Cultural mores teach boys that to “be a man” is to always be in control. They are told that money offers that control and work is a way to acquire money. This narrative is stretched from adolescence to adulthood to such an extent that work becomes the primary mode of fulfillment for a lot of men. The idea of all-consuming work seduces men and quickly transcends to become their leading measure of self-esteem.
So when careers come to an unanticipated halt, men find themselves torn to pieces. They feel as if they are watching their own funeral—still present but mourning their own death.
Historically, we have not allowed most men simply to be. Men are breadwinners and no matter how much bread is in the home, they are primarily valued by their ability to fetch more. Their right to be cherished and loved is directly tied to their work. It is no wonder then that the loss of professional work is one of the leading factors of mental health deterioration in men.
As a primary foundation of masculine self-esteem, work has not worked for masses of men for some time. If professional lives were truly all fulfilling for most men, why do so many men feel dissatisfied with it? Instead of bolstering awareness of the self, work has actually been a place for many men to flee from the self, and operate from a place of emotional numbness.
So perhaps it is not that career issues lead to deterioration in self-esteem. It is more like that most men don’t even cultivate a sense of self outside of their work.