Depression, lack of identity and some other psychological challenges will hit people who lose their jobs.

Borja Moya
Jan 2 · 13 min read
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When people talk about the loss of jobs, I can’t stop thinking about what Friedrich Nietzsche famously said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

And this automatically leads to the following questions: What if the massive loss of jobs we are going to experience (or we already have experienced) could make people lose their why? What if millions and millions of people won’t be able to bear any how? This is exactly what will find with the loss of jobs.

One of the main challenges we’re gonna face with the loss of jobs isn’t monetary. Somehow we’ll be able to figure this out. But I believe one of the biggest challenges is gonna be a psychological one. People will have a lot of time for themselves. That could be great, but we’ve got a long history making ourselves irrelevant and people’s identities are usually tied to their work.

Some people might get lucky and decide to develop their own identity by being a freelancer or entrepreneur. Or just a creative person, a creator, a doer. But millions of people develop their identities by working for other people. Employees who can lose their jobs, and with that their identities.

My tough experience as an entrepreneur.

Everybody struggles, entrepreneurs struggle, a lot. And that struggle can be terrifying — it’s not for everyone.

I laugh when some people recommend to everybody to become an entrepreneur. And that’s terrible advice. Hey, everybody wants to be her own boss, but most people don’t wanna go through that painful process. I totally get it.

It is bad advice because we all have different pain thresholds. I’ve traveled a lot, visited a bunch of countries and met a lot of entrepreneurs and freelancers. And believe me, entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance to pain. It’s that simple. But even with that high pain tolerance, I have experienced this psychological pressure first hand, and it ain’t beauty.

I’ve suffered from it, you might have suffered from it, and a lot of people suffer from it every single day. Nevertheless, thanks to our higher tolerance to pain and our whys or purposes, we’re able to bear any how. What we don’t notice is how this problem is scaling to a whole new level. And while some of us do it as a choice, this suffering is translating to people without that why or purpose, and without their permission.

A little aside here: This isn’t a Luddite-like approach. This is not about technology taking over jobs, this is about our history of making people irrelevant, and the consequences that come with it.

The reason most people call themselves entrepreneurs.

I have the profile on an entrepreneur. I can’t help myself. I had always wanted to work for myself, but this isn’t why I started my journey, there’s something else I don’t usually talk about. And most people don’t. But, let’s get real.

Credits

Decades ago entrepreneurship wasn’t cool. Back in the day saying “I’m an entrepreneur” meant you were unemployed. Period. In the last couple of decades society has been praising entrepreneurship — now it’s cool.

The truth is, today most entrepreneurs or freelancers are just unemployed. That, as they say, is that.

There are certain people who are born for this, and there are certain people who are not. Certain people who, in the days of entrepreneurship being not cool, would be entrepreneurs all the way. I think I fit in this description. My profile, as most entrepreneurs could be described as:

  • Very individualist
  • Live-to-work
  • Ambitious
  • Hard worker
  • Sort of emotionally unstable (I know it sound weird, but somehow, I found this to be a common pattern among entrepreneurs)
  • Thick skin
  • Ability to focus

I don’t know the origin of this qualities. It can be from my childhood, environment, seeing my mother as a really hard worker — it could be a bunch of things.

But there’s something about my entrepreneurial journey I wouldn’t be completely honest with you if I didn’t tell you this: I started down this path because I couldn’t get a job.

I’ve always had projects going on. And I’m always learning something new. At some point, I had a nice job in Shanghai and left it, because it wasn’t fulfilling for me. And since I had some savings and bought the digital nomad dream, I decided to go to Thailand. What at the beginning was a trip to work remotely, turned out to be a long trip around Southeast Asia. And as expected, I ended up dead broke, so I had to come back home (Spain).

Being an entrepreneur was a dream-like option, I wasn’t really committed, or better said, deep down I didn’t know what I wanted. I’ve always worked my ass off, but I just didn’t feel it was the right moment. (Hint: it does never feel like it.)

Poverty kicked in. I ran out of options and I had to look for a job in Spain, so I could make ends meet. And this is the first time I received a punch in the face: I couldn’t get any job. And I’m not even talking about fulfilling jobs, that was out of the equation by that point. It turned out there wasn’t unfulfilling jobs either. WTF?

I had a couple of theories about this. The first one, is that I have a weird profile, some friends said that my profile is an entrepreneur’s one —and that makes it difficult to fit your profile in most jobs. However, I asked why I couldn’t get it and the reason was simple: there are no jobs.

Being good is not enough.

