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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Boomers are booming!

Work, Retirement and Self Esteem


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Jene Hedden, Retiree

By Jene Hedden   


 For the most part, men tend to define themselves through their work.  This is a natural tendency on the part of today's male.  It's how he's wired.

     In the past, men defined themselves as protector, warrior, hunter and conqueror.  Those were his roles before the relatively recent development of cultures which value intellect and compromise over muscle and drive.  The testosterone haze in which early man lived kept him alive and allowed him to defeat his enemies, provide meat for his mate and father enough children for a few to survive and pass on his genetic material.
     Today's man lives in the same testosterone haze.  But, today's world does not require or even tolerate it except in situations such as the military, and even there it is being challenged.  So he attempts to channel his identity into his career and ends up living a life of frustration as his very masculinity is challenged and even ridiculed.  
     For the Boomer male who has reached retirement age or who is approaching that time of life, the loss of a career can be like looking into a deep black pit.  The man who has defined himself through his job may lose himself with the loss of that role.  His identity was wrapped up in his work.  It is where he expressed his masculinity.  Without the work, he may ask himself, "Who am I  now?  Am I still a man?" 
     So, how can the Boomer male make this transition without losing himself in the process?  And if he's still involved in his career, what can he do to avoid this pitfall in the future?
  •  He should make a conscious decision to stop equating his career with his worth as a man.  We are not what we do.  We are who we are.  Whether we are an auto mechanic or we own our own car dealership, we are not more or less valuable based on our job titles.  Our worth is based instead on whether our work honors us as men and honors those we support with our work. An honest mechanic is of vastly more value than a dishonest car dealer. A hard-working janitor exhibits higher moral character than a lazy banker. The value of our work is not expressed in the title of the job. It is expressed in the way we do our  jobs. 
  • There is no getting around the fact that in our culture, money is the currency of our lives. In the book, “Your Money or Your Life” authors Monique Tilford and Joe Dominguez explain how money represents our very lives. We spend our time and energy making money rather than hunting and gathering food for our families. What are our lives if they are not our time and energy? And when we are spending money, are we not also spending our time and energy…our very lives? That’s why money is such an emotional issue. That’s also why it’s so tough avoiding this equation: self-worth = salary.
  • We have to find ways to find value in ourselves as men beyond our salaries.  A good way to do this is by discovering our God-given talents and using them to make the world a better place. Men who are "handy" can volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Those who love the great outdoors can work with the Boy Scouts. Veterans can volunteer with a veterans’ organization or mentor a recently-returning soldier. We can include a fatherless boy in our adventures with our own sons and grandsons. We can help an elderly neighbor with her yard work. We can plant a garden and share it with a local food pantry. We can coach a kids’ softball team. If we look around us, we can find lots of ways to get our hands dirty and channel our testosterone into work that will help others and in the process help us feel valuable as men.  Most important, remember that in the eyes of God, we are no more or less valuable in regards to the amount of money we make. He loves us regardless. He is, however, concerned with how we use the talents and skills with which he has gifted us. The poor carpenter who sacrifices for others is held in His highest esteem.
  • We need not be concerned with the amount of money others make or how successful and comfortable we are in our retirement. This is tough because competitiveness is actually a positive male trait. When men lived in tribes, the most competitive of them got the most food and the most mates. That ensured survival of our species. A man can’t escape his own competitiveness. He can, however, channel that competitiveness into other areas than the amount of money he has compared to his friends, relatives and co-workers. Again, this comes down to a re-definition of self. If we don’t define ourselves based on our own money-making ability, we won’t focus our competitive natures into that area.  But, we need not deny our competitive nature. We can honor it by finding healthy ways of channeling it. Sports are a great way to channel our natural competitiveness. And we don't have to be young bucks to participate. Retirement communities are full of older men playing competitive but easy-on-the-knees games like pickle ball, softball with designated runners, swimming, fishing tournaments and so forth. Even a friendly card game gives us a chance to compete with others.
