Solitude of the Underemployed

Jacob Tucker’s search for identity begins each day when his wife leaves for work.

I can’t say that I’m unemployed. I teach guitar lessons to two people. I just taught a weekend express class at a local community college. My most recent regular job was in academic research. My salary was funded by an external research grant that had an expiration date. The tenured university faculty I worked with told me that I would be “taken care of” after the grant ended. That amounted to enough funds to allow me to work 20 hours per month. Yes: Per month. So I can’t say that I’m unemployed, although the solitude I face every day makes it feel like I am.

My wife has a nice, regular, full-time job. Every morning after making her breakfast and packing a lunch, I kiss her goodbye and wish her a good day. She’s been incredibly encouraging. Then I’m left alone. I wash the dishes, straighten up the house, do the grocery shopping, prepare supper, occasionally clean the bathrooms, search for a job, and wait for my wife to come home. And I do it all alone.

This is the first time in twenty years that I’m not in school. I went straight through grad school and got a master’s degree. Growing up I always heard that education was the key. So far for me it’s been the key to solitude. It’s been the key to questioning what I’m doing. It’s been the key to a more hazy perception of purpose than ever.

It’s been said that men find their identity in their careers. Where does a man find his identity when his career seems to be eluding him?

I can’t help but read and hear about men that have been out of work for more than two years. Families that had a household income in six figures that are now drawing unemployment. Educated people that are living in shelters. And it scares me.

This time of solitude has allowed for much self-reflection. It’s given me an opportunity for self-improvement. I’ve been running more. I designed a body weight bearing strength workout that I’ve stuck to. I’ve tried to hone my cooking skills. I read more. I write more. I’ve attempted to connect more closely to the God I believe in. But it’s still difficult. It’s like a game of hide and seek for my identity and purpose.

I’m driven to be the best man and husband I can be by the hope that when my career does get started I can reflect on this time and be proud of how I responded to it. This motivation doesn’t make it easy though. There are times in the silence that doubts come screaming through. Until it happens, I can’t be sure that a successful career will ever come. That’s where finding my identity becomes crucial.

I don’t want my identity to be in my career. It’s in the solitude that I’ve realized this. The solitude in which my doubts can’t hide is the same solitude that has cultivated a need for self-awareness. It’s the same solitude that holds the potential for self-discovery.I want to be able to look back on this time as a time in which I was strengthened by finding my purpose. I’ll keep searching for a start to my career. More importantly, I’ll keep searching for my identity. When I finally find a job and start a career, I’ll be ecstatic. If I can find my identity first, that will be worth even more.
—Photo Ctd 2005/Flickr
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About Jacob Tucker

Jacob Tucker is a freelance writer, researcher, sports fan, foodie, musician, fitness & health nut, bookworm, husband, and believer. You can find him on twitter and facebook. He is still deciding what to do when he grows up.


  1. I’ll keep searching for a start to my career. More importantly, I’ll keep searching for my identity. When I finally find a job and start a career, I’ll be ecstatic. If I can find my identity first, that will be worth even more.
    best wishes dude.
    your thinking about how you see identity absent of career made for very interesting reading

    • Jacob Tucker says:

      Thank you very much. It’s difficult to do for men because so many people view who a man is as a function of what they do. Anytime you meet someone new or reacquaint with someone you haven’t seen in a while they inevitably ask, “So…what do you do?” That makes it difficult to self-identify apart from one’s career, but I think it’s important to do whether you’re seeking that first big job, are a stay-at-home dad/husband, or have worked your way up to the top of the career ladder.

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