I used to be the first one who said: Yes, there are jobs, you’ve just got to find them. Or something like: If you’re good enough you won’t have any problem boy.

I still believe that, of course, but getting a job isn’t just about being good. You’ve got to fit in, get the right timing, and a bunch of other things.

The other side of this is the employer’s one. I know a lot of people recruiting on several companies. A lot of them tell me they can’t find the right people.

The thing is, people aren’t prepared for those kinds of jobs, so they have to find ways to recruit overseas (and work remotely), but that’s a challenge in itself. Or people are prepared but the employer doesn’t want to spend money and just look for cheap manual labor (interns).

I know, I’m going to the extremes here, but hey, there’s no f*cking middle ground. In a disrupting world everything goes to the extremes — it can be a bit further or less, but there’s no middle ground.

Let’s talk about the dark side of entrepreneurship.

So at this point I had no other choice but to go all-in and do what I had been procrastinating until then: start my independent career.

It’s been a bumpy road and I can’t tell it’s over, because it’s still bumpy. But after a couple of startups that failed and a bunch of projects that didn’t work out, I focused on what I do best: tell stories.

In my case, I spend a lot of time alone, writing. As a storyteller, it doesn’t matter the medium: words, audio or video, when you want to build and shape a story, you have to sit down and write it first — there’s no other way around it. So whether I write articles or scripts for videos or podcasts, I spend a lot of time alone, thinking. And I’m able to do that because I have a high threshold for this kind of pain. And believe me, sometimes it gets painful.

When I wrote my book Defeating Mr. Mole, I did it in a month (well, 30+ days, but I had been forming that book in my mind for years). And if you follow my work you’d know that that time was one of my best experiences ever. I was able to form some thoughts I haven’t formed before, and wouldn’t have formed otherwise. That book changed my life.

What I haven’t talked about is the months that followed when the book was published. I was burnt out. I didn’t notice at first, but I did notice that I couldn’t focus on anything for a month or two. Yes, I continued to work, but I got nothing done for those months.

Sprinting and writing books is great. I love it. And I’ll do it again. But you can’t sprint all the time, you have to know when you’re crossing the line. And this isn’t just for writers, I bet most entrepreneurs suffer this one way or another, some psychological problem that’s similar to depression. And this is not okay. If you’re an entrepreneur, at some point you have to know yourself, I mean really know yourself. Otherwise, it can get pretty dark.

There is a fine line between sanity and mental instability no one talks about. Even though we can say that people with an entrepreneurial profile have it easier, that’s BS. It is painful as hell. It doesn’t matter what entrepreneur’s magazines show you in their covers, I wholeheartedly believe most entrepreneurs suffer some kind of depression.

Do you know when it gets really painful? When you reach a point when you can’t tell, whether you’re just fighting for your dream or you’re depressed and destroyed as hell.

But hey, if it were easy, everybody would do it, right?

Some entrepreneurs can relate themselves with this. And a lot of other people go through other serious problems I’m not even aware of. But, somehow, this is a choice. A choice people who want to work for themselves go through. However, what once was a choice, now it’s becoming a reality — not just for entrepreneurs, but to employees too (and unemployed people).

These challenges that up to this point remained just with entrepreneurs (the ones who supposedly have a higher threshold for pain) is translating into the rest of society.

Who will pay for therapy?

Some people say that money doesn’t bring happiness, but it pays for therapy. But what if the dark entrepreneurship journey gets to millions of people who don’t choose to go through it? What if people who lose their jobs can’t pay for therapy?

I, Robot (2004)

The loss of jobs won’t just bring inequality, it will also mean one of the biggest challenges society will face. Because, what will people do with so much free time? And, of course, how will people make ends meet? Let’s forget for a second about monetary problems and focus on the psychological challenges of not having a job in today’s world.

The hard truth is that, if you don’t have a job and don’t work on something, you’re in big trouble.

If you don’t have a job you face two big problems. First of all, it comes down to your biological rhythms. People who don’t work in any form, don’t have a reason to go to bed at a particular time and there’s no reason to get up at the same time (and let’s not even talk about napping in the afternoon). And not following up the functioning of their circadian rhythms is likely to make these people depressed. The second part of this is that, usually people without a job in any form don’t have a purpose. That purpose doesn’t have to mean changing the world, it can mean to take care of their families.

And while it is true that a lot of people don’t see their job as a purpose, at least they see it as part of themselves and keeps them on a schedule. This is also problematic and we could write an entire book on this. But if you remove this job from these people, they would have a hard time.

