“What do you do?”
Everyone asks it.
And, I hate to burst every one’s bubble, but no matter how many quotes, articles, and messages out there that insist we are not our jobs, we are, to some extent.
Maybe not when we are sleeping or eating or fucking (unless you are a prostitute – but even then I am sure there are some people you sleep with who do not have to pay…)
When people ask you what you do, they are making some kind of judgment. Not all judgment is “bad” or “judgy”.
We judge for different reasons:
Do I relate to what this person does?
Does it take brain power to do what this person does?
Is what this person does interesting?
And – sorry – but people do think about how much money you get for what you do.
There is just no getting around it.
My job took me years of schooling to achieve. Years of schooling, and studying for a board exam. Years of schooling, and studying for a board exam while planning a wedding, holding down 2 jobs, getting pregnant, and moving into a new place when 8 months pregnant. AND taking this exam (that had a 40% passing rate) 3 weeks before giving birth.
Once I had all of this schooling, all of my good grades, all of my experiences that have shaped me to become great at what I do, it shaped me into a version of myself that I was proud of. It did not matter that I was a hot mess in almost every other aspect of my life.
In my job, I kicked ass.
My “reputation preceded me” when I met other people in my field. I had colleagues text, email, and call me for my opinions on what to do with specific difficult cases. I was jokingly referred to as “The Fixer.”
What I did was smart.
What I did was impressive.
What I did sounded like I made a lot of money (I didn’t – but nobody needed to know that).
I loved what I did.
I loved being GOOD at what I did.
I loved being the EXPERT. The go-to guy.
Basically… I was the shit. And I got mighty comfortable with that. Being good at my job was my safety. My fallback. When I sucked at everything else, I could still say “Well – at least I am awesome at my job.”
Know what I could not stand? Know what really pissed me off?
Incompetent people who sucked at their job.
There was no excuse for that. Get your shit together, dumb people. I mean REALLY. Stop wasting all of our precious, competent, well-oiled machinery of time with your dumbass crap and step it up a notch or 2. Or a billion.
I went through most of my professional career a smug little asshole. I’ll say it. I know I occasionally made other peoples’ lives miserable at work with my judgmental view on their competence (or what I perceived as lack of competence, since apparently I was the authority on that). I was spoken to occasionally on “It’s not WHAT you are saying – it is HOW you are saying it” when it came to addressing other peoples’ behaviors.
And I still tra la laaad along, being great.
I beat out a number of candidates in my current position. And proceeded to get the ass whooping of my life.
This year, I journeyed into the Disney World of Ultimate Suck with a Fastpass for Every. Goddamned. Ride.
I rode the Dumbo ride of ineffectiveness.
I jumped on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad of Doing it All wrong.
I sat on the Carousel of Progress. Making no progress at all.
I went home every night and sat on my couch and cried into my glass of wine and realized I was officially what I despised. I was that incompetent employee that couldn’t get it together no matter how much she tried.
I had all the same skills. Probably even more skills than ever. I didn’t turn into an overnight moron. I was still the same intelligent, experienced professional I was before I took the job.
Only, I wasn’t anymore.
And when I was let go, my identity took a stroll through Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade and got shot full of holes.
Who was I now?
A failure. An incompetent failure.
“Now now…” I know you are patting your computer screen, reassuring me and emphasizing how other people see me should not define me. Yeah – that’s all awesome and it’s great advice and I tell it to other people too. But everyone knows that that kind of advice is for people who are Not Us. The people struggling as we sit in a slightly elevated place. Removed from them. We reassure people who are doing worse than us. You can’t argue that. Because really, it is true.
Not to say the advice is not true. All of it is true. But when we are down and out and slumped on a couch in all of our unemployed/overweight/gray-haired/insert shitty-thing-happening-to-us here glory, we are in a swirling black hole universe where no words or advice or hope can get in. Our thoughts and beliefs are real real REAL. And we need to sometimes try on our hopelessness and wear it like a shroud and wiggle around in it without anyone trying to tear it off of us before we are ready. Eventually it will get tight and itchy and hot and stuffy.
But, for a while, I paraded around in that mumu that I hated yet still tried to absorb it and own it into my psyche.
My inner dialogue went on a bender: Guess I am one of those incompetents now. Guess I don’t know what I am doing. Maybe I should just leave this field and convince hubby I CAN work full time at Lululemon and still pay our bills. Or work in an office. Or wave people to Stop or Go Slow at construction sites. Or answer the Help Wanted signs at 7-11. Fuck all that schooling and tests and experience and blood and sweat and tears (literally – all of it when you get beaten up significantly in your job) that I put into my career. I am going to jump ship and leave it all behind. Because who the hell said I can do this? I obviously can’t.
Yes – one job goes sour. One job in 15 years, and I am a weak mamby pamby ready to brew coffee all day or stand in traffic with Stop signs as pissed off people sit there waiting and glare at me. I have options. I can walk away and never look back.
Only… No I can’t.
Eventually, the tears in the wine glass started to slow down. The mumu started slipping and squeezing me. I began to google job searches and send out resumes.
I started dipping a toe back into the “I am competent after all” water.
My voice is still a whisper. My shoulders are still hunched. I spent almost 9 months submerged in self-doubt and I have a few more months to go. I lost my swagger. My arrogance. My invincibility.
I lost my identity. But… in trying to get it back, I discovered other parts of myself that I can now absorb into my inner workings that has nothing to do with my job, and everything to do with my job.
And – most important –
One man’s skills and experience is another man’s stupidity, depending on who is measuring it. I have learned the importance of seeing someone’s ability he or she may actually have, but may just not be showing it the right way in the exact moment it needs to show up.
Because I have been there.
Fuck. I am STILL here.
But I am rummaging through my old closet of dresses, piecing together my wardrobe, accessorizing with some of the new stuff I now have in my collection. Trying to make it work for me. Dressed down with Gripfasts or dressed up with heels.
I am still my job. Even when I do not have this job anymore.
But I am so much more.