TSOTLS -Ch2: We are what we do.

Welcome to week 2 of this blog series.  For those who missed week 1 you can check out If the map is wrong and if you’d like to know the context that led to doing this series you can read Mid-Career Confidence Crash.

“We are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. We are what we do.” Livingston states this simple profound and pertinent truth.

He does so after drawing out the reality of his psychiatric experience where people would come to him seeking medication as a quick fix for their mood, mental health or mere boredom with life. They primarily wanted to minimise the pain, downplay the depression and despair, or desperation for the capacity to better manage their own emotions & thoughts as they battle unsatisfying daily routines.

His message: “The good news is that we have effective treatments for the symptoms of depression; the bad news is that medication will not make you happy. Happiness is not simply the absence of despair. It is an affirmative state in which our lives have both meaning and pleasure.”

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Mid-career confidence crash

CHANGE – here we go again!! Cash, calling, crisis, confidence, compassion and crap….oh crap!

In years gone by I worked as an employment consultant, with a focus on long-term unemployed and those at high risk of long term unemployment due to poor education, mental health or employment history issues.

I recall in particular chatting with older people, mostly men in mid-to-late-life, those who had experienced a redundancy, downsizing, restructuring and the occasional one who had made a risk-taking decision for a complete career change. For many their sense of value and worth was intrinsically linked to their status, income, and title and so their struggle with despair, despondency and even depression was very real.

Then there were those who came out of various corporate high-paying high-stress jobs who wanted to ‘give-back’, make a difference or simply got bored and wanted a new challenge.

Working in non-profits for over 15 years I’ve seen my fair share of people who come in to stamp their mark, leave a legacy, or be a positive influence for something that stands for more than just money. Whatever spin you put on it, people seeking to somehow, in someway, connect their personal values with their professional expertise, experience and skills.

The truth is that for most employed people we don’t love what we do, we don’t wake up breathing in fresh air and feeling intoxicated with joy for the day ahead. Or am I the only one? 

How then do we, how do I, navigate the tension between holding down a ‘normal’ job (whatever that is???); paying a mortgage, going through the motions of maintaining vigour and vitality in life and finding at least a sense of fulfilment and dare I say, even purpose?  Is that even possible?

Is it realistic to find this through a form of work/employment/job that pays sufficiently to alleviate financial stress and ideally even generate enough surplus income to pursue some simple pleasures and enjoyable activities – both for myself and for those I love and care about?

I’ve recently re-picked up a book called “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” by psychiatrist Gordon Livingston.  It first gained my attention with its subtitle “Thirty True things You Need to Know Now” and I am again intrigued by this collection of values and views.

The reason I’ve picked it up is that I guess I’m going through a minor (perhaps not so minor) identity crisis. Life for me has changed considerably over recent months and I find myself asking lots of questions, and alas, finding few answers.

Whilst I know there are no silver bullets for defining and redefining identity and fixing instability, I also know that it is self-destructive to hide away from ones circumstances and say that we cannot change. It takes courage to delve into the depths of one’s own soul, and it can be scary to explore the unknown. Staying stuck in the status quo has never been my style and I know ultimately limits or restricts growth, especially from our own fears.

So my plan is to read and reflect on each of these 30 minuets, one per week. Perhaps you’d like to follow along and interact with the conversation over coming weeks?

For now, be gentle with yourself, patient with those you love and care about, but most importantly, be true to who you are…no matter what may be going on in this thing we call life.