Middle Age and “Re-developing” Your Survival Skills
June 10, 2017 | Craig Maguire, IMPRESSIONS FCS Inc.
As far back as I can remember, it was often common-place to hear that the only two constants in life were death and taxes. With that said, these two realities seemed like quite enough to deal with while life itself seemed to often brim with opportunities, excitement and endless possibilities. For one thing, back in the day, people had jobs they cared about. They took pride in their work, their company and the duties they performed. Employers, in turn, most often viewed their employees as valuable members of a corporate family. Our contributions said as much about us, as individuals, as any resume could ever portray and, in all honesty, our dedication held more value and integrity in representing us to others as responsible, dignified and conscientious people. This was a true representation of the people we really are. In the event that your job ever did end, for any number of reasons, you could pretty much walk down the street any day of the week and stop door-to-door along the way and find yourself another meaningful and satisfying job. Times were tough, no doubt, but no matter the circumstances encountered, we always had friends, family and a determination that brought us through any and all of those hard times to better days ahead - and, yet again, we took such great pride in our perseverance and fortitude to make smart decisions which resulted in careful, planned and purposeful conclusions.
If you are in your forties, or older, it is safe to assert that you can reminisce to days gone past where you managed to overcome a host of obstacles that previously came your way. In today's hectic and fast-paced World however, a number of realities have surfaced for many individuals and families that far out-weigh the previous stressors of death and taxes as our primary distractions. For one thing, the days of the middle class family has reached almost extinction levels today as our Society appears to have subscribed to one of two realities; that of the low-income family or the substantially wealthy family, with very few exceptions in-between. Simply stated, most people today either fall into a classification of the working poor – working pay cheque to pay cheque - or predominately financially secure; and, the ability to go from one end of this spectrum to the other can literally happen overnight and with little to no warning at all. For one thing, few people today will ever enjoy the peace of mind and security that came with working for the same employer for 20 or 30 years, until they retired. Those days certainly appear to have disappeared almost completely. Instead, most of us realize our jobs are only as stable and secure as each new day passes and that if Company revenues should ever dictate losses, our jobs, and those of our coworkers, are promptly (and without prejudice) dissolved before we even realize what has hit us.
For a growing number of people, they have become nothing short of experts in their respective career trades through a lifetime of hard work and committed experience, however, once laid-off, encounter substantial difficulty in breaking back into the World of work and often are forced to retrain or rely on entry-level employment opportunities which grossly under-represents the wages for which they have been accustomed and familiar. As if this isn't degrading and debilitating enough, even the process of applying for a job has become almost the equivalent of becoming a NASA scientist when it comes to navigating corporate websites and their confusing and complicated on-line application processes. And just when you think it can't get much worse, you come to learn that what you have represented on your resume wasn't picked up by the computer system utilized by the HR department in recognizing key words that signify you actually know something about your chosen profession and the decades of experience you have resting under your belt.
Sadly, while you negotiate your way through these various frustrations and stressors, many people experience significant depression, anxiety and despair as they continue to struggle to support themselves and their families, pay their bills and put groceries on their table. What is even more sad is that your friends and family are encountering their own story and are often in no better position themselves than you are, with many of the same conditions affecting their overall health, happiness and well-being, as well.
In almost a humourous manner, it often seems sometimes that we woke up one day and nothing we had come to know and count on made sense any longer. The game of life had changed and, with that, our ability to take charge of our circumstances and bring about positive and meaningful changes to adapt to those circumstances now presents with too many obsolete and obscure opportunities. Many people express that the older they become, the less they understand the conditions they face and the more helpless they have grown in managing them.
