轉折的人生

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2009 / 9月

文‧陳歆怡 圖‧莊坤儒


資訊時代,改變了工作的種類與樣貌。全球化下的嚴苛競爭,讓職場人生始終充滿不確定、壓力與焦慮,去年世界性的金融海嘯,更加深了人心不安。


不論是健康因素、突遭解雇或是「結構性失業」,這些人生故事正在你我身邊上演,而且可能就呼應著你我的處境。有一些特殊職業領域(例如運動、演藝、政治),本質上就是高度累積卻也高度消耗,其起落看似更為驚心動魄,然而,芸芸眾生不也天天在面對人生舞台的上場與退場?只是名人被迫攤在聚光燈前、無所遁形而已。

因此,這個專題不是討論「在高峰時如何布局下一個高峰」,而是:如何面對職業生涯意外陷落的困局?

且看那些曾在高峰的人,如何走過低潮;當人生不再是快線道的肆意奔馳,又可能看到什麼樣的風景?擁有哪些體悟?

「每天工作到半夜,失眠、憂鬱症、高血壓困擾4年了,同事個個都這樣,怎麼可能不跟進?」擔任科技業產品企劃工程師的阿哲,年近40發現自己面臨回頭無望、轉業困難的窘境,自嘲為高級奴工,時薪不會比速食店打工高多少,期待分紅之前,必須先自保不要被裁員。

職場生態巨變,非一朝一夕。除了科技業,許多過去曾經光彩的白領行業,早在這一次景氣波動之前,已經因為產業環境變遷與市場高度競爭而面臨危機。

以電子媒體來說,從1990年代起,電視頻道從3台無線台寡占,發展成如今有線無線超過一百個頻道,新聞工作者憑著熱忱苦幹向上爬,卻沒料到會有熬不過競爭煉獄、失重墜落的一天。

1970年次的楊中化,世界新專畢業,退伍後的第三年踏入電子媒體,從基層記者幹起,歷任三立新聞台的主播、特案組組長、社會新聞中心副主任。做到第11年時,他突然懷疑這樣賣命,究竟所為何來?

苦悶的年代

「幹記者時幾乎每天24小時待命,當主管後日子更像在打仗,每天有開不完的會,還要應付內部的人際鬥爭。」他遞出辭呈的當下,其實還沒想好未來要走的路,「脫離公司的保護傘,是有相當大的風險,何況還有房貸要付、有家要顧,但是終究覺得,如果工作是將自己燒成灰燼而不是發光發熱,繼續下去反而連人生都會賠進去。」

去年12月,汐止黃昏市場內2坪大的「主播貢丸」攤位,在眾人跌破眼鏡中開張。在此之前,楊中化經歷一整年的晃蕩,只靠著媒體圈的剩餘資源偶爾接通告賺外快,也曾徬徨是否該走回頭路。直到靠販賣手工貢丸維生的舅舅罹癌過世,臨終前叮囑外甥「把手藝傳下去」,他才突然被喚醒,毅然繼承舅舅衣缽。

楊中化剛退伍時曾跟在舅舅旁邊擔任助手,「舅舅堅持傳統手工,丸子Q脆的訣竅全在下鍋那一秒的手勁拿捏上。」為了把這樣「單純」的動作反覆做到好,楊中化剛起步的前3個月關節痛、手麻,一天工作12小時,漸漸才上手。

對於外界好奇他「如何放下身段」,楊中化的回答是:「過去我做記者時就是每天混在市井中衝鋒陷陣,現在不過是重新回到人群裡。」眷村出身的他,如今天天揮汗勞動兼粗獷叫賣,反倒更貼近「本我」的生命情調,「況且,當主播後每天都是對著機器講話,感覺很空洞,現在反而能重拾跟人互動的樂趣。」

目前,「主播貢丸」業績蒸蒸日上,除了每天在市場現做,還在台北、台中、中壢擁有4家加盟店,並推出「前10名加盟業者,加盟金15萬元打對折」的優惠,月營業額接近百萬。

楊中化給轉折人生下註解:「從新聞主播到市場小販,許多人為我加油,但我更希望的是,大家加油,在這個苦悶的年代,千萬不要向生命低頭!」

身旁的結拜大哥兼合夥人廖豐泰則是評論道:「苦幹實幹,堅持就會成功!」又憐惜地補了一句:「他可能太勞碌了,外表有一點變蒼老?」

失敗者之歌

長期以來,媒體與書店裡充滿了各種白手起家、反敗為勝的企業鉅子故事與指導手冊,激勵著凡夫俗子如你我徹底改變自我,以求獲得大量的財富與高度的幸福。這些書籍雖然對讀者具有啟發作用,內在所蘊含的物質主義與菁英觀念,卻也在無意間加深了一般人內心的沮喪。

