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"Keeping Up With the Guys"

The Inner Bottom Line ®
A Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas by Olive Gallagher

Dear Olive,

I’m a guy in my thirties who was successful until now. I’m in sales, make a lot of money doing something I love, I’m still crazy about my wife, and my kids are doing great in school. I’ve also had loyal buddies since my twenties who’ve stuck together and while that’s a source of pride, everything is changing and that’s got me pissed off. The company I’ve been with for seven years went under last month, and I’m out of a job. It’s not easy to find something else that pays as well. What makes things harder is the pressure from my buddies to play and spend on fun at levels that we always have. They’re secure and make as much or more than me. I don’t know how long I can keep up. Even though they act like it’s no big deal and I’ll find a new job soon, they don’t get what’s going on or want to talk about it. It’s jokes and shoot the breeze and that makes angry. What am I missing? What can I do? I can’t keep spending like this and I’m embarrassed. TM.

Dear TM,
Along with some honest and self-revealing comments, you should feel proud you could be honest and clear enough to admit you’re angry and pissed off. That saves us both a lot of time. You’ve lost your means to earn a living. Who wouldn’t be angry? But you also asked if you’re missing something. Losing a job can feel like losing a limb, eradicating a key part of identity and purpose. That can knock any person to their knees.

Why? Why does losing a job cut us to the quick and strike at the very heart of who and what we are, the labels we assign ourselves? Are we really what we do? Without title or position, do we cease to exist like everyone who’s still getting paid?

Losing a job smarts. Badly. The immediate impact and pressures it places upon not just our savings accounts and grocery bills but also on our psyches and egos are instant and immense. As if that weren’t enough, you’ve been trying to do the impossible: keep up with the guys.

Sometimes we just get so clever trying to solve a problem we walk right past the lump under the rug. Denial is a powerful tool. And along with our own ability to avoid not facing reality, friends can also enter a phase of denial when someone important experiences a trauma that cuts too close to home, like divorce or a medical crisis. It’s instinctive to avoid fire.

Accepting and acknowledging your new status is your responsibility. It’s up to you to set the record straight about your changed circumstances and diminished purchasing power by letting your friends know that things have to change, at least for now. Period. Harsh as that may sound, it’s the only adult, accountable way to give notice. You don’t have to make excuses or offer explanations. You’ve done nothing wrong; made no mistakes. You’re human, companies fail.

You do have choices. We always do. First, you can choose to do nothing, but that doesn’t seem to be working for you, is it? Writing to me indicates you’re at breakpoint and need something to change. Second, you can completely withdraw and leave your buddies wondering what’s up with you? But isolation can lead to depression and you know where that road can lead. Or third, you can be straight and say you have to cut back and if that means not being able to go on the next golfing trip or outing, then so be it. Putting the facts out there might bring a variety of responses; some of them heartening, some perhaps disappointing. You may find you have a few fair weather friends who don’t call as much, broadcasting the harsh fact that they probably never valued your company that much to adapt to support you.

In every heartache, loss or detour, life offers us opportunities to learn new lessons and gain fresh insights into our present values and choices. Are you ready? Are you willing to take inventory of your life and clarify and sort out what’s really important now that might not have mattered ten years ago? That kind of introspection could enable you to shift the status quo and head down a path that offers a new and enervating perspective on work, life and friendships.

It’s a journey worth taking. You just might meet yourself along the way.
Olive