How Do You Maintain Your Manhood and Dignity While Living Underemployed?

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About Brian E.

Blogger and graduate student from St. Louis Missouri.


  1. Thanks for writing this and sharing your story. I have personally hit hard times myself. I know the feeling of wanting to withdraw but learned first hand that that is a mistake. You need your support system.

    But, like Jimmy V said: “Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.”

    In my case, I had a failed business that crushed me financially. I rose from those ashes only to hit hard times again when the economy crumbled in 2008. I have twice taken jobs well below what I was accusomed to earning and what my bill demanded. It got very ugly and desperate at times.

    I understand the feeling/need to withdraw. It’s embrassing and humilliating to not handle your business and you and others anticipate that you will and can. But, stay the course. You need your people around you and they will respect that you aren’t giving up.

    I can only say to hang in there, never, ever give up. You might need to reinvent yourself by creative resume writing – certainly not lying or deciept but enhancing and focusing on skills that were not the core of your past jobs. If you were an architect but did a lot of CAD work, for instance – be a CAD designer. Take some online classes, even if they’re Youtube videos – so that you can say that you have working knowledge of whatever they need.

    When it was clear that I wasn’t succeeding in going for my core- experience jobs, I created a customized resume for every single job I applied for, named it after that company, and dated it. This way, if and when they called me, and if I were interviewed, I would know exactly what to stress/emphasize – it worked! I increased my salary by 60%, back up close to where it was before.

    “Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.”

    BTW, this is the kind of content that GMP needs more of.

  2. marvin nubwaxer says:

    I think unemployment and underemployment for a large number of Americans will become the fact of life here. The jobs that have gone overseas will never come back and work here is as automated, computerized, and robotisized as employers can get. So how does our society deal with 10 to 25% of its population underemployed or unemployed? I believe we are heading toward a civil war (not necessarily an armed conflict) between haves and have nots, Republican versus Democrat, far right versus not so far left based on whether we will continue and expand social programs or let people die in the streets, starve or be executed as blood sport. I see a major crisis of mental illness resulting from this situation as well. Who will pay the costs resulting from that? who will treat those suffering in their minds from idleness and feelings of worthlessness? Who will pay the costs or will the suffers roam homeless and of no concern to the self righteous rich and employed? Is this society’s problem or just tough luck, glad it’s not me’s individual problem?

  3. You mentioned quite a few things in things your writing…

    You said: “I wish I lived in times that were less complicated, and where relationships with the opposite sex were built on love, trust, companionship, and character. Dating today is mainly class based, with larger barriers between levels as you move up. With a working class income, I am locked out of middle class and upper-middle class social circles—and that includes dating.”

    There have NEVER been times like this. Men have always wanted beautiful women MORE than women who were not beautiful – character be damned. Relationships between the sexes were often based on exchanges – food, clothing, shelter, and relative physical safety for sex, compliance, domestic services, and birthing of children. Among the upper class you could add social or political status and birthing of “legitimate heirs.” In the past, racial and class separation in the dating world were even more rigidly enforced than they are today. I will say that your dating prospects as an underemployed Black man would have been better in the past because Black women had fewer options and having an underemployed man would have been better than having an unemployed man or no man at all.

    On some level you know this because you said–> “Since there is more economic parity between the genders, women don’t have to marry men for economic security.”

    That’s right. So, develop your OTHER skills – your relationship skills…your ability to relate, be loving and supportive, and be an attractive romantic partner in other non-wallet ways.

    You also said: “ even women who are financially independent tend to want men who earn more money. Women who have their own careers at least want a financial equal. One would think that more economic parity would make it easier for men to date and marry, but that hasn’t been what I have seen.”

    Secret: It isn’t about the money – it’s about NOT having to deal with a man who’s ego is negatively impactd by a woman who earns more than he does. An out of balance male ego is a big relationship killer. Everyone knows this.

    You said this–> “The kind of partner that I want would require a man who is more financially secure.”

    What kind of partner is that? Someone who wouldn’t recognize integrity, wit, humor, loyalty, respectfulness, because it did not arrive in a pearl white Mercedes? For God’s sake – you are not unemployed – you are underemployed. It sounds like you are inflexible and limiting your own options…It sounds like you have delayed your life because you think you don’t have enough money to attract your “Beyonce” and be in control of the relationship due to your status as “the man.”

    • “be loving and supportive, and be an attractive romantic partner in other non-wallet ways.”