當代社會學大家齊格蒙•包曼在《工作、消費與新貧》中即指出,對現代人而言,穩定、持久、具有邏輯一致性且結構緊密的工作生涯,已隨著工業時代人人有工作的「生產者社會」的殞落而一去不返,那些既能實現自我又能贏得榮耀的「志業」乃屬特權;而在如今這個1960年代後逐漸成形、生產過剩且以消費美學為主導的「消費者社會」,不論失業者或是往底層滑動的新貧族,都默默忍受著「生活水準降低」與「相對剝奪感增強」的雙重壓力,而這種壓力在當前「去管制化」的自由市場經濟制度下,只會有增無減。

面對變動世局,或許我們需要用不同於「菁英」的視角,容納更寬廣的人性命題。

2008年出品、摘下14座國際大獎的日籍導演黑澤清的電影《東京奏鳴曲》,就如實刻畫了中年失業的悲哀與壓力。

影片背景發生在長期經濟不景氣的日本東京,主人翁、46歲的公司主管龍田為老東家賣命多年,竟也成為企業瘦身下的犧牲者。為了維護一家之主的權威,他不敢開口向家人坦白,每天在公園媟磾荂u流浪上班族」,領取政府發給的免費餐點,期間巧遇同為淪落人的昔日同學,後者為了隱瞞妻小,還把手機設為每小時自動響5次「裝忙」,實則把自己逼向絕路……

影片的張力相當程度奠定在「男性尊嚴」的脆弱上,然而,對自我身份與未來前途感到困惑、混亂乃至恐懼,卻是這個年代普遍的人性經驗。

意外,面對赤裸的自己

擁有豐富家庭治療經驗的台北市立聯合醫院松德院區王仁邦醫師指出,工作的穩定對現代人而言之所以如此「性命交關」,原因不只在於生計,更深層的原因在於:我們能夠獲得的尊敬與關懷,或多或少與工作有關。或許在失去工作前我們可以想一想,如果沒有職銜、沒有業績目標、沒有職場人脈、沒有足以掂量自我價值的薪資,自己還剩下什麼?自己是否藉著工作的忙碌,掩蓋深藏已久的個人或家庭問題?

在部落客中小有名氣的工頭堅(本名吳建誼),就有一段不為人知的歸零重生經驗。

他在「Cheers」雜誌的訪問中透露,自己在30歲到36歲之間,曾經拋下原本薪水不錯的MV導演工作,整個投入當時剛萌芽的網路產業中。誰知,全球網路產業在2001年突然崩盤,他自認「在精神上徹底破產」;備受打擊、頓失所依的他,因為恐慌,導致離婚、酗酒、失眠、流連夜店,最後是逃到加拿大投靠親戚,變成領時薪的油漆工。

「奇怪的是,當我慢了下來,世界變得寬闊,我突然找回多年前對旅遊的嚮往,這股熱情讓我又活了起來。」吳建誼如是說。

不久前他又從旅行社企畫回歸全職部落客,再度「休耕」。43歲的他如今的座右銘是:平凡就是福。

學習減速,咀嚼生活

職場的變化莫測,是不問位階與年齡的。今年已邁入50大關的前「壹週刊」美食旅遊組副總編輯潘秉新,在金融風暴席捲的2008年底,意外「從位子上被拉下來」,但和工頭堅一樣,她也在歷經轉折後「充滿感激」。

媒體資歷深厚、天生具有大姊頭個性的潘秉新,過去7年陸續替公司「處理」過3次裁員,然而回想2008年底景氣狂跌、發行與廣告收入銳減的慘況,「真的是蠻恐慌的,很擔心公司不穩,而對於被辭退的同仁,我也自覺有義務『照顧』他們。」

於是,看準公部門這幾年有推廣美食旅遊的預算,她乃「自作聰明」、四處奔波爭取替公司開源接案(出別冊)的機會,連半退休的先生也義務做助手,她自己則是累到帶狀泡疹長不停。

沒想到,壓榨自己以求保住公司的結果,卻引來「牟取私利」的流言,然後某日被頂頭上司傳喚,並在同一天被宣告資遣。

「事發」隔天,她回辦公室收拾東西並寫了一封「遺憾,卻仍然感謝」的信給社長。「當時我的組員都很受衝擊,認為我的平靜是『強顏歡笑』,其實,我是覺得職場有點像婚姻,當上司的信任不再,我也只能說緣分盡了,不想再多做解釋。」

回到家,她卻整整花了三天三夜安撫先生的情緒:「他覺得既難過又憤怒,明明用心良苦,怎麼被傳成這樣?非逼我回去洗刷冤屈不可。」也有同事私下來電,激動要她「fight回去」。

潘秉新解釋,自己能夠立刻接受事實,跟基督教信仰及天性開朗有關,也因為生活上不虞匱乏(還算豐裕的資遣費加上已到期的儲蓄保險),「終於能夠好好休息。」

然而,在她內心的確縈繞著一股難以釋懷的情緒,就是「人格被污衊」的遺憾。她暗自想過,當時如果聰明點,面對公司推出的「微幅減薪或優惠資遣」政策而主動選擇資遣,不就可以省掉這片烏煙瘴氣?「然而,如果不是這麼大的推力把我拉下來,或許我終究還是不敢選擇離開。只能說,人生大轉彎的機會非常少,何其有幸,被我碰到了。」

