What’s a Man To Do? New Work for 2012 and Beyond

Find the new good life. 

From Chapter 12 of MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools

Finding New Work In a World Turned Upside Down

Most of us wait until there is a crisis before we make a radical change in how we work and live. Chris Martenson, the developer of The Crash Course, stepped away from his career and made a radical change in his lifestyle just when it appeared he had it all. Here’s how he describes the change:

“Not long ago, I was firmly seated on the American Dream bandwagon. I had done everything that you are supposed to do—and more. In the 1990s, I earned my PhD in pathology/toxicology from Duke University and did two years of postdoctoral research with the intention of becoming a full-time professor. But life takes its twists and turns; I went on to get an MBA from Cornell and spent the next ten years working my way through and up the corporate ladder, ultimately becoming a VP at SAIC, a Fortune 300 company.”

I want to create a world worth inheriting. Everything else pales in comparison.

When the economy began going south in 2002, Martenson wasn’t satisfied with the answers he was getting from the “experts,” so he used his scientific background and business skills to find answers for himself. Based on what he learned, he decided to quit his job, sell the house and the boat, and move with his family to a small town where they could develop more sustainable lifestyle. At age forty-two, his midlife crisis sent him in a new direction toward a new life, one that is much more satisfying than life he had been leading.

But Martenson, like many men at this stage of life, had an intuitive sense that he needed to make a break with the past, not just for himself, but for his family and community. “The reason I have chosen this path in life over others that may have been easier or cushier is to fulfill my one highest goal,” says Martenson. “I want to create a world worth inheriting. Everything else pales in comparison.”

Preparing for the Transition and Living Well After the Crash

I also had a vision that things weren’t right with the world, and I spent some years researching the problem and figuring out what we could do in face of major changes going on in the world. Unlike Martenson, I had to wait until there was a real crisis in my life, an actual medical emergency of an adrenal tumor, before I was able to fully commit to a new way of life. Here are a few of my thoughts that I believe will help us make the transition.

See yourself as a pioneer in a new world. We are not facing the end of the world, as some would have us believe, but the greatest adventure of our lives. We have the unique opportunity to write a new chapter in the history of humankind, to be active participants in shaping a new world. Daniel Quinn opened his book Ishmael with a description of a short ad in the Personals section of a newspaper: “TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

In Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, Quinn elaborates and offers additional guidance. “Saving the world can only mean one thing: saving the world as a human habitat,” he says. “Accomplishing this will mean (must mean) saving the world as a habitat for as many other species as possible. We can only save the world as a human habitat if we stop our catastrophic onslaught on the community of life, for we depend on the community for our very lives.”

We are the teachers we’ve been waiting for, and we are the pupils who will develop new skills and relearn old skills that will serve us well as we enter the world of the future.

Find your place, plant your flag.  In times past, people had deep ties to a particular place. We had ancestral homes and communities where people knew their neighbors. In recent times, we have been on the move. Job requirements or job searches take us to different parts of the country, and in some cases, different parts of the world. But as we enter a new world where our economy is no longer growing, we will be drawn back to doing more in our local communities.  This is the time to put down roots and make a commitment to a place. As nations and states continue to experience economic upheavals, the action will increasingly be at the local level. What we need to survive and thrive will be acquired closer to home. Some will put down their roots in the country, others in the city. Follow your intuition and find the place that is calling to you.

Create a support group and join a tribe. I’ve talked about my men’s group that has been getting together since 1979. The group started with guys all living in the same general area, but over the years we’ve moved farther apart. We still get together three or four times a year and have developed deep and lasting bonds.  But I’ve felt a need to have a local group of guys that I meet with more often and who I see frequently. My wife, Carlin, and I have also joined a mixed group of men and women we call “the village circle” that meets monthly for support, ritual, discussion, and a wonderful shared meal. Daniel Quinn reminds us that humans are meant to be members of a tribe, even if people often resist that notion. “If you note that hive life works well for bees, that troop life works well for baboons, or that pack life works well for wolves, you won’t be challenged, but if you note that tribal life works well for humans, don’t be surprised if you’re attacked with an almost hysterical ferocity.”

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

It’s not that tribal life is idyllic. People are people and can do mean and ugly things no matter what the structure of their society. “The tribal life doesn’t turn people into saints: it enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation,” says Quinn.

Having a support group and being part of a tribe is not just fun, but necessary. British novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard once said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

Look for work worth doing.  For most of my life I believed the American Dream—that I could grow up and do anything in life. Just as we seemed to have an economy that could continue growing forever, I believed that I had an endless choice of possible professions. In the new world, our choices will be more limited and also more expansive. We can’t continue doing work that harms the planet, but there are millions of new jobs that can be good for us and good for the planet.

We can no longer do just any kind of work. Let’s face it; some work is destructive to our souls or the wellbeing of the planet. The work we do must be in support of all life, starting with our own. People who follow their deepest calling find that even if they earn less, they are more joyful in their lives.

