Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Jobs and Identity

I was a student from the fall of 1994 until the spring of 2012 and even before that I attended play school.
During that time being a student was my main identity. Of course during that time I was also a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a musician, an actor, a book store clerk, and other things, but mostly I was a student.
When you’re a kid going to school is your job (even when you have another job that actually pays.)

While in university I worked to earn money for school. I worked full time in the summers and part time in the fall and winter.

As an anxious person I always worried that I wouldn't find a job that I liked or that I wouldn't find a job at all, but of course I always did.

I worked in a restaurant one summer, which was horrible. I hated it, but it allowed me to go to Croatia for a month with my friends (the first time I ever went to Europe, and an amazing experience) so it was worth it.

I liked most of my other jobs. I worked for many non-profit organizations in the city running camps and programs for kids and adults with special needs.

Or course, at some point all of my jobs ended for one reason or another. Sometimes I got totally screwed over (like when one non-profit wanted my friend and I to compete for the job we’d done together for two years…umm..no thanks. We walked.) And sometimes something better came along.
Even when I worried, things always worked out.

And for five years those jobs were part of my identity. At times they felt like my whole identity since they were closely related to what I was studying in school.

When you’re in your teens nobody asks you what you’re studying or what you do, because you just go to school…it’s the same for everyone.
But in your twenties, you choose a field and that becomes you. The thing you are to everyone else. If you’re in school adults will ask you what you’re studying (and then immediately forget or not understand and ask you again the next time they see you.)
If you aren't in school (and I have a feeling this one lasts longer than just your twenties) people ask, “What do you do?” and that’s the thing that defines you in their eyes. If you’re a cop, that says something about you. If you work in an office, I have a good idea of how you spend your days. If you’re a nurse I have a certain perception of what qualities you have as a person.
It makes sense. We like to label people and categorize things, it helps us organize and understand the complicated world.

But it really, really stresses out young people.

Ever since my teen years I have felt immense pressure to “figure it out”. What do I want to do? What do I want to be?
I don’t even know where the pressure came from because I am lucky to have parents who would have supported me no matter what I wanted to do, and I was lucky to be able to afford to study or pursue what I wanted. But I still felt like I needed to have direction. (I talked about this here. And here. And here.)

When I finished university I was lucky enough to get a good job, and even better - it was the kind of job I wanted, it was near where I lived, and it turned out I loved it. Lucky me! I got to tell people I was a teacher and be proud of the image of me that created.
But the job was only temporary. As the end of the contract drew nearer I started to worry again. (See here.)
Of course, once again I worried and it worked out. My contract was renewed and I got to go back this year.
Then at Easter I learned that our school got a staffing cut for next year. There was no position for me. I was facing unemployment.

I took action and applied for some jobs. But I still worried.
My best friend told me, “you always worry and everything always works out.”
My sister told me, “Everything will fall into place.”
My colleagues told me, “something will come through for you, it has to.”

But nothing did…for weeks. And in that time I kind of had to re-evaluate what it is I want, where I want to be, what I want to do.

I was stressed about not being able to pay bills or contribute to my household, I was stressed about having to find a new job, I was worried I would have to quit the profession I love and find something else just for the income, and the stupidest one of all – I was worried about what that would say about me. How would it look to other people if I had to quit teaching and get a new job? Would it show that I had failed? I have pride when I tell people I'm a teacher. Would I feel the same way telling them I work in a store or an office? What kind of image of me would people develop if my job changed?

When I contemplated the possibility of moving somewhere else to teach, or perhaps going somewhere to teach abroad, I realized….teacher is only one thing that I am. Teaching is only one thing that I do. If I were to pick up and move my whole life to do it, that would mean it’s the most important thing in my life, and I realized… it isn't.

I am a girlfriend, daughter, sister, friend, auntie, reader, gardener, musician, songwriter, photographer, blogger, artist, volunteer, neighbour, and a teacher.
What I do is only a part of who I am, it doesn't define me.
I realized that even if somebody asks me "What do you do?" and I can't say "I'm a teacher," that's okay.


…My friends were right, by the way, it did work out.


Last week I accepted a contract to teach at a community school in a town about 45 minutes away from where I live. The job is full-time (an improvement on my current job) and the contract is permanent, which means this time next year I won’t have to worry, question my career choice, or scramble to find another job.

So: if you are struggling with something and you think it won’t work out, remember all the times you've felt that way before and all the times it did work out, and even if it seems like this time will be the one time it won’t…it probably will.

and if it doesn't, that’s okay. A change will come and it might even be better than what you were hoping for.

Know who you are, know what’s important, and work to hold on to the things that matter most.
Everything else will be just fine.

“Of all of the things I carry and all of the things I know, I know that I will be loved no matter where I go.
and I’m gonna be fine, fine fine… I’m just gonna be different.”

1 comment:

  1. I second Maddy; excellent post. And of course I am so proud of you and all the many things you are, and I'm excited for you to begin your new, permanent job! I'll need someone stable to freak out to in four to five years when I'm facing the job market.

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