Over time, men have always been definied by the job they've chosen to do. The connection between men and their work is so close that for most men the loss of a job is the most traumatic event they face in their lives. During the great depression, the rate of suicide among men was extraordinary and for every recession that has faced the United States since that time, there has always been an incremental increase in the suicide rate.
Once the war came around in the 1940's the United States saw the rise of women in the work force, a rise that would continue until the work force was pretty much a 50/50 split. I am one of those women, starting my career in insurance in the 1970s after I graduated from high school. But unlike most men, I was not at all defined by my career. It was just a job, a means to the end of putting money in my pocket to do the things I liked to do.
Then, somewhere along the way, it changed. Slowly or suddenly, I'm not sure which, my job became a career and started defining most everything in my life. I can identify the reasons for the change. First, I became a single mom and needed to make more money to support my child in a lifestyle better than the poverty level provided. This realization lead me to return to college to get a degree.
The second event to occur was my marriage to my second husband. Now, you would think that would have allowed me to be less defined by my work, but I married a unique man. Although he was defined by his job in fast food, he did not make enough money to support the lifestyle he wanted, but he could see I had the ability to make that money. I didn't mind doing it because I loved this man, but we had problems in the early years of our marriage because he couldn't let go of his need to be the breadwinner. My making more money than he did was a bone of contention and seemed to cause him more problems than the thought of giving up the lifestyle I was providing. Until I finally got that elusive college degree. That college degree was the start of my better understanding this connection men have to their jobs.
It was when I got my degree my husband finally understood in marriage you are one and it really doesn't matter who makes what as long as you agree on the lifestyle you want and work together to achieve it. This revelation led to the happiest decade of my life, and I hope to his. But with that understanding, I began to realize the responsibility for providing the lifestyle really was mine. I had to maintain an income level to keep up because I couldn't count on him to maintain a job regularly. Our lifestyle was based on my income only and if and when he did bring money into the household, it went into extras or savings.
I took the responsibiity on with relish. I loved my job. I loved the money I was making. And most of all, I loved that I owned my business and so never worried about being let go for any reason. I was addicted to my work and it was wonderful.
But, along with understanding man's association to his work, I was doomed to understand how said association can lead to said trauma. It would begin in 1999 when I was diagnosed with a rare auto immune disorder. Within five years, the disease would progress to the point I was unable to effectively run my business and would be forced to sell and take a job with another insurance company, one which allowed me to work from home. Three years later, the disease was such even that job was more than I could handle and the company placed me on permanent disability
During this time I lost my marriage, my house, everything I had worked for my entire life. But most of all I had lost my identity. I now understood why men had always felt so defined by their careers. I was lucky enough to have private disability insurance, so I still had money coming in, but I had nothing to do that made me feel I was contributing to society. That's what our work is. It is that thing we do which makes us feel we are productive, that we have a reason for being, something we contribute to mankind. Even if it's just bagging a hamburger to hand to someone sitting in their car at the drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant, it is a contribution. But when you can't work, it's hard to discern why you're still here because what do you have left to contribute.
The first nine months of my disability I had all those feelings I believe those men in the depression must have felt right before they jumped out of those windows. Fortuantely, I was in therapy, so the desire to end it all was kept in check. But the need to find something to do to get back that sense of contributing weren't. I struggled every day trying to find something, anything I could do. It would be the memory of a Creative Writing professor from college begging me to enter an essay contest for her that would save me from myself. That thought brought me back to writing and to the release of my first novel in 2009. My contribution to mankind whether it made any money or not.
The reason some women become lost after losing their husbands of 30+ years; this man they've taken care of for all that time is gone and now they have nothing to do, nothing to contribute to mankind. The reason some people pass so quickly after they retire from a job they've held since they graduated high school; nothing left to contribute to mankind. The reason it is so important we are able to dig deep within ourselves and find some way to paricipate in society whether it is through a job, a career, a hobby, a family, volunteering...I don't care what it is. Find it so you can be identified with it, because what it really represents is your reason for being and we all need that reason to live on in any society.