離職後賦閒的半年,潘秉新最大的收穫是「開始學優雅」,尤其是對於「吃」──從美食記者到主編,以前腦子總是充塞評鑑、挑毛病的嚴肅態度,吃的節奏很快,也免不了發胖、腸胃炎等職業傷害;現在的她,則是多了時間逛市場、恣意地東嚐西嗅、在家烹調健康料理,專心吃、慢慢吃,並且從中「開始感覺到婚姻裡比較幸福美滿的那一面。」

今年6月她正式接下「傅培梅飲食文化教育基金公益信託」執行長的職務,以建立台灣的中餐廳評鑑為長程目標。「過去是替單一媒體效力,現在的工作反而更能擺開束縛、擴大社會連結面。」不過,做起事來一向是「拚命三郎」的她,也還在調整心態與「放慢速度」。

運動員:榮耀之後?

失落的年代,平凡老百姓反而特別容易被「名人失勢」的話題牽動,從前「美女立委」王雪峰落魄拾荒、知名影星王祖賢的「出家」傳言,到多位運動選手瀕臨失業,這類新聞既有「窺奇」的效果,卻也在無意間複製了「名利地位凌駕一切」的主流道德訓告,讓人忽略了這些特殊行業,或受限於難以捉摸的民意、或受限於體力與美貌,在本質上便是短暫的。

然而,被挑動同情前,不妨聽聽這些「歸於平凡」的當事人,在人生轉彎處如何自處?

以台灣的職棒球員來說,在目前體育環境下,一旦受傷或表現下滑,不但缺乏如王建民在洋基隊那樣的醫療照顧與合約保障,反倒可能遭到球團毫不留情的淘汰。一旦退出,轉換跑道的困難度,卻比一般人要高。

現年35歲,曾經擔任亞洲盃中華隊隊長、前中信鯨教練的邱企彬就說,職棒選手都是將全副精力投注在棒球上,往往沒有時間與心思去培養第二專長,「但我知道離開球場是遲早的事,因此3年前就報考國立體育學院(現已改制大學),利用每個週末在大學部進修,希望未來能透過教職延續對棒球的熱愛,」邱企彬說。

雖然是利用餘暇進修,前年公司卻以「培訓需全心投入」為由,強制他和另外4名教練辦理休學,緊接著去年11月中信鯨突然宣布解散,身為教練的他也是當天才被通知,「心情很錯愕,效命11年,資遣費只有2個月,加上去年景氣那麼差,大家都很茫然。」

今年初,邱企彬跟其他二十多名前職棒球員及教練,集體去報考北市府水利處養工隊的技工徵聘,「雖然跟棒球專業不相干,公家單位終究比較有保障,大家事前也認真準備了考古題。」不過僧多粥少,只有3人錄取,邱企彬則高分落選。

還好,在行政院「振興棒球方案」下成立的4縣市成棒隊於此時陸續招手,邱企彬滿懷憧憬地參加北市教練團甄選,卻在眾多前輩競爭下成為備取第一名。

「看到榜單後,我硬著頭皮打給錄取教練之一的李安熙,我們只在報考養工隊時有一面之緣,但我知道他有考上,現在手上有2個工作機會。我跟他說:我真的很需要這份工作,也願意努力為職棒效勞,不知道學長願不願意給我這個機會?」

就這樣,邱企彬幸運地加入了台北市棒球隊擔任內野教練。「我打電話去感謝他的承讓,他卻只說是基於個人選擇,學長的氣度真的讓我很感動。」值得一提的是,李安熙後來又入選台中市成棒隊教練團,兩人將於9月中的首屆都市棒球對抗賽中,以惺惺相惜的精神「對陣」。

邱企彬很珍惜目前的崗位,不過,短暫的脫軌讓他更知道變化可能隨時降臨,他不再奢求職涯穩定,卻更堅定持續進修的方向。

政治人:下台之後?

相較於體育或演藝事業,政治人物的生命週期有長有短,卻同樣得面對職涯可能突然中止的處境。一些民主國家(例如美國、英國、澳洲、日本、印度等)於是為民意代表設立退職撫恤制度,以鼓勵專職問政。前立委王雪峰的潦倒現況被媒體披露,加上去年立委減半(從225席減為113席)後,國內政壇的類似呼聲也隨之而起。

相較於政壇人士的感慨連連、要求保障,今年初以媒體通路公司董事長身份露面的前民進黨立法委員鄭運鵬,則是有意識地「遠離特權,走出自己的路」的實力派。

15年前,還在台大土木系就讀的鄭運鵬,跟著老師張景森投入首屆台北市長選戰,退伍後成為謝長廷高雄市長競選總部的政策部主任,繼而在27歲成為民進黨成立以來最年輕的文宣部主任,2004年又主導總統選戰文宣。

