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Mike Bellah

 

 

"For the first time since World War II, men in their late 40s and early 50s are suffering a steep decline in wages."---Gail Sheehy

 

 

 

 

 

"Here at midlife, it's time to work toward an idea of the well-lived life that has less to do with more and more to do with better."---Lawrence Shames

When Less Is More

 Author Ross Goldstein calls them MADMUPs: "the Middle Aged Downwardly Mobile Urban Professional. Gail Sheehy explains: "For the first time since World War II, men in their late 40s and early 50s are suffering a steep decline in wages." Sheehy says the median income of these midlifers is off 16 percent since 1987, down from 50,000 to under 42,000 dollars.

The phenomenon can be traced to the recession of the early 90s and the downsizing of American companies. Eager to trim costs, corporations are cutting the middle--mid-managers, most of them middle-aged. According to a 1992 report in Business Week, "some two million middle-management positions have been permanently eliminated." And the prospects for reemployment are not good. According to The Wall Street Journal, most of these laid-off, white-collar professionals are reentering the workforce at one-half their previous salaries. Business Week says it succinctly, "The newly dispossessed are increasingly aware that they often have nowhere to look but down."

Do these words describe you? If so, how do you adjust to downward mobility at midlife? I have some bad news and some good news for you.

The Bad News

The bad news is obvious: downward mobility means living on less. When our incomes are drastically reduced, we need to get out of debt, which may mean selling some assets. And there will be cuts in our daily budgets too. We simply cannot support the lifestyle we once enjoyed with more money. We will have to get by on less.

The Good News

The good news, however, is equally impressive. Sometimes less turns out to be more. In the first half of our lives we are conditioned to believe that more is better: more money, more power, more popularity, more youth. This major axiom of young Americans goes virtually unchallenged--the bigger, the greater, the more--the better. But is it?

"Here at midlife," writes journalist Lawrence Shames, "it's time to work toward an idea of the well-lived life that has less to do with more and more to do with better." I've pondered Shames's words, and I believe he is right. In fact, from my observations of downwardly mobile midlifers, I have noticed that indeed less is often better than more. For instance:

  • Less security can make us more trusting.
  • Less power makes us more compassionate. Less comfort makes us more grateful.
  • Less prestige helps us be more genuine.
  • Less self-sufficiency can prompt more care and love for others.
  • Less workaholism leads to more reflection, more true wisdom, more time with family and friends.
  • And less corporate perks might well unveil life's little pleasures, the true riches that money can't buy and that often go overlooked in times of abundance.

So if you are a recent MADMUP, I hope you are able to retrain and financially prosper again. But, in the meantime, don't overlook the blessings of your present, a time when less is more.

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