Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that they over-identify with their job?
I've been following this Harry and Meghan situation and imagining what it must be like to have your whole identity removed. For Meghan, she gets to go back to being an actor now. I wonder if she felt like her true character had been excised like an infected appendix when she had to, briefly, quench that part of herself.
If I had to quit being a writer tomorrow, what would I be? If you had to quit your job, would your identity take a hit?
Very frequently, I am asked how I want to be described. It could be when I contribute to a radio or TV show, when I give corporate wellness talks, or even when I fill out a form for insurance. Inevitably, the word 'writer' or 'screenwriter' appears. These are the first nouns I use to describe myself, in spite of the fact that I am also an anxious half-Corkonian; a half-sister; a daughter; a mediocre kickboxer; a housemate; a mouth breather; an ex-Michael Jackson fan; a Bank of Ireland customer; a Spotify user; a Friends enthusiast; an introvert; and (maybe not for long when he reads this) a girlfriend. The list could go on and on, and yet when someone asks me who I am, I give my name, followed by my occupation.
It's a pretty dangerous thing to do: to over-identify with your work.
I used to seriously buy into the economy of busyness. I felt like I was a fundamentally better person if I worked harder, kept busy, got up early and believed that a work/life balance was a crock of a concept. It was a deeply damaging mindset that saw me in bed every night at 8.30pm, on my own, reading a book, ignoring offers of socialising with friends because I thought I was better than people who liked 'to switch off'.
The thing is, if you over-identify with your work, and you lose your job, make a mistake, your industry gets taken over by robots or is outsourced to India, you're goosed.
I am not my work. Nor is my work my child. If my work is my child, then I have to protect and defend it. I have to be responsible for how it exists in the world. I have to hope and enable it to be well received and loved. I can't sleep at night with the burden of that, no matter how early I go to bed.
My friends don't want to be friends with a screenwriter. They want to be friends with a whole person who has opinions and fears, and problems to share, and advice to give. When my head is only focused on what imaginary people are saying to each other, quite quickly no one is saying anything to me. Why would they?
It scares me, because I don't really know how to switch it off. My identity and my purpose in the world would take a massive hit if I lost my job tomorrow. I know I have the other identities I listed, but obviously some of them are more meaningful than others. I think I'll start paying attention to when I'm actively being a friend, daughter, cousin, niece, and kickboxer.
I struggle with relaxing, because often, when I try to 'switch off' or have some 'me time', a wave of fear hits me. My mind shouts, 'Oh god, I'm never going to work again because someone else is working right now and I'm not and they'll get the job'.
It feels like work is the most important thing in the world, because it gives me the money and resources I need to live. But I guess feelings are not facts. The early bird does catch the worm, but what about the early worm? It didn't work out to well for him.
It's a scary concept, considering the fact that most people retire in their 60s. I know many of my peers will scoff at the idea of ever being able to retire, but when we do, who will we be? It's awful to think that at the age of 70 someone might ask me 'Who are you?' and I'll have to answer in the past tense. I hope I'm not carrying around a hard copy of this article to show people in 2060 that I used to exist. I need to stop over-identifying with my job.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to cut down to two hours writing a day and do a 15-minute ceremony every time I use my debit card to connect my Bank Of Ireland customer identity. I just want to start planning for my future. I guess it's like paying into a self-esteem pension for when I retire.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine