Work, Money – and fulfilment
Many men still have a deep-rooted sense that success means competing and achieving, especially in work. The measures of this success are narrow: fame, money, business empires. They rarely last long, and few achieve them. But work matters deeply to most men: it gives a feeling of self-worth and identity, for yourself, and in the eyes of your family and friends. It’s also an important source of social contact and support for many men.
Men run a big risk of thinking their work is who they are. I recall Nick, on a weekend group, who was a high flyer through his thirties and forties, and then burned out and was working part time. He said, “I used to think I was nothing without a posh car, and at least six grand a month. These days I’m working for a charity, earning peanuts, but I’m getting a huge income of satisfaction, seeing what I can do for someone else.”
These days, when you’re 50, you may have twenty or thirty good working years ahead of you – potentially. But most organisations bring people to career peaks in their forties, and can’t adjust to the vintage, maturing years. That’s just one of the work issues for men beyond 50. Here are some more:
- Feeling stuck, stale, demotivated in your work.
- Facing redundancy or retirement: sometimes chosen, sometimes imposed.
- Handling the new demands, and potential isolation, of self-employment.
- Feeling passed over, outshone, unvalued by the organisation and younger high fliers.
- Frustration or depression because you want to do something worthwhile, but can’t see how.
There are also money issues in this life stage, looked at later in the chapter. You probably have new financial priorities, like funding retirement, health care, ageing parents, or a divorce – at a time when the scope to earn good money seems to be shrinking. So your work choices have to match your money needs, but I’d urge you to look at fulfilment first, and finance second.
What this chapter offers is some new approaches to assess what work means for you, some tools to find a new vision and try it out, pointers on handling self-employment, redundancy and retirement, and ways to look anew at money and how to manage it.
Work: some new perspectives
Many men would no more think about work than a fish would think about water: it’s just there, you have to swallow it every day. But if you want to make changes in your life, work can be a good place to start: you can’t alter your family and your history, but you probably have more freedom about work choices than you believe – especially if you reduce your financial pressures. To help you loosen your assumptions and open to fresh options, here are six useful ways of looking at your work.
1. From careers to portfolios
Charles Handy is probably my favourite management guru, one of the few who brings the worlds of feeling and inspiration to this area. He was among the first to predict the huge changes in our ways of working in the past twenty years, and he coined the term portfolio working. He suggests that work is like savings: it’s unwise to invest everything in one place. The notion of a linear career, a steady progression in one line of work from school leaver to gold watch at 65, is pretty obsolete, but what’s to replace it?
Handy suggests that we think of work as any activity with a productive output, and that we aim for a portfolio of work, so we have diverse sources of income and satisfaction. This should also mean that if one piece of our work portfolio disappears, we are not up the creek. In his book, The Age of Unreason, where Handy launched this idea, he writes of five types of work for the portfolio:
- Wage work: where money is paid for time inputs.
- Fee work: where money is paid for results delivered. This type of work, more typical of self-employment, is growing rapidly, especially as more jobs are outsourced.
- Homework: this includes cleaning, repairs, caring for kids or parents: rarely paid, but still vital.
- Gift work: this is voluntary, unpaid work helping others, whether in your local community or beyond.
- Study work: this includes training and learning for new skills, and is growing in scale as change speeds up.
One great benefit of looking at your work from the portfolio viewpoint is that you now have several choices to consider, not one. You probably have a range of needs from your work, such as money, social contact, learning, fulfilment, and you may look to different parts of your portfolio to fulfil these various needs. Handy believes that the idea of retirement has become obsolete, and I agree with him: the portfolio makes it much easier to see your work as a transition across time. As you get into your 60s and 70s, you may no longer have the energy, desire or financial need to spend as much time earning money, but you will probably still want a work portfolio of some kind.
2. Repeating patterns at work
Through the 1990s, I led many workshops on how to fulfil yourself at work, mostly for men. One thing which surprised me was seeing how often men play out the same repeating patterns in their work as in relationships and other parts of their lives. So if you had a bullying, angry father who said you were never good enough, this is an experience you will probably find repeated in your work, bosses, business partners, or even colleagues. I believe that changing your work, or your approach to it, is one of the better ways to start to shift such patterns, and the change can then spread to other parts of your life.
