Thursday, November 03, 2011

work and defining oneself

i think a lot about words. and how the way they're (mis)used shapes the culture around us. as i've been working on my scandinavian welfare state book, i've encountered countless interesting linguistic turns of phrase. for example, it seems that we can no longer refer to our work as a job, it must be a career. every "course" designed to help the unemployed get back to work is called something with career - the career way, the career cannon, and the like. even if the job it leads to is cleaning hotel rooms or sitting at the cash register in a grocery store or stocking shelves in a warehouse. those are now careers. and i think it diminishes the word "career" to call every job by that name. because where does it leave us when we want to refer to work that requires years of education and work experience, built up over a long period? 

but the tendency to refer to all jobs as a career reveals something about the way culture views work. it's everything. it's THE defining feature of a person. when you meet someone new, one of the first questions is always, "what do you do?" and how they view you hinges on that question. we are our work in the eyes of others. which is why everyone needs a career and not just a job. because if i have just a job, then who am i?

i've been working very hard for several years now to NOT be my job. back when i was my job, i wasn't much of anything else. i certainly wasn't much of a mother or wife and i definitely wasn't creative or energetic, i barely remembered who i was. i was just a corporate drone, giving all of my energy to a company that ultimately didn't give a rats' ass. because companies don't care about anything. they can't. it's impossible. but in trying to be my job, i forgot who i really was. and i think that's happening to an awful lot of people.

ink spiller wrote yesterday about being a working woman and i think that's part of the problem. women came into the workplace on male presumptions, trying to fit into a male world, not accounting for their uniquely feminine strengths. however, i think it's only part of the picture, as i've seen female-dominated workplaces that are just as dysfunctional as male-dominated ones and frankly, i'd take the male-dominated kind any day (there's usually (but not always) less crying in meetings). 

i think we have to make it ok again for people to have jobs which provide them with an income, but which don't define them as humans. not every job has to be a career. sometimes it's ok to just have a job. because you find your self-definition elsewhere - in puttering around your garden, in making meaningful handmade gifts for people you love, in making dinner for your family, in daily writing or reading, in spending time with a horse, in laughing at the antics of the chickens (just to name the things i do). maybe you hunt or forage or go to taekwando or a knitting group. 

who we are is the big collection of all of the things we do. i write and i take pictures and i have begun to teach and i do research. but i also cook and plan parties and serve on boards and laugh and entertain and sew and learn new things. i am far too complex to boil it all down to one word that happens to have to do with where i work. and i suspect all of you are too. 

let's take back work. and take back ourselves in the process.


Elizabeth said...

Interesting read. Lots of thoughts. Have you seen the interview Your money, your life, your happiness on Peak Movement TV? Might be interesting.

Now I'm back to Ink Spiller to read some more of her story.

Spilling Ink said...

I was going to head down the same path as this post with my next one but I think you wrote it better than I could have.

The last two paragraphs of your post sums up almost completely how I feel about where I need to go back to, where I am slowly going back to.

I love a good discussion julochka, there's nothing I love more than the exchange of ideas and tales of other people's experiences so this is so great for me.

Thank you for the mention, again, you're being most kind.

Unknown said...

Oh hurrah! You always talk such sense and I love it. We're struggling with this a bit at the moment. All the husbands we know put in long hours during the week to earn big fat salaries but my husband walks out the office door at 5.30pm on the dot. He sees it as a way to pay the mortgage and little else. I used to love my job but the sexism and chaos is getting to me and I'm starting to loathe it. So we're both making a conscious effort not to be defined by our jobs any more, but you're so right, it's the first question people ask :-(

c is for cape town said...

Sometimes when people ask me 'What do you do?' I like to answer, 'How much time have you got?'
And then sometimes they say, 'No, I mean for money?' to which I respond, 'Oh you should have specified that in your first question.' And then they start looking uncomfortable. And I grin.
Usually brings the conversation to a rapid end, or takes it off in a much more interesting direction.

Corrine said...

Particularly as women, I think we struggle more with our "identity" than men. We are many things to many people. Strongly defined by my education and career, some have difficulty seeing beyond that. I will always be that person, but this other one, this person who has left behind the high stress career, is still evolving. I plan to continue that evolution until I take my last breath. I work hard, I make plans, I set goals, and I evaluate outcomes. To write about the job vs. career culture must be very interesting. I enjoy your insights.

--maria said...

Haha, I like c is for cape town's comment. Very interesting. Right now, I am not making that much but I know that if I worked in a corporate setting I would be making 10X more.. but perhaps hating my life 10X more. When I wake up in the morning I do not dread going to work and I have flexibility at my work that I know the corporate world would count as points (oh you have to leave to take care of your sick dad? TWO POINTS!) Mind over money MARIA. Student loans will always be there to pay...

stephanie said...

this is something that i am wrestling with like crazy right now. i've never been one to want a career. i think there is too much interesting stuff out there to dedicate my life, time and energy to one type of job. but at the same time, i suddenly find myself on that road, without really realizing it was happening. at this point, i know that my heart and soul are not in my work, but they are into to getting my paycheck so that i can have money to put my heart and soul into what i do love to do. at times i wish i didn't need money and i could just putter around and do what i want to do and not have to worry about that dumb check.

so here's a question for you j: how did you get into working for yourself?

Sammi said...

it's amazing how often i come here and, not knowing what you've written about, it is exactly the type of thing that is on my mind.

i actually refer to my job, as my job. i love my job, although i have to do nvq's to get higher in the industry than i am now, but that's okay. i enjoy the course i am doing at the moment.

however i am having a bit of an itchy feet moment. a friend died on monday unexpectedly & it just makes me feel like life is too short to be doing things just because of a job, and maybe now i've hit some of my personal targets i should just go and do what i want to... but then, if i wait i can finish the course i am doing which will make it easier for me to get a good job when i am ready to move on...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. We are all so much more than our titles (or relationships for that matter). Define yourself, or others will do it for you.

Pia K said...

i agree with pretty much everything here! and i have never been interested in having a "career", which has probably seen as weird for a lawyer. but i'm so much more than a job, i've always concidered to work to be able to live so much healthier than live to work.

this obsession society has of work, work work is also a way to keep people trapped in a system and not having neither time nor energy to question the way of the world.

also, the obsession of working and the consumerism that follows, the crazy lauded growth rate, the planet can't take it.

it makes me so sad (and mad) on very many levels.

SE'LAH... said...

job titles and the like should never define us as human beings. i admire you so much for always stepping outside the box of thought.

sending conscious vibes your way. one love.