Retiring Retirement

The current economic climate serves as a catalyst for a shift in the normative developmental tasks of middle age. The popular twentieth century pattern of career leading to retirement has ended.

Partly obscured within the spiraling numbers of unemployed workers of all ages, is the high incidence of professional knowledge workers, freed through the economic imperatives of corporate fiscal panic to pursue other interests.

Unfortunately, the shock of the real is what most encounter, as carefully crafted cover letters and resume submissions multiply; with the dawning recognition, often in deep emotional distress, that conventional job-seeking has become ineffective.

My clinical and consulting experiences suggest that this realization heralds a period of turmoil, involving the pragmatic reassessment of personal/familial finance as well as a new-found faith in social networking.

Among the more positive outcomes of this experience, is the recognition that work needs to be reconceptualized not as a singular career, but as a mosaic of projects-in-development, which must be consistently cultivated and curated.

However unpleasant the process, it has become the new “normal”; and occasions two significant psychosocial developments.

The first is the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class, composed of formerly reluctant workers. Entrepreneurship alone becomes the avenue for economic survival under the Recession’s hastening of a downsizing trend already notable at the beginning of the millennium.

The second is a shift from the 20th Century norm of career employment followed by retirement. The challenge, however, is the same transitional period that once hounded retirees contemplating their future (what will I do? How will I keep busy? I have no/many hobbies, etc) now confronts the middle-aged worker a decade or so earlier, compounding the shock of being “between jobs” which means being between something and nothing. The conflict hits just as the individual struggles between what psychoanalyst Erik Erikson understands as generativity and stagnation, leading to the consolidation of life’s activities either in success or in despair.

The emergent societal crisis challenges the individual to consolidate everything she knows and has learned. The imperative is toward generativity; though the socio-economic effect of unemployment may compound one’s developmental sense of stagnation. Resolution of this conflict of is real and has life/death economic consequences. It is about both meaning and earnings; and presents a serious test, late in life, of further consolidating one’s personal identity.