「沒有派系、不是政治世家、也不是財團後代,我的從政路途真的很幸運,是因為長官敢給機會,我也『好膽』不拒絕,」鄭運鵬說。

他也補充說明:「環顧民進黨跟我同世代的人,大部分都是國會助理或是學運世代出身,年紀輕輕一出校門就從政,一旦沒有這個位子之後,其實我們是沒有『本業』可以回歸的。」

然而,或許仗著年輕敢衝,前年底當鄭運鵬在黨內初選落榜、面臨立委卸任時,心中卻沒有一絲下台的危機感,反而開開心心跟助理及小學同學構想出包括「養身茶舖」等千奇百怪的創業點子,最後是選擇以手機答鈴廣告通路打天下。

脫下西裝、模樣比以往更瀟灑自在的鄭運鵬,不變的是批判態度與理想色彩,「我認為立委要求退休金是『自肥』,更大的問題在於台灣的政治人物被賦予太多特權,把權位視為理所當然,一旦在金權網絡裡嚐到甜頭,就會戀棧甚至墮落,沒有位置時才會這樣痛苦!」

看看國外例子,或許更能照見台灣社會對「(名人)下台後如何安身」的過度焦慮。2005年,德國一名58歲的女國會議員弗立德禮希下台後,拒絕了兩家保險公司的邀聘,理由是「不想靠關係網謀職,此舉將有損公眾利益」,她最後選擇當清潔工,一時傳為佳話。

其實,在德國,民意代表或政府要員「降轉」的案例不少,職業包括酒店門房、保姆、泥瓦工。更重要的是,人民及官員都認為,「當清潔工也沒什麼,積極且樂觀地生存下去最重要,工作不分貴賤好壞。」這種輕名分、講品格的態度,或許正是台灣社會最應該效法之處。

失落的年代,活出真實自我

從1990年代以來,許多社會學家與趨勢觀察家從世代、社會轉型、大眾心理來論述個人職場生涯的轉折。不論是「周期人生」、「多波段人生」,乃至不依附大系統的「跳蚤人生」,都不約而同地賦予「轉折」更多正面與積極的意義。

舉例而言,美國的趨勢分析專家馬蒂•迪特瓦在2002年出版的《C型人生》一書中就指出,上個世紀末起,由於全球「長壽革命」、「人口結構翻轉」,以及「嬰兒潮世代敢於追求自我的價值觀」等3股力量的衝撞,現代人的生活正展開從「線性」到「循環」的典範轉移──包括工作、愛情、家庭乃至娛樂與學習,都可能在一生中迭經轉換、排列組合多次,而且唯有如此,才能獲致更大的成長與滿足。

這樣的觀點無疑具有「解放」效果,然而,在現實人生中,人們的職涯轉折往往源自遭逢裁員、病痛或天災等危難,只能被動且被迫地接受,無法優游自得地「選你所愛,愛你所選」。

《當生命陷落時》的作者佩瑪•丘卓──北美第一所藏密修行寺院的首任院長,也是罕見的女性佛教導師──就很溫柔地提醒讀者:有時候願意「親近恐懼」,並且「安住在無依無恃的狀態」,就是很大的能量積蓄;也唯有了解自己、放棄內心的掌控慾望,才能發展出開闊和寬大的心胸,使人生趨向真正的圓融與自由。

換個角度看,意外脫軌的人生所造成的效果,正是「督促我們去追求生命中最有意義的事,也鼓勵我們不要太在乎別人的評語,並轉而肯定自己的唯一與獨特。」13年前毅然辭去工作,以「生活家」自許的游乾桂說。

基於類似觀察,世新大學社會心理系教授邱天助則是點出,小我的掙扎困頓也是社會集體的慣性思維造成;在大環境不景氣、人心動盪的時刻,人們的生存態度也必需調整,包括個人要學習節制、謙卑、勤奮,以及人與人之間從彼此競爭轉向互相包容與扶持,用更大的善意與博愛,攜手共渡人生的險流惡浪。

危機,有時是化了妝的祝福。無論如何,面對人生困頓,不妨放慢腳步、細細品嚐沿途的另類風光,不僅可以是自我成長的機會,也可能另闢蹊徑,開創一條微弱但持久的希望之光。

《心靈休憩站》

(整理•陳歆怡)

面對職涯轉折,你可以這樣做……


給當事人的建議
1、學習接納事實:你可以透過媒體、網路,知道這是普遍存在的現實,而不是你個人的特例。你不寂寞,也不會是最悲慘的。
2、給自己一段省思的時間:為自己來個總體檢,了解你的個性、興趣、性向、價值觀為何?你真正喜歡的工作是什麼?
3、保持規律的生活作息:均衡的飲食、適當的運動、足夠的睡眠,能讓你神清氣爽,抒解過多的壓力。你的思慮愈清明,你愈能夠為自己訂下下一階段的人生目標。
4、和朋友保持接觸:試著和信任的朋友訴說你的心情;若是不習慣向人訴說,也不妨找個沒人的地方痛哭一場,或者花一點時間做些自己喜歡的事。
5、欣賞自己的勇敢:對於自己能夠面對生活的困難,而不採取逃避的方式(例如從事非法行為或自怨自艾),給予高度肯定。