Consider the major setbacks, frustrations, upsets you feel about your work currently, and in the past. Are there some repeating patterns, scenarios or emotions that keep coming round? Can you relate these to crucial episodes in your childhood? You may want to consider counselling or therapy to clear the original feelings. But also look at how you can change things in your work so that the old patterns are no longer stirred up in you.
3. Dangerous role models (Or ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’)
Look at the impossible expectations we place upon our leaders in politics, sport, business and beyond, and ask yourself where did this all start? We expect our leaders and heroes to be super-powerful, super-ethical, and self-sacrificing. Sooner or later, it becomes clear that every leader and hero is human, has faults, and another crucifixion by media results. It’s not a healthy set of expectations, whether you are leading or being led.
The insight here is to be really aware and careful about the role models that you and people around you buy into: especially if you are a leader or a manager, since the chances are that sometime you will have a painful fall. It helps to realise that this is a repeating pattern which our culture, led by the news media, plays out time and again. If you can value yourself, and the opinion of a few close friends, it may give you some resilience if you get caught up in this pattern. You could also look back at the section on role models in Chapter 1, and choose some fresh role models for your work.
4. Human sustainability at work
The basics of environmental sustainability are familiar to most of us: the need to balance energy inputs and output, to use renewable energy sources, to recycle and reduce pollution. Organic farming produces food sustainably. Have you ever thought that these same principles of sustainability and organic growth could apply to people, and the way they live and work? My first book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself, grew from my experience of starting an organic farm, and it translates the methods of organic growth into the area of human sustainability. For example, clean energy sources for your work are enthusiasm and inspiration, whereas pressure, fear and stress are like artificial fertilisers which force the growth but pollute your underlying resources.
Adopting the organic approach can help individuals and whole organisations to work in a way which renews their human resources, instead of depleting and polluting them, and brings more fulfilment. To give you a practical taste of this approach, try doing the Personal Energy Audit in Appendix 1. Many people have learned a lot from this process about how their work is renewing them or depleting them. And you can also use the Personal Energy Audit to assess any new line of work you are considering.
5. Left side, right side: using your full brain
Think about your own life, and other men you admire: how often are logic and analysis the keys to success? Mostly it’s vision, intuition, hunch, gut feel – all of which come from the right side of the brain. Nobel prize-winning research by Sperry and Ormstein identified the different skills of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. What we usually regard as thinking and brain skills come from the left side of the brain: analysis, structure and so on. Most men rely too much on these left-brain skills, and have trouble linking them to the vital gifts of the right side, such as imagination, intuition, and synthesis – seeing new solutions and meaning in a messy, complex situation.
One of the most basic skills maturing men need in re-inventing themselves is to access the right-side of the brain to lead them, instead of attacking every problem with the left. You could say that the left side of the brain is a great executive, but a lousy leader. You can find tools to access these right-brain skills in Resources and Appendix 1. Re-visioning your work is a great place to try them out.
6. You can get it if you really want it…
I know a lot of maturing men who feel powerless and unhappy about work: whether they have some or not. Those in work are often unfulfilled, unappreciated, but believe it’s too late to change. Those without work think they’re too old to be employable.
I believe work offers huge scope for most men of any age to change, grow, learn, and have adventures: especially if you accept that not all work has to be paid, and that you can reduce any money pressures. I’ve been happy and successful in my work most of the time, and I’ve also seen a lot of men find the skills and confidence to re-invent their work and find fulfilment. So, believe it’s possible, and use the next section to help you.
The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself by Alan Heeks. ISBN 1-8578826-1-X. This uses the principles and practices of organic growth to show how people and organisations can combine achieving results with fulfilment and a way of working that is renewing, not depleting. You can see a summary of the key ideas at www.thenaturaladvantage.com.
The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy. ISBN 0-09-975740-0. Charles Handy is one of the most perceptive writers about the world of work, and its relationship to human need: including the search for meaning, and to the immense changes coming from technology and economic pressures. This book introduces the portfolio concept briefly described in Chapter 4, along with other ideas about changing organisation structures, Boiled Frog syndrome and more. Several of Handy’s other books have useful insights about work: for example, The Empty Raincoat ISBN 0-09-178022-5 has a whole section on the new issues of what he calls the Third Age, which is the life stage of maturing men.
What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. ISBN 978-1580082709. This is sub-titled A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changes, and it delivers just that. You will find a lot of free information and guidance on his website, www.jobhuntersbible.com.