Does your job define you?


My kids have been asking me about my job. I can see that what I do does not fit with what they hear at school or see in their friend’s parents lives. They feel a bit mystified at having two parents who are turning some of life’s big questions inside out right in front of them, and they aren’t quite sure what to make of it. While we have explained that many years of hard work have prepared us for these rainy days we are in, at least one of us having a job title seems important to them.

“What did you do today?” asked Thing 1. “More laundry?”

Ouch. And yet…the American cultural norms have eeked their way into the psyche of my children so much so that Big Man and I have had to stop ourselves from showing off our lists of accomplishments for the day to our kids.

This seems pretty sick and stands in sharp contrast to an experience I had a few months ago. I met a man who asked Big Man and me what we believed our work on this planet was supposed to be. He went on to explain that he wanted us to take out the obvious. He wanted us to think beyond the titles and roles of doctor, writer, parent, spouse. There was a little (ok, BIG) bit of silence to let that question sink in before I surprised myself with an answer that just sort of fell out of my mouth.

“I feel like I am here to raise questions, to wonder out loud, to promote conversations of all sorts, and to learn from a variety of perspectives. I like getting in to meet people from diverse backgrounds. I firmly believe “as I see it” isn’t the only way to see things and if I get a chance to share what I learn, then someone out there, including me, is better for it.”

Big Man had a tougher time. Much is made about women and their roles in society, but I think we can make a pretty strong case in the load we have placed upon men. As much as they were given more opportunities and roles to play, many men define their whole being by the job that pays them. This stint in unemployment has really made him examine where his ideas of self-worth come from, how he sees himself, and the contributions he makes to society beyond taxes and parenthood. It’s been a bracing experience. I can also see that defining the word ‘contribution’ is also worthy of some examination.

As for me, I often think of when I feel best. It will surprise no one who knows me that it has to do with one- on-one connections. These have happened at jobs or through my writing or in exchanges with a friend or through some new experience and then I think, “Well, that was something.” That feeling of “that was something” is what I am paying attention to a lot lately. It would be ideal to find a job that gives me that feeling because that really is what I feel my purpose is….to connect with others. But what I am learning is that no one thing can give you everything you need. Not everyone gets to work at a job that utilizes their true gifts, but it is still imperative to pursue that which fills you because that feeling is quite simply pointing you toward you.

I am sure this sounds like typical midlife crisis stuff or some Oprah-fied “Live Your Best Life” magazine article. I hope not because what we have going is happening in real time in front of our kids and with each other. It hasn’t always been pretty, but I can assure you it is very real and not at all romantic.

Every day Big Man and I are thinking a bit more about who we are and what we are meant to do and be on this little planet. The answers are so much bigger than any job either of us could have. And absolutely none of this is about being happy. (Can I get some kudos for NOT going off about our cultural fixation with “being happy”? That is a different post.) What seems more apparent each day to both of us is our self worth comes from a sense of purpose. What that means to each of us is quite different, and we are still working that question pretty hard.

My own personal goal for today is to simply claim the space I am in as mine without having to define it.

I. Am.

How great is that?