So what in the World can the masses of middle-aged folks like us do to survive the hardships now being faced? Truth-be-told, much of what we learned in our earlier years no longer applies in the same method and manner as it used to. In fact, some people are forced to work just to make ends meet even though they are now in their sixties and should, by all accounts, be enjoying their retirement years. They have exhausted their savings, their RRSP’s, and any other financial nests, just in order to survive and manage till today. In order to open up any and all possible opportunities for your future and eventual return to a sustainable and manageable life, there are some guiding principles which are essential to your becoming skilled in the art of survival in this new World existence. It involves a change in our thinking, some of our beliefs and, most definitely, a determined commitment to change our perspectives in some very different and profound ways than we have ever been accustomed. Some of these pertinent and important decisions for you to consider and incorporate into your daily routine are as follows:
Beware the effects of depression: Let’s face it! It is pretty darn difficult to always put on a happy face and keep positive when we are feeling the pressures of life. It’s natural, and to be expected, that some days will no-doubt be more difficult than others to manage. With this said, the key here is to develop a pattern of behaviour and thoughtful reactions to the overwhelming pressures you face regularly. Allow yourself to have some “bad” moments – release your stress – cry, go for a walk, find something that helps you to cope and manage, at that moment in time. The danger that exists is when we allow ourselves to be pitted in an all-encompassing state of despair and anguish. This is where depression resides and it will serve to undermine your efforts, intentions and your actions at every single turn if you let it. Deal with your emotions when and as you need to! Don’t let them build up to a point of eventual disintegration. Releasing your tensions and anxieties in appropriate ways is essential to helping you “reset” your mind and body and to push forward with your endeavours to improve your conditions.
Accept the realities you encounter: It is highly unlikely that any one of us ever planned to be in the situation, and experiencing the circumstances, that we currently find ourselves – especially at our ages and after having worked so hard for a bright and promising future. The reality is however that you have not failed in your aspirations but instead, have suffered the effects of unplanned, unexpected and unimaginable circumstances. Beating yourself up for the conditions you now face is neither helpful or beneficial – it accomplishes nothing at all! Rather than searching for reasons for your situation, concentrate on what you know to be real and factual. Accept the realities you face, in all their nuances, and face them head-on and deal with each of them methodically and conclusively. Then, move on to the next hurdle. Not one of us can change the World around us – we can only find effective and productive methods of adjusting to and meeting these challenges, on their respective terms, to the best of our ability.
Reframe your thinking – it’s not business “as usual”: As you have surely noticed by now, many things have changed from the usual and expected realities we learned and experienced in our younger days. Refusing to accept that only you can change your response to the demands and expectations directed at you will serve to only leave you feeling defeated and perpetuating a perspective of continued and worsening hopelessness. No one says you have to like the realities you face but you surely have to accept them and find new methods of achieving your goals within the framework of these expectations, as they truly exist. They may not make sense to you, and some may even seem ridiculous, however, you must perform in the same expected manner as everyone else in meeting the expectations of these responsibilities. Use your creativity, imagination and acquired skills in managing situations and people to find an approach to accomplishing your goals while meeting the objectives of the “systems” and “processes” you are required to complete.
Put yourself and your family first: Typically, many of us find ourselves slowly pulling away from others the more we encounter and are forced to accept forces playing havoc in our life. Firstly, we don’t want to worry others, don’t require anyone’s pity, and just have to find some time and space to “work things out” for ourselves. This is understandable and necessary, at times. Remember though, your loved ones are also suffering – if only because they see the worry and stress you are experiencing. The conditions which you are attempting to resolve affects them as well. You must include them and find time to share with them in their fears and concerns as much as they need to find time for you, respectfully, when you need them – and even when you think you don’t. We tend to unintentionally hurt those closest to us when we are in a state of despair. Relationships do not survive such deplorable conditions by will alone. There has never been a time when it is more imperative than now to make sure you keep “connected” with your loved ones and allow them to share in your “realities”. If you isolate yourself from them, they have no way of knowing what they can do or how they can do it. No one reacts well to being kept in the dark and feeling helpless. Allow your loved ones to be of support to you and this only serves to strengthen your family’s relationships and resolve to manage the circumstances affecting everyone’s well-being. You may be the pilot of this ship but you have a need and a responsibility to your crew on-board, as well. Don’t let them down, or yourself, by fooling yourself into believing they are better off without your active and continuous engagements.
