Who do you think you are?
We all have different perceptions of ourselves and they’re all based on several things.
Part of it is our personal history.
Part of it is feedback and how other people treat us. If we listen, other people tell us a lot about ourselves. They might see us very differently than we see ourselves.
Part of it is the roles we play. The subculture we belong to. The tax bracket we’re in. The job we hold. I know that part of my identity came from my job up until recently.
A couple weeks ago I announced that I was quitting my job. My last day was Wednesday. I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions about this step in my life. I’m trying to focus on what’s ahead instead of what’s behind. Trying to avoid letting sentimentality keep me in a stagnant place. Trying to let go of any selfishness that was keeping there. Any needs my job was fulfilling that might have been unhealthy – my need to be noticed, be appreciated, be paid, be away from my family, be a human not “just a mom.”
I absolutely love when people break gender stereotypes. I’ve already written about my love for family men and strong, empowered women. I admit it’s hard for me, as a woman, to humble myself and set aside my pride in making money. I’ve always had a job – since I was 17 years old. Often, I’ve had more than one job at a time! Many of my jobs, including crew work for films and television, were male-dominated fields. That’s what I’m used to. But sometimes, ironically, God calls us to put aside our preferences and lay down our pride and not be afraid of looking like a stereotype. I’m sure I’ll still break the gender mold other ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m incredibly privileged to get to leave the workforce. There’s many folks out there who would love to spend more time with their families and cannot logistically make it happen. I’m thankful for this gift and don’t want to be ungrateful.
Even though Josh and I have reached a point where we no longer need the money to survive, it’s hard for me to give that up. Hard to fully place my trust in someone else to provide for me. Hard for me to want to give up that independence and rely on God and my husband more fully. I know I’m still contributing hugely, just in ways that are difficult to measure like making food, cleaning, and watching the kids. It would take a full-time job to pay someone else to do these things! But I liked the feeling that I was contributing financially. Josh and I are still a team, still working together toward our goals, regardless of who brings home the paycheck.
It all comes down to identity. My current hang-up is due to the fact that some of my self-esteem and identity came from my job. By leaving my job, I’m saying goodbye to part of myself. This is painful, but in the long-term it is healthy. My identity shouldn’t come from my work, my paycheck, my reviews, or my coworkers. Likewise, in the home my identity shouldn’t come from my kids, my clothing, my car, my shoes, or my husband.
I think there’s a tendency in our culture for some parents to make their children their whole identity – their everything.
“Hi, I’m Malachi’s Mom.”
“I’m Shiloh’s Dad.”
If you’re looking for your identity in your children, you’re looking in the wrong place. You can’t find it in your partner either. If your identity comes from your spouse or significant other, then you’re just an empty shell waiting for another human to fill it. That’s too much pressure on them. No one, no matter how awesome or how in love with you they are, will ever give you true meaning or make you more yourself.
I believe my true identity can only be found in Christ.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
I am more than my roles. I am more than my family, my job, or the way I look. I started over when I met Jesus. My identity is found in Christ, and everything else is just extra. I should be the same person, with the same values and the same giftings regardless of the context.
Lately I’ve been re-reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. It’s been very applicable to my situation this time around and changed how I feel about life and work. About being and just doing.
Our identities in the current culture are so engrained in our jobs that we don’t ask kids what they want to do or study, we say “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Are doing and being the same thing?
Many other people say they never want to retire because they’d get too bored. Has our society lost all other creative outlets and boiled real, substantial community down to office chatter?
During the last half century we’ve begun to lose the fabric of family, culture and community that gave meaning to life outside of the workplace. The traditional rituals, the socializing, and the simple pleasure of one another’s company all provided structure for non-work time, affording people a sense of purpose and belonging. Without this experience of being a part of a people and a place, leisure leads more often to loneliness and boredom. Because life outside the workplace has lost vitality and meaning, work has ceased being a means to an end and become the end itself…. Our task now is to retrieve that birthright of knowing ourselves as human beings rather than human doings or human earnings.
Yes, there’s a lot of benefits to work like creativity, personal growth, community, recognition and interaction. But the reality is that the only real purpose of employment is getting paid. We may reap other benefits from our jobs – social and otherwise – but those benefits are equally available in unpaid activities. Do not confuse work with paid employment. Work is any purposeful activity, only some of which are paid.
Our fulfillment as human beings lies not in our jobs but in the whole picture of our lives – in our inner sense of what life is about, our connectedness with others and our yearning for meaning and purpose… Our real work is just to live our values as best we know how. In fact, mistaking work for wages has meant that most of our “jobs” have gotten neither the attention nor the credit they deserve – jobs like loving our mates, being a decent neighbor or developing a sustaining philosophy of life.
Redefining work increases choices. Once you break your identity away from your job, maybe you’ll be able to explore more fulfilling options like working a lower-paying high-integrity job. Or working part-time so you can volunteer more. Or working a high-paying job with the intention of donating everything you don’t need to live on. It will look differently for everyone.
Redefining work allows you to work from the inside out, knowing that you are not your job. You bring your own unique gifts and passions to your workplace. It makes you a whole person, not a compartmentalized person with a “work version” and a “home version.” Redefining work honors unpaid activity, adds life to retirement, and allows us to enjoy our leisure time more. It frees us to pursue fulfillment with no intention of getting paid. “By giving up the expectation that you will be paid to do the work you are passionate about, you can do both things with more integrity. You can make money to cover your expenses, and you can follow your heart without compromise,” Robin writes.
Whether your love your job and remain in it or move onto something new, breaking the link between work and money opens up room in your life for those parts of yourself that have been crowded out by your job. You may experience a moment of panic at the emptiness left by even this temporary suspension of your identity-as-your-job. But there are other you’s: you as full-time parent, as learner, as friend, as adventurer, as community organizer, as volunteer, as artist, as dreamer, and as architect of your own life’s work.
This really spoke to me. Right now I’m stepping away from the work context – perhaps just temporarily, perhaps permanently – to focus on the things that drive me. Simplicity and minimalism. Radical generosity. Unhindered hospitality. Vibrant community. I’ll rest a little while and breathe. I’ll do soul-searching and wait for opportunities to arise. I’ll use my passions and my pain to hopefully serve others. I’ll work with what I have, where I’m at, and not force things to happen too quickly. I’ll do my best to embrace a slower pace and a more meaningful daily pattern, even though it’s not what I’m used to.
I’m aware of the fact that I’ve often used being busy to distract me from my own depression and unfulfillment. I’ll tune out the distractions that I’ve used to cover up my issues in the past. It’s far better to turn around and deal with things than keep running from them forever. Better to admit that I have an identity crisis than look to others for my identity.
I’m not saying I should forget about all my needs. I’m saying it takes trust. Right now I’m trusting that either my needs will change or God will meet my needs in other ways. My family deserves my best, not what’s leftover at the end of the workday.
I’ll share more from this book in upcoming posts. But for now, if you feel stuck in an unfulfilling and endless cycle, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Remember that not all work is paid and there are great rewards for the unpaid types of work too.
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