Join a network and expand your view of work. We all need to work, not just to make a living, but to feel good about ourselves. But the economy is changing from one based on growth and the overuse of nonrenewable resources to one based on sustainability and balance. If you want to find out about the jobs for the future, join BALLE.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is fastest growing network of socially responsible businesses, comprised of over eighty community networks in thirty U.S. states and Canadian provinces and representing over twenty-two thousand independent business members across the U.S. and Canada.

BALLE believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century with an agility, sense of place, and relationship-based approach others lack. They are more than employers and profit-makers; they are neighbors, community builders, and the starting point for social innovation, aligning commerce with the common good and bringing transparency, accountability, and a caring human face to the marketplace.

It turns out a lot of what I bought was to deal with the stresses of being in a job I no longer enjoyed. When I was doing what I loved, I found I didn’t need to earn as much money.

Think of work differently. I grew up thinking that working for someone else was safe and working for myself was risky. When I lost my job at age sixty, I returned to school and got my PhD in international health. I put more energy into private counseling. My wife and I cut back on buying things that caught our attention and only bought things we really wanted. It turns out a lot of what I bought was to deal with the stresses of being in a job I no longer enjoyed. When I was doing what I loved, I found I didn’t need to earn as much money.

I realized that even if I worked for myself, the failing economy might still cause my income to drop. I always do some volunteer work in the community, but I am usually so focused on my career that I don’t have a lot of free time. After losing my job, I understood that if I was going to be successful, I needed to find work that I could do no matter what was happening to the economy. I started teaching classes on reducing stress and losing weight, two things that I wanted to do and seemed to be needed in the community. They were free and well attended.

Along with a local physician, I started the Willits Healthy Action Team (WHAT) that offers community walks for men, women, and children (and well-behaved pets). Our logo says that we are committed to personal, community, and planetary healing. It is a big success and gives me a chance to do things I love and offer them free to the community. In a declining economy, the best “social security” may be the old-fashioned security of helping others, knowing they will likely help you in return.

Work less, live more.  In her book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, economist Juliet Schor detailed the fact that we are working longer hours and enjoying our life less. She quotes a man who could easily be speaking for many of us. “Being a man means being willing to put all your waking hours into working to support your family. If you ask for time off, or if you turn down overtime, it means you’re lazy or you’re a wimp.”

Call a man a wimp and you can get him to do anything, even work himself to death.

Work less in the declining market, but use those freed-up hours productively, to invest in new skills and activities.

But times are changing. More men are realizing they can work less and enjoy their lives more. In a down economy, it may seem crazy to work less, but that’s just what Schor’s research suggests we do. “Work less in the declining market,” she says, “but use those freed-up hours productively, to invest in new skills and activities.”

Many men are going back to school, training for new jobs in the “green economy,” or building up social capital by becoming more deeply connected with others in the community.

Get to the new good life. Twenty-one-year-old Baskin-Robbins heir John Robbins had it made. He was set to take over a thriving business selling unlimited flavors of ice cream. “I was born at the pinnacle of the old good life,” he says, “with its promise of unlimited consumption, and I was poised to champion it into a new generation.”# But he chose a different path, one with less money but more in line with his values. He went on to write best-selling books, including Diet for a New America and Healthy at 100, and over the years he accumulated his own money while doing the work he loved.

Living simply, but wanting to have secure income to pass on to their son Ocean and his family, Robbins and his wife followed the guidance of a wealthy friend and invested all their life savings with him. The friend invested his own money and theirs with a trusted friend, and they hoped to be set for life. But the friend turned out to be Bernard Madoff.

Robbins remembers the call that told them that Madoff had been arrested for perpetuating the most massive financial fraud in world history. “On that phone call, we learned that more than 95 percent of our net worth had been stolen. Every cent we had put into the fund was gone … At first, I felt such enormous shock that I genuinely wondered if it might kill me.”

But Robbins did recover, and he went on to share his experiences in The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. “Born into riches,” says Robbins, “I’ve gone from there to chosen rags to self-made riches to unchosen rags to now recovering and once again creating sufficiency.”

Most of us don’t go through changes as dramatic as John Robbins’, but we all must deal with our own challenges.


Read more on Work/Life Balance and Quarter-Life Crisis on The Good Life.

—Photo credit: FlyingSinger/Flickr

About Jed Diamond Ph.D

Jed Diamond, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the MenAlive, a health program that helps men live long and well. Though focused on men’s health, MenAlive is also for women who care about the health of the men in their lives. Jed is the author of 14 books including his latest: The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. Since its inception in 1992, he has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network.  He is also a member of the International Society of Men’s Health and a founding member of the American Society of Men’s Health. He blogs for the ThirdAge, Huffington Post, BeliefNet, Scribd, and other venues. He is the only male columnist who blogs for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women.His homepage is MenAlive.com.

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