Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Who Am I, Really?

I recently have started having conversations geared toward finding myself a job sometime between now and the beginning of next year. There have not been any formal interviews yet – I’ve simply been testing the waters to get a feel for where I might have the best chance of cutting a deal to my liking (which, by the way, would involve policy-centered work in the bank regulatory field, enough money to pay the bills, no more than 3 days per week, and a reasonable assurance that the part-time aspect of the arrangement would be honored – if anybody out there is reading this and has any ideas, please let me know!).

In anticipation that the real employment negotiations will start taking place soon, this morning I dusted off my résumé. What a flurry of thoughts and emotions that brought to the surface! There was a time, as recently as last year, when I more or less defined myself by reference to my résumé, my job title, and my annual job performance ratings. Looking at my résumé today was a stark reminder of those days and how miserable I felt during them -- always looking to my job for fulfillment, always looking to my academic and job accomplishments to validate my self-worth, always competing to be better than those around me and better than I was last year, always feeling that no matter how well I did it was not good enough, always ticked off when someone else did better or got promoted faster (especially if that someone went to crappy schools and/or wasn’t, in my view, of above-average intelligence). Sheesh, what a draining way to live! No wonder I needed a year off!

At this time last year, when I was weighing the decision of whether or not to take a year off of work, one thing that I remember vaguely wondering in passing was, “Who will I be if I’m not a lawyer at the Federal Reserve Board anymore?” Answering this question certainly was not on my list of conscious reasons to quit my job and take a year off, but I think that in many respects it may have been my real reason for doing so. The part of me that really knows stuff knew that this question needed answering, and that there was only one set of circumstances under which I would bring myself to answer it. I needed to be in a place where I no longer had a job title that I could use as a substitute for a sense of self and where the list of academic and professional achievements that I was substituting for self-worth became completely irrelevant. I needed to throw away the psychological crutches on which I had so long depended to see what would be left standing without them. I have always liked a challenge, and boy did I get one!

Doing away with the conditions that nurtured my particular brand of the “I am what I do” belief resulted initially in a fair amount of self-pity and self-doubt. However, seeing what is left standing without the old crutches has been more than worth that early discomfort. What is left standing is a human being who knows that her true self cannot be pinned down and neatly labeled and is OK with that reality. What is left standing is a human being who knows that trying to convince herself of her worth by amassing external achievements is completely beside the point because self-worth comes from within. What is left standing is a human being who realizes that trying to assert her superiority over other human beings also is completely beside the point because in the end we are all just people who are born and die and who are essentially the same while we live. What is left standing is one human being among billions who knows that we are all in this soup called life together and that we need to honor one another, not compete against one another, if we are to have any hope of satisfaction, individually or collectively.

Today, after a year of reflecting on many topics, including my own sense of being, I looked at my résumé with new eyes. Today, for the first time, I did not look at that piece of paper and think, “This represents who I am.” Instead I thought, “This describes how I’ve chosen to spend my time.” This shift in perspective is, in my book, further evidence that the benefits of taking a year off were more than worth the costs.


Barbara said...

Congratulations! It sounds like you have made a lot of progress in a year. I hope you can land a part-time job that gives you plenty of time to explore the other aspects of your life that you seem to have discovered. Life should continue to get better and better instead of putting us in a career straight-jacket. Brava for you!

Jeff said...

Having watched you day in and day out over the past year as you made this transition, I can attest that you are the strongest, most perceptive, and most inspirational person I know and a partner I deeply respect and love. Bravo Sweetheart!!

Adrianne said...

Wow! Many thanks to you both for all the kind words.

Reya Mellicker said...

I remember how difficult your job reviews were for you, and as your friend I've watched you shift your perspective in fantastic ways in the past year.

Onwards & upwards!

Adrianne said...

Reya, you have played a very important role in all my perspective shifting -- thank you so much! I am so fortunate to know you and benefit from your wisdom.