Of course this isn’t the same for everyone. If you give certain people free time, it would allow them to create things, read, think about the future and, of course, enjoy life. But for most people that’s not what they want or need.

Because if you ask people, who are not happy at work, what do they want the most, they’ll say vacations and free time. On the other hand, if you ask any unemployed what he or she wants, most people would say they want to work.

Surprisingly, when people retire and have nothing to do, few of them decide to make a good use of their time, it’s the other way around: time makes them. When people stop working and retire they lose part of their identify, and that leads to depressions and lack of purpose.

Losing that identity is part of retiring, but what we don’t notice is that depression comes with it too.

I’ve spent some time this Christmas in my small village, I’ve noticed that every time I go there, I see fewer younger generations. Mostly older generations, especially the ones in the age of retirement. And something interesting happens when you observe their conversations: people who are about to retire are eager to do it, they think they’re going to (finally) enjoy life; but, people who are already retired don’t know what to do with themselves. You’d find them at bars or at home, doing nothing — they, somehow, have lost their identities

I’m sure it’s not the same for every one. There are happy retired people. But too often, this is it, right? You retire and you go to some nude beach for elderly people. And do nothing.

But, have you ever thought about what this would look like if younger generations go through this process? Have you ever thought what would take people to reinvent themselves every decade?

Because, since technology is exponential, we’re not gonna just see this disruption in automation. This disruption will release the next one. And the next one. It’s a never ending process.

So today people have to reinvent themselves for automation. But in a few years they’ll have to do it again for another disruption.

A lot of people say that these jobs that are taken will be replaced by new ones (interesting aside here: it’s funny that most people who say this have some sort of interest behind this happening). But this time won’t be the same.

We need to start talking about this now.

I think this is an important issue we need to start talking about, and bring it to politicians. Most politicians don’t talk about this. Yes, they talk about job creations but they’re merely bandages.

Hey, we might not have to work in the future. A lot of people will be fine with it. In fact, jobs as we know them haven’t been around for too long. Yes, we’ve worked in farms before, but this concept of “job” started with the industrial revolution— it hasn’t got more than 150 years.

But let’s say we manage to get this right and find a way to sustain people and solve monetary issues. There’s still problems that won’t go away. Psychological problems will pop up — along with other consequences.

Will drugs go on the rise?

At a first glance, this could seem unrelated, but here’s what Jordan Peterson said about the relationship between positive emotions, cocaine and being unemployed:

Most of your positive emotion is goal pursuit emotion. If you take drugs like cocaine or amphetamine the reason they’re enjoyable is because they turn on the systems that help you pursue goals. That’s why people like them. So if you don’t have a job you have no structure.

Could this explain why cocaine consumption is rising in the UK? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s unrelated. But one thing is for sure. This is a vicious circle. The rise of drug consumption could be a collateral damage. But other problems could arise as well. We’re just unable to conceive them yet.

There’s no rescue boat.

A while ago I saw a movie called Captain Phillips where a group of Somali pirates take over a Maersk container ship, climbing aboard and taking everyone hostage. They are in the middle of the ocean and, of course, the US government gets involved and do everything in their hands to rescue them.

Well, if you haven’t seen the movie I won’t give away any spoiler, but in the end the rescue boat comes in and everybody goes home well and safe (sorry!).

I believe when it comes to the job market, we’re in the middle of the ocean, waiting to be rescued. But this isn’t Hollywood: no one is coming to save us.

No one is coming to save us! There’s no solid Universal Basic Income solution, there’s no way governments can sustain this. We’re on our own.

I don’t see any government out there doing something to prevent this. Probably the only ones are in Scandinavia where they “protect workers, not jobs”.

I don’t have any solution. And I know it’s too easy to talk about things without bringing any solution. But this is exactly what we need right now: start talking about it. We shouldn’t avoid small problems we know they’re there. We have to fix them before they become into a bloody monster.

PS if you like my work and want to know more about it, consider getting on my private email list. Or just email me at: hello@borjamoya.com

PrivateID

PrivateID comes from what I believe is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: privacy. PrivateID’s a blog/podcast about the conversations we need to bring to the table and about how to solve the problems that are coming. Because our freedom is at stake.

Borja Moya

Written by

Hi, I’m BM. Privacy Advocate | Filmmaker | Storyteller | https://bmstudios.org & https://borjamoya.com — hello@borjamoya.com

PrivateID

PrivateID

PrivateID comes from what I believe is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: privacy. PrivateID’s a blog/podcast about the conversations we need to bring to the table and about how to solve the problems that are coming. Because our freedom is at stake.

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