Finding a purpose when work stops

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When a person has lost their job, it’s normal to feel a sense of loss. Even if you didn’t love your job, it provided you with a sense of security and day-to-day structure. Making the best use of your time is important but if you’re struggling with knowing how to fill your hours, this blog may provide you with some useful information.

I feel like I’m moving through jelly these days.

Now that the UK is into another month of dealing with coronavirus, everything seems to have slowed down so much that I’m struggling for reasons to keep moving.

But before lockdown was announced back in March, I was flying: I’d pulled off the difficult job of relaunching my writing career in my 50s, after a 20-year gap.

I was busy designing websites, writing blogs and articles, and looking for more – pumped up with the excitement of rediscovering my true vocation.

And then, everything shut down. Millions of workers were furloughed or began home schooling their children, and the UK economy slowly ground to a halt.

One assignment I had poured my heart and soul into just stopped suddenly, because no-one else was available to work on it.

Day by day, the number of vacancies fell on the job sites I was following and – all at once – I found that I had too much time on my hands.

Managing the disruption to work

National handling of the coronavirus outbreak significantly disrupted my career.

It’s not just having work that I’m craving, it’s the things that work brings with it – like knowing what I’m trying to do, and when I’m trying to do it.

This kind of certainty has disappeared under lockdown: instead of having the control we’re used to over our own lives, we now have to live to a different, and much more unpredictable, timetable.

Although we’re starting to loosen some restrictions on shops and schools, starting up the country again is likely to be a long and slow process.

I’ve personally found the lack of activity during this time frustrating, especially as I’ve got 20 years of pent-up energy ready to devote to my career.

Finding purpose in lockdown

I’ve decided a new project to occupy me can help lift my wellbeing and regain some mental equilibrium.

Rather than wait for work, I’ve found something else that will keep me busy, give my week some structure and my life some purpose: I’m (ahem) going to build a deck at my allotment….

Deck-building isn’t the first thing I would have chosen, had I been given a free choice in the matter.

For a start I find it dull, and I’m not particularly good with my hands.

But I think it will make me happier.

Yesterday, I filled what might otherwise have been a sad few hours by digging and levelling soil and, when I stopped, I felt so proud of the results that I took a picture to show my wife.

So already I’ve found a substitute for that old work buzz: the satisfaction of a job well done.

My experience also confirms the findings of psychology professor Jonathan Rottenberg, whose book The Depths argues that having a purpose in life – and it can be anything, as long as it is somehow meaningful to an individual – is key to preventing low mood.

Rottenberg describes purpose as “a set of active qualities or practices that prevent low mood from taking over despite the presence of… (problems) elsewhere.”

“However purpose is created, it can hold depression at bay,” he writes, adding: “…purpose is like a talisman, a charm…”

Rottenberg also argues that having something meaningful to do can help us meet some of our ancient mood system’s four basic needs: for attachment, procreation, health or maintaining relationships (known as affiliation).

Perhaps the last one explains why I’m looking forward so much to working with my son on the carpentry part of the job.

But above all, my project reassures me that I know what I’m going to be doing, for a while at least.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough for now.

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