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My friend is going to get himself fired at work. What can I do?

The question

My friend is committing career suicide and I don't know what to do. The company he works for is going through a restructuring and the higher-ups are deciding who stays, who goes and where those who remain fit under the new structure. It's a stressful time for everyone, but he's taken it to an extreme. He's been calling colleagues up and telling them to polish their résumés and start looking for new jobs. The fact that he is single and childless and about to turn 65 has placed additional stress on his psyche. He believes that his life is essentially over and that whatever time he has left he will be spending alone. These issues have paralyzed him from a productivity perspective. He's not delivering on projects, not showing up, and delegating work in such a way that everyone knows that he's not doing his job. I've tried to be understanding and supportive. But I've also warned him that his seeming compulsion to dial up his colleagues and tell them that the sky is falling may get him fired before he can retire in a few months. Any thoughts?

The answer

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Your friend's situation does sound pretty dire and disturbing and in need of immediate attention, so please pardon me if I'm a little more serious today than I am sometimes.

Let me start my answer to your question by asking a question of my own.

What's one thing Winston Churchill and Colonel Sanders had in common?

At age 65, the most important phase of their lives began. Their biggest contributions to humanity – which would have been lost had they given up or committed "career suicide" – still lay in the future.

At 65, after his roadside restaurant went under due to the advent of an interstate highway nearby (decimating pop-in traffic), "Colonel" Harland Sanders took his first $105 Social Security cheque and hit the bricks to try to sell his recipe for so-called "Kentucky fried" chicken. We all know how that turned out.

Winston Churchill was 65 and had been "in the weeds" for decades (making a living mostly as a freelance writer, poor bastard) when he became prime minister of Britain.

Your friend thinks he's facing a big setback because of a few cutbacks? Here's what was on Churchill's plate: Neville Chamberlain had given away half of Europe and the Nazis had taken the other half by force, including, most recently, a charming and picturesque little country called France that just happened to be England's next-door neighbour. Hitler to Britain: Knock, knock! And Hitler's war machine was superior to Churchill's in almost every way, mostly because everyone had been ignoring Churchill's cris de coeur and calls to arms for years.

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Did Churchill give up? Nein. "I will never surrender." His first speech to Parliament as PM: "I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat." (What a guy, I love him.) And with just those four ingredients he saved the free world from a mighty, malevolent and highly organized force.

See what I'm getting at? Life over at 65? I think not, sir! Your friend has to reach down and find his inner Churchill, a.k.a. his mojo, and then rage, rage against the downsizing of his department and the "outplacement" of his position, and even if he loses his job to tell himself he will "never surrender."

And you've got to help. Convince him he's got more blood, tears, toil and sweat to expend before his journey's over. Sit him down. Give him a pep talk. "Listen, I care about you but you're headed for a wall, and it's no joke. You have to pull it together or the consequences are going to be dire indeed."

But his behaviour sounds almost too bizarre for that alone to suffice. It's not 100-per-cent clear, but it sounds like he's just about to get a full retirement package? I hate to say it but could it be he has more than "career suicide" on his mind?

Either way – and I almost never do this, I consider it the ultimate advice-columnist cop-out – but if I were you I would also attempt to persuade him to seek the services of a mental-health professional, posthaste.

Maybe they'll help him get his fight back. Because you can never stop fighting in this life.

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Meanwhile you and everyone around him need to do everything in your power to remind him that even if things don't work out with this job, the world still needs him, and he's still a useful, valuable person.

What am I supposed to do now?

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