As the world financial situation continues to unravel before our eyes, the last vestiges of that sense of security that we’ve all been led to believe in has been exposed as the fairy tale that it’s always been. We’ve always had plenty of evidence all around us that ‘security’ was an illusion presented for our consideration by those who thought (rightly) that they could win people’s loyalty by promising them the impossible; but, like many aspects of the world of our understanding, it always seems easier to believe in the improbable than to have to deal with the unpalatable. One of the challenges that confronts us as we undergo the midlife transition derives from the pain we experience as we realize the need to give up many of our pet fantasies: the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, and Financial Security.

The vre are two basic aphorisms that I believe everyone must learn by the time he or she finishes passing through the midlife transition: 1) the only constant is change, and 2) we see only what we want to see. Even after having hung around on this planet for a reasonably long period of time, I never cease to be amazed at the incredible capacity men and women have for self-delusion. Denial, particularly for men, and even more particularly at midlife, is less an aberration than it is a way of life. Yet, the powerful lessons of the first decade of the 21st Century are starting to wear away at our comfortable, if not very realistic, façade. I think the first such illusion to fade was the myth of ‘retirement.’ The career men and women of the present and future are going to have to embrace quite an attitude readjustment, compared with the attitudes of the quite recent past.

As I have often said (quoting a number of wise people who came before me), one of the principal (and most sacred) roles of government is the protection of the weakest members of our society from the ‘tyranny of the majority.’ If we honestly believe in the absolute sanctity of human life, that means that no one – not even one person – can be left to ‘fall through the cracks.’ None of us ever earns our basic human rights, nor can we ever forfeit them (since no society can give these rights, no society can honestly pretend to take them away or even ignore them). Of course, there are times when families and societies must exercise ‘tough love’ toward some of its wayward members, but that simply means that we, as a people, refuse to enable our fellow citizens to wreak havoc on themselves or on others. Yet, people don’t lose their inalienable right to membership in the human family on account of their behavior any more than Uncle Fred the drunk loses his membership in the family by what he says or does.

Outside of the issue of tough love, we have an obligation to support our family – our human family – and we need to take this obligation more seriously in the years to come, because things are apt to get much worse before they get better. The time for laissez faire anything has come and gone. We are responsible not only for ourselves and the members of our immediate families, but for the members of our human family as well. We can’t leave our common obligation only to those who are generous enough with their time and resources to give to charity. Our obligations to one another go way beyond ‘charity’ – it’s now a matter of justice because each one of us possesses inalienable rights that everyone needs to respect. Making a good living for yourself and your family alone can no longer be anyone’s life purpose. To do so would be to court extinction, because the definition of ‘the fittest’ has changed. ‘The fittest’ no longer refers to the strongest and most aggressive; the fittest from now on will be the men and women who are the most empathetically connected to one another. It’s a new world.

One thing is certain: things will never again in our lifetimes be the way they were. The socio-economic changes that have finally come upon us will leave permanent marks on our human family. Like the passage from adulthood through midlife into maturity, our world is getting a dose of reality that (at least intt the short term) may be rather difficult to swallow. When we’re ready to emerge from the other side of this, we’ll find that our socio-economic expectations as well as our understanding of our place in the world and in human history will be profoundly altered. Change, like ‘tomorrow’ from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “creeps on its petty pace from day to day;” while we’ve been obliviously trying to seize the day and hold it. Change doesn’t stop just because, for a time, we’ve stopped believing in it. Eventually, reality wins out, the denial has to break, and we find ourselves suddenly in Future Shock, trying to catch up.

One of the illusions that we’re watching going up in smoke is retirement. Pensions? No! 401K’s? Ugh! Social Security? Huh? That leaves us contemplating serial careers: once we’ve reached an age where it’s no longer appropriate to continue in our chosen career, we’re faced with a decision concerning our next, more age-appropriate career choice. With proper planning, we may be able to avoid ending our working lives where we began them: as supermarket baggers. However, the vast majority of us are going to have to end them someplace rather than on a beach in the Caribbean. We’re also having to rethink what we mean by a career. No one anymore can expect to spend their working life with the same organization, in the same job, or even in the same profession. Even the traditional life-long professions of doctor or lawyer no longer guarantee people a permanent place in the workforce. You don’t want to be overtaken by change and left out in the cold without a ‘Plan B’ just because somebody at some time sold you a bill of goods regarding job security!

We would do well to banish the term ‘job security’ from our vocabulary. The US department of labor estimates that today’s students will have between 10 and 14 jobs by the age of 38! Also 25% of today’s workforce has been with their current employer less than a year, and half the workforce has been at their current jobs less than five years. The majority of new jobs on the horizon will require extensive education. In general women will continue to be better educated (and therefore better suited for these jobs) than men. Add to this the fact that women’s temperament will increasingly be more appropriate for these jobs because they will require advanced social networking skills and the capability to share both information and responsibility openly and freely, and you’ll see clearly that men’s suitability for the most advanced positions of the future job market will become increasingly compromised. Men’s historic role in human society as the bread-winner, provider and protector has already become obsolete . . . we men just aren’t aware of it yet, or, if we are, we’re in denial.

In adolescence, our world was turned upside-down, and we had to reinterpret everything we thought we knew. If we were lucky, we had someone whom we could rely on to guide us by our side. Now that we’re approaching or involved in the midlife transition, we’re needing our world once again redefined and reinterpreted for us. If we’re wise, we’ll go looking for someone older to mentor us through this process as well. This is true particularly now, when our whole social structure is in flux, and with it our understanding of how we fit in and what our purpose here ought to be. These are no longer obvious facts, but conundrums that we’re needing to wrestle with (on top of all the rest of what we’re going through)!

On the down side, as we break out of our comfortable illusion of security, we’re increasingly going to be finding ourselves in a world that we can barely comprehend. Yet, at the same time, if we have the courage (particularly as men) to break out of our historic molds, face our unnamed or unmentionable fears about ‘manhood’ and imaginatively reinvent ourselves, we can look forward to what promises to be one of the most innovative and creative eras in all of human history. We’re at a watershed point right now. Why not grab the opportunity and run with it?

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching

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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown

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