ALC Consulting

May 13, 2009

Life and the Movies

Filed under: LIfe Balance — Anne Cloward @ 10:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When I was growing up, there was a movie genre called the Western. Tall men, like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas sauntered across the screen and saved the town, ranch, or lives, killed the Indians, and got the girl. Somewhere in the 50s, they ran their course and they were not populating movie screens any more. In 1968, version of this type of hero burst on the screen in Hang ‘Em High with the archetypical drifter who comes into town and cleans up and leaves lots of bodies behind. Clint Eastwood claimed this role as his own and produced several more versions of this film for years.


To some younger readers, he may be a bit dated, but to many of us, we grew up with this concept of masculinity. I am not going to debate the validity of this stereotype here, but accept it. Many of us were raised with this idea of the strong man. He never had to show any emotion, never had to show any weakness. This is not the kind of man who would sit down and pour out his feelings to a group, and certainly not a woman. Women are supposed to be supported and protected by men; they are the ones who break down and cry.

What does that have to do with careers and job searches?

Clint Eastwood does not get fired. He fires people or terminates them, take your pick.

But life is not the movies. It’s much more complex and not nearly as cut and dried.

Rather than drifting across the plains, most people work in communities, whether it is an office, a corporation, a city. The workers I am thinking of use their brains rather than their brawn to do their jobs. They design widgets, program them, sell them, describe them, and manufacture them. By working together as a team, they produce enough widgets that produce the stream of money for the company who pays the members of the community so they can feed their families. This is oversimplified here, but the principle has been in place for centuries. It is a source of pride for many men to “be IBMers,” or “do things the Intel way,” or be part of the “Nike Family.”

As long as there is a steady demand for these widgets, things went along well. But business runs in cycles, and when a downturn occurs, management finds ways to get more for their money. About 15 years ago, US bosses got the bright idea of hiring people in other less developed countries to make the widgets for them. It would cost them a whole lot less to do business. Thus, the great outsourcing movement began. Men who lived hundreds of miles away, having no compassion for any members of the community, looked at numbers and decided that certain jobs were to filled by someone in a third world country making about one tenth as much as their current employees.

In our society, upon meeting others at social gatherings, the first question asked of a man is, “What do you do?” How easy it is to answer that question when you have a job and can identify yourself by the company name and function. But what happens to a man when he doesn’t have a company to claim, and no title to describe him?

Some men figure things out. Others never do. It depends on so many factors, but a common phenomenon for such men in this situation is to become depressed. This man, the provider for his family, has failed. He wonders how others view him now. Another worry he has is how will his wife view him? Depression in men often manifests itself in sadness or anger. For many men, the displaced target of their anger is those in the family who are weaker or smaller than he is.

One blog (By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog) recently presented this point of view of being out of work. I was amazed at how many men agreed with him, and shared those same feelings. The writer said,

“There is a tremendous amount of cultural pressure on men to be the primary ‘providers’ for their families. While I’ve always been aware of this mentality on some level, I had no idea how deeply it was imprinted on my mind until I woke up one day and discovered to my horror and embarrassment that I was failing miserably. I had no job, no paycheck, and no prospects. In my shallow and shaky mind, this was enough to convince myself that I had unforgivably let down my wife and child, who had put their trust and confidence in me and in my abilities to provide them with everything they need.”

One man I know was an attorney for an insurance company. When this medium sized company was bought by one of the big giants in the field, he was asked to work on a project to tie up a lot of loose ends. He could see an end to the project after about seven years. Telling them he was hesitant to complete a project and be put out on the street at age 55, he was assured that would not happen. When the project ended, one month after his 57th birthday, he was unceremoniously laid off. Fifteen minutes was all it took to tell him he no longer had employment with them. He could not even face looking for a job, made no inquiries talked to no placement agencies. He and his wife have struggled to keep things together, but it has been difficult.

He was totally devastated. For the first year, he traveled and drifted about. Then, he spent months trying to ready his home to sell. Coming on the second anniversary of the disaster, he and his wife are involved in Church work in South America. But when they return in a year, he will have to face the situation anew. But, as his wife says, “He has no self-esteem. He cannot even think of having to go through the process of finding a job.”

Another man, whose whole identity was wrapped up in his being an employee of a large hardware manufacturer, got into some very self destructive behavior that cost him his wife and children. His job skills were so honed in on his company, he found himself years behind the trends that were now industry standards. After three years, he finally found employment. Six months later, he died, at the age of 54, as his system was overwhelmed by a massive infection. The doctors were amazed at how quickly it just took over all of his body.

Next: Women and unemployment.


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