  • We all make mistakes. But, we need to stay out of the past.  If we’ve lived long enough, we’ve made plenty of them. But, it does no good to focus on them. We can’t change the past. We might be able to fix what we broke…especially if it was a relationship with a child or our spouses. But, if we made a stupid investment or took a job we shouldn’t have or quit a job we shouldn’t have quit, we can’t change that now. The fact is, we all make decisions based on the information we have at the time. Sure, we have the perspective of time now. We are wiser than our younger selves. We'd do things differently now.   But, that was then and this is now and if we stay focused on the past we’ll never escape it. Instead, we need to forgive our younger selves and move on. At least we will have learned from our mistakes.
  • For those who are still working, it's time to accept the fact that retirement will come eventually and you’d better be prepared for it. For many male Boomers, retirement has come with a loss of purpose and self-worth…both of which could have been avoided if they had planned ahead. The reality is, we all need a reason to get up in the morning. We need something to look forward to such as goals, responsibilities and the need to be needed. If you don’t have a hobby, don’t wait until you retire to look around for one. If you aren’t involved in your community beyond your workplace, don’t wait until you’re retired to become involved. The transition into retirement will be made smoother by the continuity found in activities which you engage in before and after retirement. The fun part is the realization that you can give more time to the things you really enjoy doing and the service you feel God-led to do. Beyond that, it’s a good idea to set some post-retirement goals. And these should be real, tangible goals…not just to “relax more” or “sleep in” more. A wise man once said, “The rocking chair is death.” The recliner is your enemy. Plan to get up early and get moving every day. You’ll live longer.
  • Do some excavation. For this project you won’t need a physical back-hoe...just a mental one. You’ll need pen and paper or your laptop. Keep a personal list of things you like about yourself that does not include past or present jobs. Most men would find this to be quite a difficult task because they don’t think too much about themselves beyond their jobs. But, that’s why this exercise is so important. Looking hard at yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses will help you define yourself beyond your career. If your back-hoe needs a jump start, ask a loved one what he or she likes about you. Hopefully your spouse can give you some ideas. If not, you may have other problems. Keep your list handy and revise it frequently.  And while you’re excavating, make a second list of things you enjoy doing or things you’ve always wanted to do. If you’ve never had a hobby and have been totally career focused your entire adult life, this may be more difficult than you imagine. A good way to start is to think about what you enjoyed as a kid. Did you enjoy playing outside? Did you enjoy reading? Did you love your Lincoln Logs or was your bike more important to you? Did you like playing cowboys and Indians or were you more into building model airplanes? All these boyhood pursuits hold clues to the kind of hobbies and volunteer activities you might most enjoy pursuing during your retirement years.
  • Find a mentor, accountability partner or friend who will be willing to hold your feet to the fire in regards to negative thoughts about yourself and your self-worth. Unless you already have a close friend with whom you can discuss your feelings (and most men don’t) you might want to seek out the wisdom of an acquaintance who is already retired and seems to be happy about it.    It’s tough talking about your feelings, and you probably haven’t done much of that in the past. But, you can approach it without too much discomfort if you ask a happily retired acquaintance about his favorite activity, his golf game or where the best senior buffet is located. The happily retired are often nearly evangelical about their new-found freedom to do the things they’ve always wanted to do.
       ►  In conclusion, it’s tough for male Boomers these days. Try finding a positive male image on TV or in the movies. Older men are portrayed as buffoons or bad guys. The role models we grew up with in the movies and on TV… big, rugged and masculine men like all John Wayne’s characters, the Cartwrights on Bonanza and even the wise dads on the early sitcoms…are looked at as quaint at best…threatening at worst. So, what’s a man to be beyond his career?

    He is to be what he is at his core…protector, warrior, hunter and conqueror. It’s just a matter of channeling those male traits into endeavors which benefit his family and the community…during his working years and beyond.