6、相信自己的價值:即便發現目前自己的能力難以找到一份符合期待的工作,也不要以為自己低人一等,這不過是代表你可能得調整期待,或是學習新的技能。

 

7、放下傳統的性別框框:當男性失業時,除了寄望家人的包容,也可以把自己對家庭的貢獻,從經濟支持轉移到多陪伴家人與分擔家務上。
8、適時尋求支援:若察覺到自己已陷入憂鬱、沮喪,不妨找心理諮商人員談談,找回「過生活」的力量。有時候,生涯諮商師也可以協助你在探索未來方向時,獲得更全面的資訊與建議。


給身邊親友的建議
1、察覺職場轉折者的「污名」:主流社會很容易給失業或「降轉」者貼上負面標籤,反而造成當事人在人際關係上傾向退縮,從而更難取得經濟、情感乃至再就業的支持。因此身邊親友除了給予關心,也要避免把造成職涯頓挫的原因歸咎於個人的性格缺陷或能力不足,對當事人的同情、憂慮與催促也要適可而止。
2、培力與自我建設:從社會正義的觀點來看,失業者除了嗟嘆之外,更可以團結起來成立自助聯盟,不僅有可能促成大環境的改變,同時也可以在過程中重新建立自我的身份與力量。

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近期文章

EN

Coping with Life's Sudden Turns

Chen Hsin-yi /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

The information age has changed the types and nature of work. With rigorous competition resulting from globalization, working life has become filled with uncertainty, pressure, and anxiety. Last year's financial tsunami has only added to feelings of insecurity. Stories of sudden "derailments" of working life, whether from health factors, "structural unemployment," or sudden layoffs, are playing out all around us.


Therefore the subject of this article will not be "how to get from one peak to the next," but: How can one deal with unanticipated valleys in career life? We will look at some people who have been at the top, and see how they are getting through the low times. When life is no longer a wild ride in the fast lane, what kind of scenery do they see? What have they learned?

"Every day I work until late at night, and I've been suffering from insomnia, depression, and high blood pressure for four years. But all my co-workers are the same way, so how can I not go along with everyone else?" Ah Zhe, a product project engineer in the hi-tech industry, discovers as he is nearing 40 that he is facing the difficulty of a mid-life career change, with no chance to go back to square one and prepare for a new future. A "high-end coolie," as he wryly calls himself, he makes little more on a per-hour basis than a worker in a fast-food restaurant. And although there is profit sharing to look forward to, you have to be careful that you don't get laid off first.

Dramatic changes in the workplace environment have not come overnight. Besides the hi-tech industry, many other white-collar professions long thought glorious had begun to lose their luster well before the current economic downturn, because of changes in the environment for the given industry or because of extreme competition in the marketplace.

Take for example the electronic media. Back in the 1990s, three terrestrial broadcasters enjoyed an oligopoly, but today, there are more than 100 cable or over-the-air stations. News workers with passion and a capacity for hard work enjoyed sudden career take-offs, never expecting that there would come a day when they couldn't beat out the competition, and it would all collapse.

Born in 1970, Yang Zhonghua attended the World College of Journalism (now Shih Hsin University), and, three years after completing his military service, entered the electronic media profession. Starting as an ordinary reporter, he later became an anchor, head of the "special case" task force, and vice-director of the Center for Crime and Social News at SETTV television network. But in his eleventh year, he suddenly began to wonder what all the hard work was for.

Hard times

"As a reporter we were on call virtually 24 hours a day, and when I moved into management it was even more like fighting a war. Every day there were endless meetings, and you also had to deal with internal backbiting and office politics." When he submitted his letter of resignation, in fact he had not thought at all about what he would do next. "Leaving the protective umbrella of the company was quite a big risk, all the more so as I had a mortgage to pay and my family to look after. But I felt in the end that if work was just burning yourself to ash, rather than giving off light and heat, then to keep on would be like throwing my life away."

In December of 2008, a small street stall of only about six square meters, hung with the sign "Anchorman Gongwan," opened-to the astonishment of many passersby-in the Xizhi evening market. Before then, Yang had gone through a tough year, only earning a little pocket money by getting voiceover jobs through his connections in the media, and he had begun to wonder if he shouldn't go back into media. But suddenly his uncle, who sold hand-made gongwan (meatballs), passed away. On his deathbed he ordered his nephew to "carry on the tradition of craftsmanship." It was only then that Yang woke up, and he took over his uncle's business.

In fact, Yang had worked with his uncle for a while after getting out of the military. "My uncle insisted on doing things by hand the old-fashioned way. The trick to getting the gongwan chewy and crispy is in the wrist action that second that you put them in the pot." In order to be able to do this "simple" movement repeatedly without error, Yang practiced 12 hours a day for the first three months after opening for business, enduring joint inflammation and numbness in his hands, gradually mastering the necessary skills.

