in batches; but ventures, philanthropies, charities, and personal passions can benefit from incredible people. Redefine yourself and give them the chance to benefit from you, and you from them.

PS It looks like another round of job shuffling is in action. If you another outlet for your story I can include you in my Find A Friend A Job posts (#FAFAJ). Another valuable thing no one can take away is the support we give each other.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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