      Unfortunately, there are not many women who appreciate these qualities. At least not initially. If you don’t own a business, drive a fancy car, you aren’t an athlete, etc… it’s hard to get an opportunity. In the current reality show culture… the material things are often prerequisites for dating.

      “It sounds like you have delayed your life because you think you don’t have enough money to attract your “Beyonce” ”

      Replace Beyonce (can’t stand her…dislike everything about her lol) but you are probably correct w/ your larger point… I have delayed starting /enjoying life so that I could meet some ridiculous social/financial standard, mainly constructed by the opposite sex. I have reached an age (late 30′s) where I now recognize that I will probably never meet that standard. I am now just looking to meet my own standard…. which is to have a comfortable income (which is a level that is still above where I am now). I’ll be fine with a lower middle class – middle class income & I want to be happy. But even that is elusive at the moment.

  4. Your problem is that your expectations are way too high. Lower them. Reconnect with your family. Date some lower class women. You’ll be happier.

    • Lower class women? Nope… I wouldn’t be happy. We wouldn’t have much in common & wouldn’t have anything to talk about. I’m not a completely awkward nerd…. but I am a bit of an egghead. I may want to talk politics, news, history, the economy, ethnomusicology, or world events…and if she has no idea what i’m talking about, it wouldn’t work out. I don’t like “drama” either. I need a lady who is either on a college campus or has been through one and is emotionally/mentally balanced. “Down to earth” = yes….. She could be down to earth AND an extraordinary woman. But not sold on the idea of trying to match myself with women who i’m pretty much incompatible with.

  5. I have to agree with LOLing here. Just a quick story: When I met my fiance two years ago, he had been underemployed for over two years. I had a full time steady job, great pay, insurance, and basically all the perks that come with a good job. He was lucky to get 20 hours a week at his almost minimum wage job, and was constantly stressed. Despite that, despite his unhappiness and feeling inadequate, we connected deeply. So deeply that his financial and employment situation didn’t matter to me. He didn’t want me paying all the time, so we found things to do that he could afford as well. He would feel sad and depressed, but instead of hiding from those feelings he talked to me. And eventually, his life improved. He now has a great steady full time gig, and it looks like he’ll be there for the long haul, and we’re getting married soon. I guess I’m saying, don’t give up. You don’t have to date a woman who makes $100,000 a year. You don’t have to date a woman who would judge someone because they happen to be stuck in a bad situation. Change your expectations, and your view of the world and all things in it may change.

  6. Tom Matlack says:

    Brian this is a courageous and important story to tell and for us to publish. I thank you for submitting it here and for sticking with the process. “how does a man maintain his manhood and dignity while living under-employed, especially when manhood and dignity are tied to “work“ and being the provider? How do you do it when unemployed for that matter? I don’t know. ”

    Indeed that is the question of the hour for many of us. I don’t know either but telling the honest truth of what is going on is the first step in the right direction.

  7. “The kind of partner that I want would require a man who is more financially secure.”
    A shallow partner? A woman who expects to be “kept”? Why would you want someone who can’t see past some temporary unfortunate luck? That judges you by your job title or checking account? Yes, a man who doesn’t have to struggle is always a big plus to a woman, just as a Victoria’s Secret model may be to a man, but a woman with integrity, the kind of partner I would think you would rather be with, is not concerned about how much you bring in; she is concerned that you work hard, have ambitions, and don’t let your paycheck be the sole determinant of your self worth. Your issue with dating is not because of your job situation, it is because you can’t see your value past what an employer deems it. And if you can’t see what makes you great from the inside, a potential partner certainly won’t either.

    • LOLing Woman says:


      He wants a certain type of partner. He is working class & he doesn’t want a working class woman. That’s why he doesn’t date.

      His ideal woman expects a man who CAN pay – big for her compliance and her company.

      Men don’t fantasize about virtue, loyalty, and integrity. They fantasize about blonde hair, a small waist, perky tits and submission.

      • As a guy, I fantasize about both looks & personality.

      • Virtue, loyalty and integrity are very hard to come by. Not only in dating but also in work and other relationships. Blonde hair and a small waist are nice, as are perky tits, but few women, working class or not, are interested in men who can be a provider for them and make them feel secure, whether they admit it or not. In the olden days it was the biggest guy who killed the most animals and bought home the most mammoth meat. Now its the guy in the nicest suit with the right address and bank account. Men know this which is why they attach such significance to it.

