Lost Your Self-Identity Due to COVID-19 Job Loss?
Job loss for many during the COVID-19 has meant a loss of self-identity. For many of us, our sense of identity is defined by our jobs. When someone loses their job, they may feel they no longer have value or purpose.
My guess is this is happening to millions of people around the world as the Corona Virus is disrupting supply chains, industries, companies, governments, and careers. So much is changing and will continue to change. If your self-identity is defined by your job or career, you are in for a major wake-up call.
This topic was brought about by Dustin McKissen, who wrote a post called, If You Lose Your Job, Remember This. Dustin wrote about his father’s job loss:
My dad is also good at more than just building things—he is a good guy, with a good heart, and people love him. I love him. He is a great Grandpa.
But when he lost his job, he lost part of himself.
When you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself, the search to find that missing piece can take you to some very dark places. It did for my dad, and much of the last 15 years have been hard on him, and the people that care about him.
We are having a large swath of the baby boomer generation now retiring due to job loss and ageism.
How many are losing their self-identity along with their jobs and careers?
My Own Father and Forced Retirement
My father was an economist for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In 1978, my father was handed a retirement package and was asked to leave. He was in his late 50s and was not ready to retire. Financially, my mother and father were fine. The retirement package kept my mother living well into her 80s.
However, the retirement package killed my father. It took another 15 years, but it killed him. His job defined his entire self-image. Dad had twice pursued a Ph.D. in economics, but each time a child came along, he put it aside. After he retired he pursued University teaching positions, he was always turned down as he did not have that Ph.D. in economics. He did not have the paper credentials.
He eventually landed a teaching position at York College in York, PA, but by that time, he was pretty beat up. His mental health declined, and that is what eventually killed him. His job defined him.
During the holiday season of 1992, I ruptured the L4/L5 disc in my back. I decided to take three months of disability and let my back heal rather than be operated on. I do not like doctors with sharp implements.
While I was gone, IBM nearly went bankrupt. IBM discontinued the famous full employment pledge. Thousands of employees were given generous retirement packages to leave. Just like my father, who would pass away a few months later, this was a death sentence for many. They viewed themselves as IBMers.
Their job defined their entire self-image.
When I returned to work in early April of 1993, I was clear. I had a moment of clarity while I was out on disability. I saw what was important to me, and it was not my job. My job did not define me.
My definition of myself was further reinforced by what I saw when I returned to IBM.
I then spent the following years wandering around IBM trying to find a place where I fit in. I never found that place.
How We Forget!
In 1999, IBM made major modifications to the pension plan. First, they converted my retirement account to a cash balance plan but later switched it back to a defined benefit plan minus some important features. My employer for the last 20+ years had lost my trust.5r4w
I left IBM on my terms in January of 2000 and went to work for a successful high-tech startup, Agere, which was acquired by Lucent. Then, in July of 2002, I had another moment of clarity: I had a near-fatal bicycle accident. I had a head-on collision with a Toyota Corolla, where our combined speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour. By the way, I lived!
The following year, I pursued getting my Texas High School Math teaching certificate. I taught high school math at an inner-city school for almost two years. I was very successful. It tore me up emotionally and physically.
When I left teaching, I was lost. I wrote a post on this called, Dealing with that Directionless Feeling, which is found daily on Google search.
Ten years earlier, I became determined not to be defined by my job, but I was struggling…just like my father! The difference now was I wanted to be defined by my life purpose and not my job.
I served on the board of directors of Launch Pad Job Club from 2006 till 2018, and even to this day, I stay involved as a volunteer. So many of those who have been laid off struggle with the loss of their self-identity. Whether the job loss was involuntary like my father and fellow IBMers or voluntary like my departure from teaching. It still stinks!
I have to go back to the time when I returned to IBM and remind myself it is my choice on how I define myself.
Job Loss Due to COVID-19 and Decided to Retire?
We are seeing a record number of baby boomers retire. The workforce participation rate has declined primarily due to baby boomers losing their jobs and deciding that returning to work does not make sense. Either they cannot find a job largely due to the explosion of ageism or the pandemic has pushed them to pull the plug on their careers.
The problem I see is way too many of us developed a self-identity almost totally based on what we did in our careers.
Either way now is the time to recreate your self-identity.
I often ask people when I have discussions about joining the Career Pivot Membership community, what do you want to do when you grow up?
That almost always gets a chuckle.
You can start redefining who you want to be.
- If you want to help people in society, decide exactly who you would like to help. Be specific as possible.
- If you want to find meaningful work, decide what exactly is the problem you would like to work on. Is it climate change, world poverty, the opioid epidemic, or something else?
You may have a lot of negative thoughts because your brain is there to protect you. Listen to the following podcast episode if you want to learn more: How to Create Success by Outsmarting Your Brain with Diann Wingert.
Are you going to allow your job loss to define who you are? Will you redefine yourself to be the person you want to be?