Don't isolate yourself from “positive” opportunities: It is expected that there are a number of activities and opportunities we are accustomed to that will simply be out of our reach during this time of financial and emotional distress simply, if for no other reason, because we can’t afford to participate in them. We can’t afford to stop by the fast-food restaurant for a pizza, take the family to the local theatre for that new blockbuster hit that’s playing and a host of other pleasures we long for. Many of us have been conditioned into believing that unless we are spending money, we are unable to affect our happiness or that of others. The truth is that yes, we do enjoy those simple pleasures however, they are not the only pleasures that you have access to. Realize that those closest to you need you and that the simple act of spending quality time with them is, and always will be, the most important and meaningful act you can provide to them. Whether it’s taking a walk at the park, going for a drive, or simply sitting in the backyard having a lemonade with one another, it’s YOU that pulls the strengths of your family together during these dark times and you need this special, comforting and enjoyable time with them every bit as much as they do. Refuse to live in a constant state of stress and despair and allow yourself, and your loved ones, to still have moments of pleasure and comfort in sharing your lives together.
A positive attitude - in the face of despair: You may believe this topic of attitude is in line with some of what has already been covered above in this article however, it is important that you understand that if you only see despondence and despair in your future, chances are you will unwittingly steer yourself toward that very reality. Again, you are experiencing a traumatic life event for which the repercussions to you and your family are profound. You must believe that you have some control over your future and your ability to effectively overcome the circumstances you are now faced. Whether you consider this to be a positive attitude, sheer determination, a strong conviction or simple foolishness, your attitude determines your abilities and capacity to overcome your situation. It’s not wishful thinking but rather, a belief in yourself and your abilities to hold strong and do what it takes to survive. There is still much good in the World around you and in your life. Don’t allow yourself to become consumed with nothing but negativity and despair as it will only serve to hold you back from realizing the goals you need to accomplish.
Maintain your health “religiously”: For many, one of the first indicators of severe stress and anxiety comes in the form of neglecting one’s health and overall well-being. We tend to eat poorly, have difficulty sleeping, and generally spend less time in managing our health in a proactive and engaging manner. As we are not getting any younger, many of us have various ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid and a host of other conditions we must continuously address and monitor effectively. Just as your car won’t run without fuel, you are not going to be able to put your ship in the water and steer it effectively if you are in a state of chaos and your mind and body is being neglected of the “fuel” it requires to function satisfactorily. Respectfully, your skills and abilities alone will not help you survive these most turbulent and debilitating times if you are in no condition to mange them effectively. Make the time and see your family physician to manage your health and well-being as often as needed. Everything you hope to accomplish hinges on your ability to remain as healthy as possible. It should not be a lesser priority but rather should be at the forefront of your endeavours and related commitments.
Re-evaluate your goals and establish realistic objectives: If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you sit down and take a look at what exactly it is you wish to accomplish. Yes – true, the primary goal is to achieve an income again in which to support yourself and your family. That’s paramount! But what does that look like exactly? Does it mean an endless array of part-time, entry-level positions with various employers or does it mean stepping up your game and acquiring additional skills in which to compete in today’s competitive market? It isn’t necessary for you to formulate a comprehensive plan however, it is essential that you give some thought as to how you plan on achieving the goals you have set for yourself and the means and methods required in order to accomplish them. Being prepared means you have carefully and methodically reviewed what your next steps are and how you hope to get them done, one way or another.
Keep your momentum steady and strong: You will notably agree that surviving these difficult times has left you feeling virtually exhausted and often lacking the energy to keep going with each new day. Again, this is certainly normal and to be expected, within reasonable parameters. These boundaries need to be explicitly clear and definitive for you. If you decide to start doing nothing – you stop applying for jobs, distance yourself from family and friends, fall into a deep depression, neglect your health and well-being, and so on, you will lose whatever momentum you have achieved to-date and the effort to regain it will be as difficult and arduous as any task you have ever endured. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this hole – you already have enough on your plate to deal with so avoid pitfalls that will only serve to give you more cause to suffer stress and anxiety. Fight the urge to throw your hands up and quit. Take a break when needed, no doubt, but convince yourself that each and every action you take will eventually produce an outcome. With one phone call, it’s possible that your life, and that of your family, can be transformed back to the days of comfort and security. If not today, maybe tomorrow. One thing however is perfectly clear. If you do nothing, then “nothing” will prove to be the outcome of your efforts. We all feel like throwing in the towel at some point along this journey however you must resist this urge and fight to keep yourself on top of your game and making the effort to break free from the conditions you are faced with. It may never become easier but it will surely never become harder if you manage to keep some form of momentum and consistency in your daily behaviours.