        This is also where the ego comes in- when a woman earns more than a man, the man is not usually worried about keeping up but he is worried about losing her because he is not keeping up. For better or for worse (I think worse), social values are tied up in financial values. When people first meet, one of the first three questions is usually, “what do you do?” And when people date, one of the follow ups is “where do you live?”

        While I appreciate and respect women whose actions show that they can accept a partner who is not as financially secure as they are, in my experiences, both direct and observed, such women are a rarity and I think the writer knows this. With more women in school and more women entering the workforce, it will be interesting to see how they will cope with the idea of being the primary earner.

    • Sounds great Jennifer. I would love to find a woman who was more concerned with character…that I work hard, etc. But the reality is, a large segment of the female population isn’t really focused on that…. at least not initially. You need a kickass career, condo, and a nice car to get to the point where you can break the ice and pursue anything. These have become prerequisites in the reality TV culture where women want the Hollywood wedding. This is the unfortunate reality of the culture we live in. As a woman… you probably can’t see it from your perspective the way that I do…. so I don’t really expect you to “get it”. But I know you have to see the Hollywood wedding culture (Avg. wedding cost is in the neighborhood of $30,000…. even more for professional folks). Women are in competition with one another to see who can reel in the biggest fish….& who can throw the biggest wedding, etc… it’s silly. Even many of the “down to earth” women have certain financial expectations. Materialism is not just for the rich and the well-to-do anymore. It’s everywhere unfortunately.

  8. I agree with the commenters who have advised you to reach out and reconnect with your support system. I can understand how embarrassment would cause you to retreat, but the isolation will only make you feel worse.

  9. Thanks for all the great comments. I will come back to follow up.

    Writing this commentary = a (partial) relief. Will take time to get life on track, if that is possible at all.

    (Blogger & graduate student from St. Louis Missouri)

  10. This is a good story, Brian, and I wish you the best.

    One recommendation I would make is to shake off the cultural programming you’ve been fed about how men still need to be “financially successful providers.” Women have said they didn’t want to be taken care of, and I strongly suggest we take them at their word. Support YOURSELF, and don’t worry about coming up with ways to demonstrate your financial success to shallow and selfish women (like Bolick) who won’t give a working-class man a second glance. They, not you, are the losers in that exchange.

  11. The ‘women are greedy/men are shallow’ argument is just a distraction. Like race. Like religion. Like the ‘ideal’ family. Striving to better yourself and striving to improve the system are not mutually exclusive. You are not a casualty of the system, and certainly not unworthy of it. You are desperate, and desperate men make cheap workers. You are exactly what the system wants you to be. Fight for a better one.

  12. Every word of your story represents success. You have the gift of storytelling to carry into your future. I hope that you find ways to reconnect with community as you are living through trying times with dignity and character. I hope that you find a community of folks to connect, share and build family if not in STL, virtually. Meaningful relationships help us find our worth beyond the workplace.

    Please consider finding opportunities to repost your story with other groups — Colorlines, NAACP and Huffington Post come to mind. Look for opportunities share you life with young brothers, your sense of grit and struggle is powerful. Your voice of truth is brave, courageous moving past marginality to significance.

    Keep us posted on your progress.

  13. This is the reason why there are protestors camping out in the rain across the country. This economy is so horrible. People do everything right and they are still struggling. This is a country where most of the GDP pours into the bank accounts of people who are already millionaires and people who want to work are screwed. Any economic system that relies on mass unemployment to drive down wages is not something we can count on.

  14. The U.S. economy has fundamentally changed over the past 25 yrs. It will never be like it was. With the pressures of globalization, tech advances, the lack of change in the educational system, and the governments unwillingness to steer the economy in a new direction (“green energy” for example), and the anti-tax fervor, means that the U.S. will be in a rut for a very long time. People are going to have to change how they live long-term, as changing incomes impact the quality of life.

    This is part of the reason why Congress has about an 8 or 9% approval right now.

    You are correct about wages. I had more expendable income 18 years ago…and was doing better/was more hopeful.

