Lose Your Job Without Losing Your Identity
[Editor's note: If you recently lost your job, take a look at Wise Bread's collection of tips and resources for the recently laid off.]
Getting a pink slip can cause more distress than just a shrinking income. It can also give you a sense of insecurity and may make you question your place in this world. Here are three effective schools of thought for keeping your sense of self (long after the paychecks quit coming.)
Keep it “Seasonal”
I’m from a farming community, which means that most people I know are farmers. I bet many of you wonder what farmers do in their downtime, however. (Remember that the growing season doesn’t go all year in Nebraska, and you can only fix your tractor so many times.) Some relax during the winter, but many more will pick up jobs in town. Joe may schlep bags of seed at the farm supply store. Dave may do some mechanic work for the neighbor. If you caught either one doing their “off-season” jobs and asked them what they did for a living, they would both reply with “farm.”
The same situation occurs with teachers and students. Ask a teacher doing a summer job about their profession, and they won’t stray from their insistence that they “teach.” College students can spend up to 6 years taking classes, but if you bumped into them serving coffee at a Starbucks, they would let you know that they were “students.” And so it goes.
If you’ve suddenly (or not so suddenly) found yourself without the job you know and love to identify yourself with, don’t feel that you have to betray your longing with a complete acceptance of the task that pays your bills. If you’re an out-of-work accountant who has decided to tend bar until better job prospects arise, do it with grace and confidence. (In other words, when a patron asks you about your bartending status, tell them you’re an accountant. Then look them in the eye and ask if they want their drink shaken or stirred.)
Search for Meaning
All too many of use wake up one day and find that we hate what we do. We go to work from then on with a bitter taste in our mouths, a scowl on our face, and feet that drag along the carpet of our stale, cubicled offices. We dream of ways we can escape the doldrums (non life-threatening car wrecks, a falsely triggered fire alarm, or possibly corporate bankruptcy). The reality is far worse than the romanticized alternatives we dream of, but we are too fearful of the future to do anything else.
What better opportunity to make a change than to lose your job! Yes, I said it! I’ve been there, my husband has been there, and while the sting may take a while to wear off, eventually you decide to do something different. It may not be better, but it is different, and it can inspire you to move forward with that small business, trade school, or stay-at-home parent dream.
Those who don’t have a dream in the wings can take the opportunity to think carefully about what they want to do. They can form a new identity, in their own time and on their own terms.
Make a Separation
There is a final group of people who have decided to throw all their professional aspirations as far from their “identity” as possible. Either by necessity or desire, they refuse to define themselves as what they do for a living. I have to admire these people, because as hard as I’ve tried, I find this especially difficult.
Before marrying my husband, I’d had opportunities to date gentlemen from various professions: auto mechanic, pilot, military police, and trust-fund brat (among others). I chose instead, to marry my soul mate (a man who had many jobs at once, loved almost everything he did, and did it with compassion and integrity.) Because he (and I) found value in him as a person (and not an employee), we were better prepared for long college semesters, corporate downsizing, and starting our own small business. We took turns with the “stay-at-home” calling, and still share many of the household responsibilities.
While we are very blessed to share our goals of keeping career from defining who we are, many don’t have the full support of their spouse or family when deciding to make the separation. I read of so many stay-at-home Dads who find themselves feeling less-than-valuable. Mothers share in this dilemma, and have for some time. Both feel societal pressure to equate their “dollar per hour” worth with their human value.
Whether you choose to keep it seasonal, try something new, or remove the stigma altogether, losing your job can cause a tremendous disruption in your personal life. Finding a community that shares your beliefs can be vital to your survival (and believe me, they are out there!)
While it only matters to me that our professions are honorable and legal, some may not share in our acceptance. If all else fails, you can always do what we do, and say that you are “a consultant.” (It sure beats telling everyone you’re a social media expert!)