Our Jobs Don’t Define Us
Our jobs don’t define who we are, not really. We all know that. We’ve read the tweets, laughed at the memes. And yet, here we remain. Asking people what they do. Including details about our professions in our online bios. Defining ourselves and others by what’s printed on our payslips. We know better, and yet.
The other day, my British father-in-law told me that when he graduated from teacher’s college, he immediately landed his dream job at a fancy school near his hometown in the north of England. He was told that if he performed well, the job could be his for as long as he wanted it. And he did perform well, but life had other plans. On a cruise to Italy, he met my mother-in-law. He decided to chuck away his dream job and move to London for a shot at something bigger.
His storytelling — the way he framed it all — focused on the work aspect. He never found a job he enjoyed more than that one, but he wasn’t complaining, as he recognized that he’d done just fine for himself in the long term. He was just saying. And in the classic British avoidance way, he then steered the conversation in another direction, and off we went. However, when I got home, it occurred to me that there was an obvious bigger picture here, one I’d been masterfully distracted from. His keeping or not keeping that job meant a million things. Most significantly to me, it meant a world in which my husband might not even exist. Similarly, if my parents hadn’t met at their shared workplace nearly forty years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.
For those of us in employment, our jobs are how we spend a significant portion of our day. Our line of work determines how people view us, our income, our social class, our prospects for mobility, our happiness, our stress levels, our free time. Especially in the pandemic, whether we’re working from home or trudging out into the real world, our professional lives and our personal lives have melded into some wiry, knotted mess. Tangled, inextricable, inescapable.
In these weird, working-from-home times, I have found myself reflecting on previous jobs. Jobs I hated but that currently have an air of romanticism to them. Simply put, they’re not here. They’re not now. And that’s the entirety of their appeal.