  15. Why don’t you just keep trying for those jobs you want and quit putting so much pressure on yourself.
    You are well educated? Then you know that the relationships we have are really mirrors of ourselves, that by taking care of yourself first, the other stuff falls into place.You want it all now.
    Even though you sound like a self inflated snob. Do you think your alone in all this? There are many out of work, calling and badgering a work olace to tell you why your not hired, does not help?
    Go to the local unemployment office, maybe you don’t have all the ideas, and Ms. Bollick is welcomed to have her own opinion, but it doesn’t matter more just because she wrote a book.Think of your options, such as bankruptcy so your debt doesn’t weigh on you so much-there are very inexpensive and slide scale lawyers that can tell you how that goes,because, guess what-some of them are not getting any work either.
    Get a grip, get some antidepressants going and you may see things differently.
    Good Luck

  16. I really, really feel your pain, Brian. I too had a near-financial-death experience between 2008 and 2010, and it was the most gut-wrenching, horrible experience of my life. But then things turned around! Keep fighting! You are obviously bright and capable, and someone, somewhere will appreciate that. In my case, the solution was hiring myself, though that might not be the solution for you.

    Some practical suggestions: I joined a church-based (but non-sectarian) networking group for un- and under-employed professionals. I found it to be very helpful. Perhaps there are similar resources in the St. Louis area? Get on Linkedin and sign up for Open Networkers—you can pick up thousands of connections that way, and a handful of them might help you to advance the ball. Consider supplementing your modest salary with self-employment earnings. Can you tutor kids? Help people in the college application process? (I don’t know your specific skill set, other than the ability to write well.)

    I’m happy to help in any way I can. Is there a way to get in touch with you that doesn’t involve posting my email address on this forum?

  17. Brian, thanks for your honest and brave article, I agree, it deserves to be more widely read. Please spread it around on some more sites if you can. I know you are not alone in how you feel.
    Bottom line; the system isn’t working any more, and blaming yourself for your “failures” makes as much sense as blaming yourself for getting hit by a drunk driver; the dysfuntional economy is not your fault. I’m white and have 2 MA’s and I am struggling too; so are most people I know including a lot of PhD’s. You are actually doing pretty well, i.e. you are employed! I think the only real hope is to rebuild our economy from the ground up, and this will take time and political action… Meanwhile do yourself a favor and stop judging yourself by standards which were formulated during the 1950′s; a time when the economy was growing and there was far more opportunity for financial advancement. You have swallowed the “party line” of the 1% ruling class hook line and sinker, and it is only dragging you down… Don’t give up on your dreams, and keep doing what you are doing, striving, speaking the truth and reaching out. You may never achieve the financial success you dream of (reality is, most of us won’t, there isn’t enough wealth in the world for all of us to be upper middle class!) but you are obviously a survivor and and you can have a meaningful and productive life even if you never get rich.
    And get off your butt and start dating! Plenty of good women value intelligence, compassion, and moral courage above wealth and fancy cars. I’m sure you are a catch, go out and make some lady’s day!

  18. Great Article that I wish I had read when it was first published. I believe that it reflects how a lot of men feel these days. It also reflects that a lot of men want to work and that work is important to men. The job market sucks and I don’t see anything getting better any time soon. Things have changed in a big way for men. Back when I was young, my competition for positions was pretty much limited to other men and some women. Now-a-days, the competition is many men and many women.

    That being said, I would like to shed some light on career and life in general. Some of the most stressed employed people I’ve ever met are those high income people. Back in the old days when I was upper management in the corporate world, I can say that stress was overwhelming. I was electronically connected to my job 24/7. I traveled 80% of the time. Income was great, perks were great but life was nothing but stress.

    So I guess I would agree that “under employed” sucks, but “having it all” can suck too. Try not to make your career who you are in life. This is a lesson that women will some day learn. There is no secret that diseases such as heart disease, which have been a common problem with men, is correlated with the stresses men have endured for many many years. Feminism of the 60’s and 70’s painted the working men as having it all. Reality is that men did and still do die earlier then men.

    Yes, it was once said that goal of one generation of men was to be a step above the past. But what is a step above? It’s how you want to look at it. IMO, a step above my dad is that I live longer then he did. He died in his first year of retirement. I am a step above simply because I’m now enjoying life more, life outside my job. I now thoroughly enjoy my job even though what I make now is more then half of what I used to pay in taxes. Although many of my investments are down the poop shoot, I have a couple of things that keep our heads above water. I no longer have the “toys” I once had but what I do have is a great life with my family and friends.

    All I can say is be happy, don’t look at your income or career position as being the measuring stick to success.

