There are some people whose level of success in life is defined by the level of excellence they’ve reached in a career, or any kind of job really. I guess it’s ultimately a Puritanic attitude that hard works are what define a person.
For a variety of reasons (pick any one or combination of the following) psychological, evolutionary, or social, males appear to attach a much greater degree of their identity towards their career. The historical family reliance on male income, the dovetailing of economic and social status, and a man’s inability to give birth often place men’s value away from the home and towards the workplace.
I am, in many ways, an unconventional male. Wherever I end up professionally, my wife is almost certain to out-earn me. It never really crossed my mind for that to disturb me or make me feel less a man. Machismo’s never been my thing and between Clancy and myself, I’d say she’s got the more dominant personality.
But being unconventional as I am, the work/identity mindset plagues me nonetheless. It started when I was dating Julie and her academic career was floundering to the point that I would likely be the breadwinner. Then there was Evangeline and my parents constant harping about my unemployment a few years back.
Being unemployed really takes a toll on a guy. This is true when you’re single because you know that a lot of potential wives are looking closely to make sure that you are self-supporting (or, in some cases, family-supporting). When you’re looking to get married, having a good job is a part of the package that says “I’m an adult, I’m ready for this.”
Then, of course, you get married. Women that choose not to work have a great deal of cover, but a guy that is unemployed is assumed to be looking and failing in his search.
This isn’t meant to be a whine. I’m honestly not even lamenting the double-standard (there are reasons that it exist). I’m not saying that it’s any better to be a female. I’m just saying that gender roles and expectations work both ways and one of the ways they work on males is the association of identity with profession.
And merely cut from a different cloth does not insulate one from these percieved and real expectations. This site frequently serves to store my frustrations with my present work. This job frustrates and exasperates me on a regular basis. I don’t like getting up at six in the morning. I wish I had more time to write and meet people and such things.
But at points of lower self-esteem, the job is very frequently something I fall back on. How worthless can one be when someone - a boss, coworkers, a corporation - is counting on you to show up every day? How worthless can you be when you are contributing to an industry serving other industries serving a national economy? How can worthless can you be when you are adding to the nation’s economy rather than pulling from it?
There’s a 90’s two-hit-wonder (”Beautiful In My Eyes” and “Jessie”) by the name of Joshua Kadison, who has a simple, silly, and profound song called “Invisible Man.”
and stared out to the rising sun
then I heard myself shout out the window
not really talking to anyone
I yelled “Here I am,
but why do I feel
like the invisible man?”
That’s when all the people started yelling
“Will the crazy man go to bed?”
and there I was, laughing out my window
feeling much better that somebody heard what I said
Of course, I don’t actually think of myself as invisible, but the song resonates. I find myself feeling sometimes that if I am not performing then I do not exist. How is performance measured? The paycheck, of course, and the prestige of the position.
A week or so ago, David St. Lawrence said something that really grabbed me:
When you are unemployed, whether by choice or by being terminated, you lose one of the major reference points of your life. Whether you plan to or not, you frequently define yourself to others by the company you work for.
When someone says, “What do you do?”
You probably respond with something like, “I work at ______.”
It’s a convenient way of saying that you are somebody of consequence, even when company _______ has only four employees. When you are unable to associate yourself with a company, you may suffer a loss of importance in your own eyes, if not in the eyes of others. A person without a team is a stranger in a strange land.
When I was dating Julie, I had to drive through a speed trap in her hometown. Without fail, I would get a ticket every three months. Among other questions they asked at the time was who you worked for and that address. The difference in saying “I work for CRI and here is their address…” and saying “I’m not currently employed” felt like the difference between saying “I am a respectible citizen, officer” and “I am the sort of layabout bum you lie awake at night fearing your daughter will marry.”
When it came time to meet my Clancy’s parents, the most immediate fear was how her father would react to my being unemployed. Prior to her, the most immediate fear was how a prospective girlfriend would react to my being unemployed. I was always a relationship-oriented person, but looking back more of my social self-esteem lied in my occupation than my relationship or lack thereof.
Many of you may know the persona of that guy that is so glad to have a girlfriend that he can’t stop mentioning it every five minutes. Though I restrain myself, I feel that way about working. Just as the unexpectedly-girlfriended dude can’t seem to get over the fact that he’s got a girl that loves him, I sometimes look just as appreciably at the fact that I have a job, a place to go in the day, and a contribution - however small - to society.
And I have something to tell people when I’m pulled over or at a dinner party. I am somebody. A peon, perhaps, but a peon with an identity.
And it makes me feel good, which is better than feeling bad. Except that from a longer standpoint, I am setting myself up that much more for a fall when Clancy and I leave this state in a year, because I will then be unemployed again. A nobody.
And while I know that this is not the right way to look at things, it has been so ingrained for so long I don’t know of any other.