Continue to remember the “good times” and plan for better days ahead: It is so terribly difficult to sometimes see any light at the end of this dismal tunnel we appear to be within. In addition to self-doubt, lost confidence and pure frustration, many slowly work toward a perspective that there’s nothing more to be hoped for and success remains outside their capabilities. Truthfully, this is not an accurate assessment however it is certainly understandable how many reach this debilitating conclusion. Remember past successes, happier times and all those achievements which have caused you to realize pride and confidence in yourself. You have not lost these attributes nor have you become as obscure and defeated as you may believe. Consider what it is you hope to achieve and where you want your future to take you and then, make up your mind that, come hell or high water, you will achieve these goals. You have lived a full life of achievements, setbacks and challenges which have defined the very essence of who you are. Continue being the person you have always been by remembering “this person” and working diligently every day to be true to yourself in every way necessary in order to regain what may have been temporarily lost but never, ever destroyed.
Despite much of the news reported on television today about the on-going and worsening conditions of drug addiction affecting young people, it is essential that we acknowledge and recognize that more and more baby boomers are falling subject to the confines of addictive behaviours in record droves. Much of this is, in part, due to the lack of practical and purposeful opportunities for many to overcome the hardships and hopelessness they face. Issues such as homelessness and suicide are equally as alarming in our fellow middle-agers as many, including seniors and veterans, now find themselves in conditions for which they are powerless to overcome and rebuild on their own.
It is unfortunate, and truly frightening, that some will never fully overcome the severe hardships and debilitating circumstances that dominate their life. There is a very thin line that separates those who will survive and regain their independence and security from those who won't, no matter the effort extended. That thin line demands no less than individual courage, stamina and persistence in addition to opportunities afforded to putting them in the right place at the right time and acquiring new opportunities in which to re-build their lives.
If you're reading this article and believe this topic relates to you and your circumstances, there is one thing that you simply must never stop telling yourself over and over again, until it is engrained in your psyche permanently. What are these magical words, you ask? At the risk of sounding too simplistic, it is vital that you remind yourself each and every day that you cannot control the forces which affect your life but that you can certainly control your response to them. Ultimately, it will be your responses to the stressors in your life that will determine the successes, or failures, you will encounter in your continued struggle to regain your security and land on your feet once again. Please make no mistake about it - for most, this experience will prove to be a gut-wrenching experience, unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Not only will it be difficult but it will be hard to see and believe there is any light that exists at the end of this very long and turbulent tunnel. The rules we have come to know and understand, regarding right versus wrong, fair versus unfair, no longer apply - and, to be honest, it is imperative that you firmly grasp and accept responsibility for maintaining your health, both physically and mentally, as you continue your exhausting efforts to find work and make ends meet.
Lastly, but equally as important, if you are fortunate enough to have someone in your life, a spouse or otherwise, who you can share your fears, apprehensions, hopes and dreams with, please take full advantage of this crucial and valuable commodity. If you are single, it is up to you to reach out to the friends and family you share in meaningful relationships with and ensuring that you remain connected with them in an appropriate and comforting routine of on-going supports and dispelling the reoccurring feelings of hopelessness and despair you frequently experience.
Remember too that, just as the good times never seem to last forever, the same rings true with the hard times, as well. For most of us, the true test is in finding the endurance, stamina and determination to manage “the storm” for as long as we have to and in keeping aware that our hardships, like most all other things in life, shall also pass in time.
For those seriously considering suicide to address their hardships realized, understand that this is not a solution, even if it means you will no longer be required to address these hardships personally. Rather, be cognizant that your emotions are affecting your thoughts and convictions and that you can remain in control of your future if you maintain diligence in accepting responsibility for only those things you have direct influence over.
At the end of each day, be thankful for your accomplishments, however slight they may appear to you, and realize the strength you possess to start again tomorrow. You are surely not alone in your plight, unless you choose to believe as such, and the courage you demonstrate in navigating these tough times will prepare you for each new day that arrives. It doesn’t mean you need to abandon your principles and beliefs but you may need to adapt them to the changing times and the current demands and expectations in order to achieve the success you desire.
Make this journey and survive - you have it in you to succeed, if only you believe!