  19. Brian E, and others. The basic problem is that most people don’t know how to get a good white collar job, even if they know how to do the job once they get it. Worse yet, most people THINK they know how to get a job, so they do the wrong things, then get frustrated when it doesn’t pay off. What’s the RIGHT way to get a job? See this link: for a free workbook on how to do it

    Brian, I am an experiences and successful executive coach, career coach, and relationship coach, and I have an offer for you, if you are still looking for good work: I coach you on how to get a job (and how to get a date) for a tiny fee, and as you start to feel success, you write about it and tell your friends. Why am I asking for a fee? The client needs to have some skin in the game or they don’t do the work. My usual fee ranges between 400 and 600 per month, I am thinking about a lot less than that, because this sounds like a good opportunity. for both of us. Are you game?

  20. Brian,

    Thanks for your courage and willingness to write and share your truth about your experience. These are issues more and more men (and the people who love them) will have to address. As a fellow Good Men Project blogger and man, I know how difficult it is to deal with employment issues and manhood at this time of massive economic, environmental, and social change.

    I still remember when I was unemployed a few years ago. I was totally unprepared for the emotional devastation that occurred as I constantly worried about money and work and how I would support my family. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t.

    Articles like yours can awaken us all to the new realities of life at the end of 2013:

    1. Our sense of self can no longer rest on a foundation of being “the breadwinner.”
    2. We need social support from other men as never before (I’ve been in a men’s group that
    has been meeting regularly for 34 years now. The guys have been lifesavers).
    3. What it means to be a “good man” worthy of love and respect from a good woman is changing. And
    the good news is that you are a good man and I’m presuming you only need to find one good
    woman to journey through life with.

    I have no doubt you will succeed on your path (as I also have no doubt that success for more and more
    of us will include dealing with the emotional trials of under and unemployment.

  21. How to maintain your manhood and dignity? My friend, you’re doing it right now. You are living in a very difficult time, one that you did not create. The people who determine how our economy functions have long since turned their backs on most of the population, and the economy no longer exists to meet our society’s needs. Instead we exist to serve the economy’s needs and that is why it fails so many of us.

    The fact that you endure this without giving up is a sign of your strength. The fact that you had the courage to step up and share this deeply personal story with the world, knowing that people are free to comment on what you’ve lived means you show more fortitude than most people I know. These facts make you a man. And a strong one at that.

    I also have to say that it saddens me to read a lot of the comments to this article. That so many chose not to empathize with the pain in your life and not understand what you’re going through.

    There is no better example of what is wrong with our society right now than your story. Women have unprecedented control over their lives, and that is a very good, wonderful thing. The problem is, that the traditional role that men played was in some ways empowering – strong, confident, successful. These are all good things, but it’s a limiting role, and doesn’t reflect our larger personalities as humans. Our traditional role has lingered too long because it made some men feel good, and many women still find those traits attractive, and so this outdated model of a man has lingered, and that’s a bad thing. It’s not realistic to expect most men to be strong, confident, and successful in today’s economy.

    Women are looking for men that are confident, well then let’s all work together to make it easier for men to feel confident about themselves when their work situation isn’t going well. Confidence doesn’t grow in a vacuum.

    If only we rewrote the book on what a man is expected to be, you could take off some of the social pressure you feel, give yourself a break, and recognize your manliness is doing just fine.

  22. Furthermore, some things you can do, if you have the time, find a group oriented sports activity to do. I am a marathon runner who runs with a group of people. They are a constant source of support and understanding. When times are tough, doctors always say, “Do some exercise,” which means whatever sport you choose, there is bound to be someone in the group who isn’t feeling great either, and might be the sympathetic ear you need. Given the story of your upbringing, I was shocked to see some people had recommended that you reconnect with your family. Only you know them, and only you know whether it would be healthy to have contact. Friends on the other hand, you can choose them, and you do need them.

    Even if you don’t find someone you connect with immediately, you’ll be doing something healthy and releasing needed endorphins that will make you feel a bit better. The more you do it, the more your brain releases these essential chemicals (basically, the healthier your body gets, the more endorphins your body releases). Our bodies make all the drugs we need, and it does it for free.

    Best of luck to you, and I please don’t give up. We need all the manly men like you we can get.


  1. [...] Quote from an underemployed man in his 30′s with about $75K in student loans. [...]

  2. [...] The above is a quote from an underemployed man in his 30′s with about $75K in student loans. [...]

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