What about outsiders who wonder how he was able to give up his high social status? Yang responds: "In fact, when I was a reporter, every day I spent my time in crowds and in the streets, so now it's just a case of going back into the crowds." Having grown up in a military dependents' community, the ambience of his life today, sweating with labor and shouting out to attract customers, is actually closer, as he says, to "the real me." "What's more," he adds, "when I was an anchorman I just looked into machines all day long, which felt very empty, but now I can rediscover the fun of interacting with other people."

Business is currently steaming at "Anchorman Gongwan." Besides his own shop where he makes fresh gongwan every day, there are four franchise shops in Taipei, Taichung, and Chungli. He also offers a 50% discount on the NT$150,000 franchise fee for the first 10 people to join. All in all, monthly revenues are nearly NT$1 million.

Yang offers the following footnote to the story of derailed lives: "From anchorman to street vendor, a lot of people encouraged me to persevere along the way. But what I really hope is that everyone will persevere. In these hard times, please don't kowtow to life!"

Song of the failures

For a long time now, the media and bookstores have been packed with stories of corporate giants who built empires out of nothing, or overcame tremendous obstacles to succeed, as well as purported "how-to" handbooks for similar achievement. They have stimulated many people to aspire to vast wealth and perfect bliss. Although such stories and books can have a certain inspirational value for readers, the implied standards of materialism and elitism also deepen the feelings of inadequacy and sadness of ordinary people.

In his book Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Zygmunt Bauman points out that in advanced countries the "producer society" has passed, never to return, as the industrial age has become history. Such a society is characterized by careers that are stable and long lasting, with jobs that have a uniform logic and tight structural integration. The "consumer society," which took shape beginning in the late 1950s in many countries, is dominated by a surplus of labor and consumer aesthetic. The new poor quietly endure the double stress of "a low standard of living" and "a high sense of relative deprivation." This type of stress, under current conditions of an economic system of deregulation, will only increase, not decline.

Faced with a changing world, maybe we need a different perspective than elitism that will be more broadly humanistic.

The Akira Kurosawa film Tokyo Sonata (2008), which has won 14 international prizes, vividly and accurately captures the sadness and pressures of midlife unemployment.

The film is set against the background of Japan's long period of economic stagnation. The main character, a 46-year-old corporate executive, has devoted most of his life to work, but becomes sacrificed to corporate downsizing. To maintain his authority as head of his household, he dares not tell anyone, but spends every day in the park as one of the "homeless office workers." Picking up free meal tickets handed out by the government, he meets a past classmate who has also fallen on hard times. The latter, to deceive his wife, even has set his cell phone to ring automatically five times an hour so he looks constantly busy, when in fact he is forcing himself into a dead end....

Facing the real you

Dr. Wang Jen-pang, who practices at the Songde Branch of the Taipei City Hospital and has a lot of experience with family therapy, says that career stability is critical to contemporary people not only for the income, but for a deeper reason: Job status is an important factor in the respect and attention we get from most people. Perhaps before losing our jobs, we can think, "Without my title, without my sales achievements, without my workplace personal network, without a salary to calculate my value, what do I have left? Have I been using being busy at work as an excuse to avoid personal or family problems?

"KenWorker" (Wu Chien-i), who is fairly well known in the blog world, has revealed that his life also ran aground at one point.

In an interview with Cheers magazine, he said that between 30 and 36 years of age, he left his well-paid job as a music video director to throw himself into the then-budding Internet industry. But after the global dot-com bubble burst in 2001, his morale was completely shattered. Unable to cope with his disappointment, he became fearful and anxious, leading to divorce, excessive drinking, insomnia, barhopping.... Finally he escaped to Canada where, getting help from relatives, he worked as a part-time house painter paid by the hour.

"What's strange is that when I slowed down, the world became wider, and I refound the passion for travel that I felt many years before. That passion brought me back to life," says Wu. He recently left his job at a travel agency, and became a full-time blogger. At 43, his motto today is: Happiness means having an ordinary, simple life.

Slow down!

Sudden career transformations are unpredictable, and do not spare anyone just because of status or age. Penny Pan, who was assistant editor-in-chief for food and travel at Next magazine and turns 50 this year, is a case in point. When the financial tsunami rolled in at the end of 2008, she was unexpectedly "pulled down out of my position." But like KenWorker, after going through this derailment, she feels "filled with gratitude."

Pan, a longtime media veteran with a natural "godfather" (or rather "godmother"!) personality, handled three episodes of downsizing for the company over past seven years before 2008. However, thinking back to the economic implosion at the end of 2008, when there was a sharp decline in circulation and advertising revenues, "That was really frightening," she recalls. "I was really worried about the company's stability, and I also felt a duty to do something to look after coworkers who had been laid off."

Therefore, with her eye on the budget that government agencies have in recent years been setting aside to promote tourism and dining in Taiwan, and acting on her own initiative, she ran all over the place getting projects for the company. Even her semi-retired husband was enlisted as a "volunteer" assistant, while Pan ran herself so ragged that she had painful skin rashes all the time.

Little did she expect that burning the candle at both ends to protect the company would invite a rumor that she was really off pursuing personal profit. One day she was called in by her superior, and the same day it was announced that she had been laid off.

