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Junk Male

Updated: May 31, 2023

This article is written by a man, with men in mind, though much of what I say here is relevant to everyone. You might be experiencing similar things yourself, or there may be a man in your life who’s found himself at a loose end for whatever reason and it’s propelled him into a kind of existential crisis.


Many of us tie our identity to our job. Through it we get status and sometimes authority, influence and perhaps wealth. The question is, what happens when the career to which we’ve devoted so much of our life comes to an end?


“I’m never going to retire,” you might say to yourself. “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a box.”


That’s a very unrealistic way to look at life.


None of us are getting any younger, and regardless of how invincible we might believe ourselves to be, or how immune we are to the ravages of time, sooner or later we’re going to have to face the stark truth: our job is gone. Career over.


It’s not just Anno Domini that might end a career. Things change. Technology advances. The economy ebbs and flows. Accidents happen. Health declines. Malevolent players appear. Any of these, or indeed a combination of them, might see the career we thought was secure coming to an abrupt end.


However it happens, we can all be certain of one thing: our careers will end one day. Finito Benito. Exit pursued by a bear, as Shakespeare put it.


What then?


What do you do when you no longer have that title: CEO, Doctor this, Professor that, Colonel the other? When you’re just plain Mister, an old fart with no more status, influence or authority than the next man and practically invisible to everyone around you?


You could decide to spend your days dealing with that extraordinarily long list of things you never had time to do when you were going to work each day. Or you could become a Grey Nomad and hit the road, exploring places you never had the time to visit. Or you might join a golf club and spend your days chasing a little white ball and lamenting your missed shots with your peers at the 19th hole.


Is that really a fulfilling prospect, though? Does any of that mean anything to a man who was used to achieving important, meaningful things during his working life? So you hit a hole-in-one on the seventh this morning. Who really gives a you-know-what about that?


Too many men reach the end of their career with no clear idea of what comes next. Consequently they find themselves at a loose end, with little or nothing to fill their days. Boredom ensues. It feels like their world is shrinking, walls closing in, and there's nothing to look forward to but endless re-runs on daytime TV, increasing decrepitude and a long, slow fade to nothing.


That’s a depressing prospect for a man who, though he may well have reached a “certain age”, still feels that he has plenty of life ahead of him.


As I see it, you have a number of options.


First, while you’re still working, look ahead and make sure you have something meaningful in your life that you’ll be able to devote your time and energy to once you’re out of work. It needs to be something that’s aligned with your values and your life’s purpose. Then, instead of feeling lost and superfluous when your career ends, you’ll feel re-energised and with a new sense of purpose. Paid work no longer gets in the way of doing this important thing, whatever it is.


If you’re already out of your career and you’re feeling stuck, at a loss, and wondering what to do about it, there are three possibilities.


One, put up and shut up. Content yourself with golf, going on a cruise, gardening, TV, reminiscing with old friends, generally taking life easy. You’ve earned some time off, time for yourself, to do what you’ve always wanted, haven’t you?


Or maybe you find that prospect boring, unfulfilling, tedious. Perhaps you've tried it, and it isn't working for you.


Two, give up. Give in to the belief that you’re done and dusted, there’s nothing left now that your career is over and you’re on life’s scrap heap. If you believe that, you also believe that you’re no further use to yourself or to anyone else, so you might as well stop complaining and wanting things to be different and just get on with shuffling off this mortal coil.


What a depressing prospect that is! But the sad fact is, too many men do actually go that way. If you doubt what I say, just look at the following statistics for the numbers of older men committing suicide:


Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that in high-income countries, men over the age of 70 have the highest suicide rate of any age and gender group. In the United States, the suicide rate for men aged 65 and older was 31.4 per 100,000 in 2019, which is higher than any other age group and higher than the overall rate of 14.0 per 100,000.


Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that in 2020, the highest rate of suicide in Australia was among men aged 45-49 years old, with a rate of 27.0 suicides per 100,000 people. In general, suicide rates in Australia have been highest among men compared to women across all age groups, and have been consistently higher among older age groups.


ABS data show that in 2020, the suicide rate in Australia for men aged 85 years and over was 37.9 suicides per 100,000 people, followed by men aged 80-84 years (33.8 suicides per 100,000 people) and men aged 75-79 years (28.9 suicides per 100,000 people).


Regardless of what Mark Twain might have said about lies, damned lies and statistics, there's no doubt that these figures are worrying.


Three, reinvent yourself. The notion that you're a washed-up, burnt-out old fart is complete garbage; self-inflicted garbage at that, and you don't have to believe it unless you choose to. Revisit your personal values and your life’s purpose, and then throw yourself into something that fully aligns with them. At this stage in your life you have the time available and quite likely you also don’t need to earn a living, even if a bit of extra cash might be nice now and then. It’s very satisfying to do something that you find personally meaningful, that contributes something positive to the world, that helps other people and also earns you a bit of money. But now, earning money becomes a much lower priority; it would be nice, but it doesn't have to be the driving force behind what you do.


In many indigenous cultures around the world, elders are respected for their wisdom: the wisdom that accumulates over years of experience of life. Sadly, in modern-day, capitalist societies, somewhere along the way we seem to have lost that respect for our elders. I wonder whether that is in part due to the elders among us being hoodwinked into believing the nonsense that once our working days are over, we're of no further use to society. Nothing could be further from the truth, but if elders behave as though it were true then it may as well be true.


If you're at that stage of your life, ask yourself: is there something you can do to use your life experience - your wisdom - to help, guide and support others? You can trust me on this; if you want to help yourself, the most effective way to do it is to help someone else.


I’ve mentioned personal values and life purpose a couple of times in this article. It never ceases to amaze me how few people in the world today know what their personal values are, and even fewer have a clue about what their life’s purpose might be. Many dismiss these ideas as woo-woo, “new-age bullshit.” That’s sad, as it condemns them to a life of mediocrity in which the chance that they’ll feel fulfilled in their life is vanishingly small. An unfulfilling life feels meaningless, and in a meaningless life it’s virtually impossible to be happy.


"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates


Happiness of course is a fleeting emotional response to a situation, and so there’s very little point in chasing happiness for its own sake. That’s a lot like chasing rainbows in the hope of finding a pot of gold at the end of one. What I’m referring to here is the feeling of deep contentment and peace that comes from living an authentic life that’s completely aligned with who we are and what we’re about. Too many people reach the end of their life without ever figuring out who they really are and what they really want - need - their life to be, and so they look back over their life with a sense of regret and a hollow feeling that they wasted so much time.


Whatever your age and whatever your current point on your career trajectory, you would do well to figure out what your personal values are and what that means for you in terms of what you want, and what you need your life to be, in order for you to live an authentic, fulfilling, meaningful and ultimately rewarding life. Figure it out and then get out there and live it. You only live once, so make the most of it.


It's never too late to (re)discover yourself, reinvent yourself, take charge of your life and start living in alignment with your true self. Whether you're nineteen or ninety or somewhere in between, you owe it to yourself, to those you love, and to the world at large to do something about it today.


Want to chat? Contact me: bernard@bernardkates.com


Lifeline Australia call 13 11 14

Mensline Australia call 1300 78 99 78

Beyond Blue website https://www.beyondblue.org.au/


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