Stop planning; let your life lead you where you're meant to go.
Suze Orman is credited with saying, "The purpose of money is to make people feel secure." I would say this is a valid statement considering depression and anxiety related to financial and job stress continues to be a major concern for individuals I see in my practice and who seek counseling and mental health services in general. Though economists and financial analysts say that stocks are up and foreclosures are down, the economy for many continues to be a concern. Last week, USA Today reported that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 12.2%. On the other hand, some employees still face significant financial challenges in their ability to manage financial obligations. Based on a study released today by Huffington Post, many may be underpaid while also feeling unfulfilled, stressed and frustrated that they are not utilizing their education skills.
Then what about the chronically unemployed, or those who fell victim to job loss six or seven years ago and have given up looking for work? Because unemployment and financial strain can start a vicious cycle of depression, loss of personal control, decreased emotional functioning, and poorer physical health, individuals who find themselves in the midst of job and financial turmoil are now somewhat forced to think "outside the box" that they have created for themselves in order to sustain themselves. But what is the "box" and how does one get out of it?
The "box" in this instance is the identity that was created either for us or by us. What is identity? Identity, a very complex concept, in simple terms is one's sense of self and the relationship that one has with sense of self. But sometimes our relationship with who we think we are (or are supposed to be) gets in the way of our relationship with who we were meant to be — healthy, happy and whole. Finding niches that provide a "good fit" for one physically and psychologically is important for optimal identity development. In some instances, however, one's sense of self is developed as a result of "messages" given to the person that potentially impede authentic optimal identity development.
For instance, maybe you were raised Baptist and because someone in your family told you that "we are born Baptist and we die Baptist," you never converted to Islam, even though you prefer that religion. Maybe you like dancing and choreography, but because someone told you that "real men" (if you are a man) do not aspire to be dancers/choreographers, so you become a banker instead. While you may be good at your job, you have gone to work daily at the same bank 15 years unfulfilled. You are not completely happy with your job, but it has become a safety net and a sense of who you are (e.g. your identity). In essence, you have become comfortable in this "box" that you literally allowed someone else to create for you by living up to their messages. But when your job at the bank becomes a casualty of the economy after 15 years, the stability and foundation of this "box," or your sense of self, rapidly erodes. This is because most of us link our jobs/careers to various components of our sense of self (e.g. who we are, who we socialize, where we live, and what socioeconomic status we live). Loss of or sudden drastic change in these components can cause an individual to question their sense of self, leading to mental and emotional turmoil.
Formation of sense of self is ongoing, but the amount of mental and emotional turmoil experienced during transitions that impact our sense of self is contingent on one's ability to make room for transition (e.g. explore new alternatives, make new identity decisions, and be responsive to new internal or contextual cues) rather than liken the transition to one's sense of self (e.g. self-justification, seeing one's own unacceptable feelings in others and poor insight). Many adults never reach optimal identity development due to their unwillingness to be open to experiences that may shake up who they have become. Rather, most prefer to choose current life circumstances that confirm who they have become, as opposed to exploring who they want to be or really are. Sometimes the process of exploring this person is painful and distressful because there is a lot of exposure to past woundedness and healing involved. But, if you are financially and mentally distressed and if you are unfulfilled with who you have become, exploration of yourself may be your only saving grace to maintaining yourself mentally and emotionally. I mean let's face it. What do you, at this point, really have to lose? In the meantime, let's get you outside of that dilapidated box.
To get "outside the box" you first have to change your thinking. Consider these steps:
- Start living within your means: This may mean making some very tough, but necessary decisions. You may have to downsize your home and become a one-car family as opposed to a two-car family. If you only have one car, you may consider public transportation or carpooling with someone. If you go to Starbucks every morning, you may have to settle instead for Folgers that you prepare at home. Most importantly, do not avoid your creditors. Call and talk to them. One phone call from you may stop their phone calls to you and lessen your mental distress. If necessary, speak with a credit counselor.
- R.E.P. (Recognize. Equip. Proceed.): The R.E.P. drill is a technique that I initially developed for professional athletes in transition from playing sports to other career paths as a result of retirement, injury or other professional sports ending circumstances. Since then, I have adapted it for others who face life changing decisions:
- (R)ecognize and accept that something in your life has changed or is about to change. This is the stage where you have to get real about your circumstances and stop comparing the past with your current reality. Yes, it is horrible that you lost your job, are underemployed, or having difficulty financially. Dwelling on it, however is not going to change your current reality. In this instance, you must recognize and accept your job or financial circumstances have changed or are not as you want them to be. You must accept that these are your circumstances, regardless of the causes that provoked the circumstances. You must recognize the factors that you have control. Take time to explore your sense of self — your wants, your needs, your desires, your abilities — and recognize and accept that what you find may be different than what others have wanted for you and even what you have wanted for yourself in the past. While it is important to take time to heal, you must move on. If you find that you are having difficulty moving on, you may need to seek the help of a mental health professional. I know, another bill that you cannot afford to pay, right? Some mental health clinicians may be willing to work with you financially. But, you must be up front and honest about your circumstances and ask if financial arrangements can be made. If you are not able to find a mental health clinician you can afford, contact the community mental health center in your county, where reduced rate services are provided. Keep reading...