The day after the incident, she returned to her office to collect her things, and she wrote a letter to the boss of the company expressing "regret, but also gratitude." "At that time my team were really stunned, and they thought that my tranquility was just putting a good face on things. In fact, I think that the workplace is a bit like a marriage. When my superiors no longer trusted me, I could only say that we had lost our chemistry, and I didn't feel like trying to explain."

In fact, back at home, it was she who had to spend three days and nights calming and consoling her husband. "He was sad and angry. He wondered how my sincere and honest efforts could get twisted into such a story. He thought he had to force me to go back and clear my name." One colleague also phoned her privately to encourage her to go back and fight.

Pan explains that she was personally able to accept the facts calmly largely because of her naturally optimistic personality and her Christian beliefs. It was also because she didn't lack for material things in life, including a large severance payment and her own endowment insurance, which had matured and could be cashed in. "I could finally take a good long rest."

Nonetheless, in her heart she still felt an inescapable regret that "my character had been sullied." To herself she thought that if only she had been a little smarter, she would have chosen "early retirement" back when the company offered employees a choice between reduced salary and a package of incentives to retire early. Then she would have avoided the whole mess. "On the other hand, if I had not been pushed down by such an overwhelming force, maybe I would never have dared to leave for the rest of my life. All I can say is that there are few opportunities to turn your life in another direction, and it was lucky for me that I ran into one."

With time on her hands in the half year since leaving her job, Pan's greatest gain has been "I am starting to learn refinement." From culinary reporter to chief editor, her mind was preoccupied with being critical, finding fault. The whole rhythm of dining was uptempo leading to problems of weight gain, stomach infections, and similar "occupational hazards." Now she takes her time shopping in the market, tasting this and smelling that at a leisurely pace, and she cooks healthy food at home which she eats slowly, with concentration. As a bonus, she has also "begun to feel more of the satisfying aspects of married life."

Glory days....

In a lost era, ordinary people seem to get a particular kick out of stories of how the mighty are fallen, from former "beauty-queen legislator" Wang Hsueh-fung (who was seen by the media helping her mother-in-law scavenging garbage) to entertainers brought down by romantic or sexual antics, to the many athletes on the verge of losing their professional careers. These types of stories have a certain "voyeur" impact, and also (not necessarily consciously) reinforce the mainstream social moral lesson of "nothing is more important than fame, wealth, and status." These factors often cause people to overlook the fact that careers in these special professions are by their very nature likely to be short-lived, because of the fickleness of voters, or the inevitable decline of physical skills or beauty.

Nevertheless, before we lapse into pathos, why not have a listen to how people who have "returned to the common crowd" have dealt with these changes in life?

Chiu Chi-pin, now 35, was once captain of Taiwan's Asian Cup baseball team and was formerly a coach on the Chinatrust Whales. He says that professional players spend all their energy and attention on the diamond, and often don't have the time for, or even give a thought to, developing a second skill. "But I knew that sooner or later I would leave the playing field, so three years ago I enrolled at the National College of Physical Education and Sports (now National Taiwan Sport University), using every weekend to take courses in the undergraduate program there. I hoped that I could eventually carry on my passion for baseball through teaching in school."

Although he was studying in his spare time, the year before last the company forced him and four other coaches to take a leave of absence from school on the grounds that "player development requires complete commitment." Then, last November the Whales announced the team was disbanding. Although a coach, he was notified only on the day of the announcement. "I felt really let down. After investing 11 years of my life, I got only two months severance pay. And when you figure that the economy was so bad last year, everyone was really at a loss for what to do."

Early this year, Chiu and more than 20 other retired pro ballplayers collectively went to take the test to fill technician openings for the maintenance team of the Hydraulic Engineering Office of the Taipei City Government. Unfortunately, there were too many people for too few jobs, and only three were hired; Chiu himself narrowly missed out.

Fortunately, under a government program to encourage development of baseball in Taiwan, the four cities and counties with teams began recruiting. Chiu, filled with hope, joined in the selection process for coaches for the Taipei City team. However, with a lot of more senior people also competing, he ended up being first alternative.

"After seeing the list, I swallowed my pride and called Li Anxi, one of the coaches who had been selected. We had only met once before, when we all took the test for the maintenance team, but I knew he had gotten one of those openings, so that now he had two job opportunities. So I said to him: I really need this job, and am willing to work hard to help professional baseball, I wonder if you would be willing to give this opportunity to me?"

It was in this way that Chiu was fortunate enough to become infield coach on the Taipei City baseball team. "I called Li to thank him for making way for me, and all he said was that he did it as his own personal choice. I was moved by his maturity in the way he looked after me."

Chiu certainly values his current position, but he knows from his brief experience "off the rails" that the tracks under his train can change direction without warning at any time. He is no longer so extravagant that he hopes for a permanent job, which has made him even more determined to continue studying.

After the fall

Just like those in sports or entertainment, political figures may also see their careers come to a screeching halt. Some democratic countries have retirement plans for elected officials to attract professionals into politics. After former legislator Wang Hsueh-fung had her situation revealed in the media, on top of the fact that last year the number of legislative seats was cut in half (from 225 to 113), some political commentators began to call for something similar in Taiwan.

