TITLE - "The Careerist"
WHERE - Derelict business sign, El Cajon, California (2017)
In the end, both as spirits and as social entities, we are what we do with the short time we're given. In advanced Western societies, identities and self-worth are tailored sharply around the cult of the career, whether white- or blue-collar; and ideally, around a profession of some social interest or prestige.
For almost everyone sooner or later, the merciless competition up the ever-narrowing ladder ends in some abrupt upper limit to our ascent, which is registered as a personal defeat. Then comes displacement, "redundancy," and tactful withdrawal; whereupon one's role and civic status gradually dissolve into nullity. Many retirees do their best to go downhill right-side-up by re-focusing on their empty nests, Shriners duties, and gold-plated hobbies, but everyone gets that this isn't where the real game - the blood sport - of life is being played, and soon it's too late to get back on the board.
In Going Crazy (1975), Otto Friedrich captures well the fateful reverse pivot in career trajectory that almost every middle-aged careerist - man or woman - must face. An employee's greatest problem, notes Friedrich, "is his increasing incapacity for work, or increasing doubt about the value of his work, or perhaps simply his employer's increasing unwillingness to let him do his work at all. If he is not fired, he is told - no, he is not told; the middle-aged man is never actually told much of anything - he is made to feel, to realize, that he no longer has any future. No more promotions, no more merit raises, nothing but those jocular greetings to good old Charley. The first time you have to start working for a younger man marks a kind of turning point, usually at about forty, and it is a point from which there is no return."