Work Shapes Us
In this focus on Identity, I flagged a bit in the writing this week. But then was revisiting the topic over and over in thought, feeling a rush when a new perspective pushed in. The mischievous brain may say, “Give it a rest – who cares?” But that desire to write erupts once more, so here we go again.
Why This Topic?
Identity, as I’ve written about it, contains both the self that one presents to the world, and one’s inner grasp on the direction of the core person, carrying on out there.
A big gap between the two suggests either a conscious actor, playing a part, or someone without a comfortable sense of self who adjusts a persona to the people with whom one is relating. Tough guy around tough guys, gentle soul around artists and poets, for instance.
So in my long quest to figure out the source of calm and quiet strength that I’ve sometimes experienced and see in some others, I recognize the grounded factor of ‘being centred in who you are’.
When they say of someone, “She has no sides”, “He is who he seems to be”, ‘There just isn’t any bull—-“, or “He’s the real deal”, those are other ways of saying the same thing – this person is congruent inside and out.
High School? A Reference to Last Week’s Blog
Since last week I’ve learned that some people don’t regard high school as having been a major challenge for them, remaining apparently untroubled by issues of popularity, achievement, sexuality, whatever. Becoming comfortable either came naturally or if it didn’t, but apparently wasn’t pondered or dwelt upon and life just moved on. I also didn’t distinguish between male and female experiences. That’s what happens when you don’t get your research team on the case – blunders!!
Yet I suggest that imagining any day in high school, slowly and carefully, going over the feelings involved in entering classrooms or the gym, and moving through the halls, might bring up some remembrance of tensions and stress, since dealt with. Or not!
On to post high-school. Work-life? So important!!
The pride in the first serious pay cheque – a wonderful moment. Being a worker boosts the sense of being adult and independent, even if one is 16 and still living at home. And it’s real, not like the more artificial environment in the high school classroom. There are clear tasks to be completed for which I’ll be paid. They may become tedious over time, but being among a bunch of workmates, taking breaks, going for lunch, the kibitzing of everyday life – these are part of the shared lot of much of mankind (the lucky ‘much’). And they contribute to a sense of competence.
And if we stay with the world of business, promotions and pay raises enhance one’s sense of comfort with oneself and one’s identity may be enhanced.
Preparing to enter a profession adds years to the entry to full adult status. More school, and maybe even more after that, prolongs the artificial experience of sitting and absorbing and cramming and being part of a herd of similarly intent clever people aiming at accreditation and acceptance to the Club. But then, one emerges as …TA DA!! a lawyer! A doctor! An accountant! A teacher! An engineer! A Business Manager!
You do have to get hired first, of course, and await approval of your abilities, but the pay cheques start to arrive and you are now treated as someone who matters. Someone who felt less than confident in having any inner strength , and being little beside A Student, can now pin new stability on the professional title.
Again, for some, the new title doesn’t alter their own take on who they are. It does impact how others see them, though. My son, the Dentist, or my friend, the Lawyer, if not already dealing with the sought-after weight of accomplishment, has to at least now recognize that others see them as more than just themselves. And in acquiring the skills and habits that allow them to assume this altered status, their idea of who they are may well have changed because they have had to become someone different from that hopeful, relative innocent who signed on for medical school.
But Work Ends
Being fired, downsized, made redundant – these are humbling, if not devastating, downgrades in status, impacting one’s identity with a punch. Pow!!
Paid work brings us into commonality with workers everywhere and though not often celebrated, when it’s taken away, we lose a little (or a lot) of who we feel ourselves to be.
And the, retirement. If weary enough of one’s job, it’s welcome. New interests, hobbies, fill the gap. But for many, diminishment is felt. “I won’t become one of the ‘wrinklies’, walking around the Mall”, a friend has stated. It’s not just accepting a lower status, but of working out what kind of place one has in the world. “I’m no longer needed or productive” – this judgment has to be overcome.
Identifying with less obvious contributions often fills the gap (volunteering, playing a more active role in the family, taking on community leadership roles, finding part-time work that uses well-honed skills). But a courageous spirit seems essential in maintaining a sense of being a person of value.
The Title, Does it Match the Inner Person?
The fundamental challenge to character still pertains, in business, the professions, the arts, and in retirement. If the inner person doesn’t grow to meet the requirements of being a responsible human, there remains a less than congruent identity – a disjoint between what’s presented and inner integrity.
The work we do, or are denied from doing, may be the biggest factor in who we feel ourselves to be. Identity and work – tightly bound.
Next week: Marriage and Family