In contrast to politicians who are complaining about their fate and calling for lifetime guarantees, former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Phoenix Cheng is of the group of genuinely capable people who are consciously "separating themselves from all forms of special privilege and making their own way in life."

Fifteen years ago, Cheng, then still studying in the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University, followed one of his teachers in becoming actively involved in the first election for the mayor of Taipei City. After finishing his military service, he became director of the office of policy in the campaign of Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh. Later, at age 27 he became the youngest-ever director of the Department of Information in the DPP's history, and in 2004 was in charge of PR for Chen Shui-bian's presidential campaign.

"I didn't belong to any faction, I didn't come from a political family, and I wasn't the heir to some big corporation, so my political career was really fortunate, because those above dared to give me an opportunity, and I was not afraid to take the chances offered," says Cheng.

Describing the nature of political careers, he relates: "Looking around at the people of my generation in the DPP, most of them came out of backgrounds as legislative assistants or as student activists, and got into politics right out of school. But once this job disappears, we have no natural profession to which to return."

Nonetheless, maybe because he's still young, when Cheng lost in his party's primary in 2007 and the loss of his legislative seat was imminent, he didn't panic at all about coming down off the political stage on a moment's notice. On the contrary, working with his assistants and a primary school classmate, he happily came up with hundreds of bizarre career ideas (including a health tea shop), until he ultimately decided to try to make his fortune in the field of cell-phone advertisement ringtones.

Discarding the suit and tie, Cheng looks a lot more comfortable and at ease than before. What hasn't changed is his skepticism and idealism. "I feel that legislators asking for retirement pensions are just fattening themselves at the public trough. The real problem is that politicians in Taiwan enjoy too many special privileges as it is. They take it for granted that they have power and status, and once they've tasted what its like to be around all that power and money, they become obsessed, even morally lost and confused, which is why they feel so angry when they lose their place!"

Looking at the way things are overseas, perhaps we can see even more clearly the excessive anxiety in Taiwan about "what happens to the powerful and famous after leaving the public stage." In 2005, after a 58-year-old legislator in Germany left office, she rejected two job offers from insurance companies. The reason was that "I don't want to find a job from my network of personal contacts; such an action would be detrimental to the public interest." Finally she took a job as a cleaner.

In fact, in Germany there are many cases of both elected officials and high-ranking government officials moving way down the social ladder. Some of the jobs taken include hotel doorman, nanny, and mason. Even more important is that both citizens and officials believe, "There's nothing wrong with being a cleaner. The important thing is to be positive and optimistic in carrying on in life-no jobs are necessarily more noble or ignoble than others."

In a lost era, find yourself

Since the 1990s, many sociologists and trend observers have been discussing transformations in personal lives and careers from the three angles of generational change, societal transformation, and mass psychology. Concepts like the cyclical life, the "multi-band" life, and even the "flea lifestyle" (from the book The Elephant and the Flea), have all put a more positive and proactive spin on major changes in life's direction.

To take one example, the American trendologist Maddy Dychtwald wrote in Cycles (published in 2002) that by the end of the last century, people's lives had become more and more "cyclical" rather than "linear." This change is the result of three major developments: the longevity revolution, the reversal of population structure, and the value system of the baby-boom generation in daring to seek self-realization. All aspects of life, including work, love, family, and even recreation and learning, can experience multiple changes in direction in midlife. She concluded that people achieve greater personal growth and satisfaction from these circular rather than linear lives.

Such an outlook undoubtedly has a "liberating" effect. However, in practical daily life, the transformations that people experience in their careers are often the result of layoffs, illness, or natural disaster, and all they can do is passively deal with it.

Check out When Things Fall Apart by Ani Pema Chodron, the first director of North America's first Tibetan Buddhist monastery and one of the few female Buddhist masters in the world. She gently reminds readers that they can build up an enormous reservoir of energy if they are sometimes willing to get close to fear and live tranquilly in a state of non-dependence on anything. So long as you understand yourself, and abandon the inner desire to control everything, she teaches, only then can you develop an open heart and mind, enabling life to move in the direction of true harmony and freedom.

From another point of view, the situations that result in a life that "goes off the rails" are in fact "prompting us to seek the most meaningful things in life, and encouraging us to not care too much about what other people think, but recognize and affirm our own uniqueness" This is the conclusion of Yu Chien-kui, a self-defined "liver of life," who suddenly resigned his job 13 years ago.

Based on similar observations, Shih Hsin University Department of Social Psychology professor Chiu Tian-juh responds that individuals struggle and fight for many things that are simply part of a habitual way of thinking created by the social collective. In a time when the economy is in a downturn and people are anxious, people's attitude toward existence has to be adjusted: The individual has to learn self-control, humility, and perseverance, while relations between people have to shift from competition to tolerance and mutual support. With more kindness and unselfish love, people can walk hand in hand through the turbulent storms of life.

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