I don’t think of myself primarily as what I do at work. At least I didn’t think I did. If asked how I think of who/what I am, I think about being a mother, a pastor’s wife, and a child of God. Even if someone asks specifically about my job, it’s hard to sum it up in a few words because what I do right now is help in several different areas – areas that will have to manage without my help once my position is eliminated in about a month.
So I was surprised, recently, to realize how much it bothers me to be losing this rather ill-defined set of responsibilities. It’s not just the financial impact and the difficulty of finding another job in this uncertain economy – though it is discouraging not to get responses regarding any of the few jobs I’ve found to apply for. (I did finally get one “you do not meet the requirements of the position” form letter from the corporation I currently work for, regarding a position in another department.)
Suddenly there is a lack of a sense of purpose to what I am doing at work. I no longer feel part of a team that I am trying to help succeed. The co-workers to whom I have mentioned this assure me I am still part of the team and they appreciate the work I do, but the sense of being “in this together” is gone for me. I feel like a temporary employee, someone who is working here for the time being but has no future here.
I’m still doing work that needs to be done. (Except when I have trouble finding any, because some of my responsibilities have already been moved to another group. Then I go looking for work to help another group, or I do job searches or tweak my resume.) But knowing that in a month or so, someone else will be doing it makes me feel rather redundant now.
So is my identity more tied up in my work than I thought it was? This article about job loss and identity describes just what I’m feeling.
Most people identify themselves with a shared sense of purpose when at work. They are contributing to a collective group, effort, or project. Most companies often place a high level of emphasis on teamwork, and when one loses that role, they feel left behind, betrayed, and/or disappointed. In addition, we most likely established friends and a wide social circle of support that can be difficult to maintain once your place in that circle is lost, and distance makes it more difficult to maintain.
The advice given in the article seems good, though nothing I didn’t already know, or haven’t been already doing. What caught my eye at the end of the article, though, and convinced me to write this post and link to it, is the set of photos one young person composed to visually present her self-identity. I’m not inclined to get out my camera and experiment with the settings that let me put myself in the picture. But I can combine images from the web and word pictures to construct a composite of my own identity.
Even when I’m trying to improve my health and/or my looks, my physical self is always secondary to my mind, in how I think of myself. It’s true that I am finding satisfaction in being able to do some jogging (at first I was disappointed in how slow I am, compared to when I was younger, but after hurting my leg and having to stop running for a couple of weeks, now I’m happy just to be able to run at all). And I have noticed at work how much I prefer having something physical to do, such as delivering and setting up computers, rather than just sitting at a desk.
But my sense of “me” is still primarily my mental self. I’m someone who thinks and learns and forms opinions and imagines and hopes. I’m someone who loves to read – and talk about what I’ve read if I can find someone else who is interested, and who loves to do puzzles (whether it’s the Friday crossword in the Wall Street Journal or identifying who purchased a particular software license at work). I think a lot about the big questions of life that religion tries to answer. And I love words, whether I’m reading, writing, or using them in puzzles.
This phrase comes from a book about spiritual gifts, Network. It’s not on most lists of spiritual gifts, because Paul does not mention it in the passages where he lists a variety of spiritual gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), but the authors of Network consider there to be Scriptural warrant for including it. I was thrilled at that discovery, because my favorite ways of serving involve singing, writing, and planning lessons or programs.
I’m not especially artistic, but I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts. I like to paint plaster or ceramic figurines, make my own greeting cards, and make Christmas tree ornaments. I don’t have a spectacular voice, but I have a good voice for choral singing and I can hold my own when singing multipart harmony as long as there are others singing the same part or it’s not too difficult music. Oddly enough, I don’t enjoy listening to choral music all that much but I love to sing it.
I’ve loved to write as long as I can remember. (I have a story about a “muver” cat that I wrote when I was a preschooler – just a few sentences, mostly misspelled, and not at all interesting as a story, but even then I loved stories and I wanted to write my own.) I’m not particularly good at coming up with ideas for characters or plots, but I can put together words to express what I want to say. I’ve written some poems that friends think are good, though I don’t know how to objectively evaluate poetry as an art form.
Since becoming a mother and then a pastor’s wife, I have discovered an interest in planning parties, lessons, and other programs that will be fun and/or educational for children. I collect ideas and objects that may someday be useful for these purposes. (The ideas don’t take up any room; unfortunately the objects occupy an increasing area in our storage/craft room.) I am not so good at actually doing the lessons, parties, etc., because that involves getting children to follow my plans instead of creating their own. But I love the creative aspects of the planning phase.
I’ve also been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. I wondered why I was that way, when I was growing up, since no one pushed me to be that way. Once I had children I decided it’s something you’re born with, because they showed those same tendencies no matter how much my husband and I tried not to model them. But attention to detail is very useful for certain kinds of work, and while I thought when I was younger that I would hate the kind of routine office work I do so much of now, I discovered as an adult that it is a good fit for me.
As long as what I am doing is useful, and there is enough variety that I’m not always doing the same routine work (I have several different types of routine work I do), and occasionally I need to do something that is not so routine, I find satisfaction in the work. I know that I am very accurate, and that I usually catch my own mistakes as well as others’. (Though filling in for someone else this week, I managed to make a couple minor mistakes that caused no harm but gave us something to laugh at.)
Detailed, routine work also has the advantage that I can do it well no matter how I am feeling. If I am feeling bad either physically or emotionally it is difficult to write well or figure out a difficult programming problem. But I have no problem focusing on the minutiae of paperwork or data entry, and it can actually help me ignore the unpleasant feelings.
No description of me would come close to being complete without acknowledging my struggles with doubts, and my preference to have someone else in charge, taking responsibility for decisions that have to be made. There is very little about which I can confidently say, “I am absolutely sure that …” I have often thought that I could be made to doubt even my own name if enough people started telling me it is not what I think it is.
My mother did not like having to make decisions – she found it agonizingly difficult to do something as simple as pack for a trip, afraid she might forget something important – even with a printed packing list in front of her. I made up my mind that when I grew up, I would not be paralyzed by indecision. I have succeeded reasonably well, I think, in coping with life as a responsible adult, but I have to admit that sometimes I wish there were someone I could turn to and say, “You figure it out for me.”
Perhaps one reason I always want to read more and know more is that I hope that if I know enough, I’ll be sure of more things and make decisions more easily. And perhaps it has helped. It’s not so much not knowing what to think or do that troubles me. What I wish for is the sense of security I would have (I tell myself) if someone who really knew the right answers could tell me what they are.
So that’s who I am. And I think I’m reasonably comfortable with who I am. But right now I would like it a lot better if I had the prospect of a new job to go with it.