I was listening to NPR on my way home from work one night this week and I heard a story about how many of the newly unemployed Americans are suffering depression caused by the loss of identity that has come from losing their jobs.
Not having lived everywhere in the world I can’t say for certain, but it seems most people I talk to or hear in the news are in agreement that this is uniquely American. We identify ourselves by our jobs and careers. We also judge others by their jobs and treat them as well as we think their jobs warrant.
We might think: A police officer deserves respect because he represents the law but he’s also a blue collar worker so, as a person, he is worth less than a corporate executive, who is white collar. And that officer may well agree with you – he’s a simple man, takes care of his family and likes to drink beer and watch sports on his day off. No snooty high end 2 fingers of Glenfiddich for him. But the truth is he is no different than that executive even if they have different levels of education and different ideals and morals. In their hearts I’m willing to bet they want the same things out of their lives. They’ve just taken different paths to get what they want and so they see themselves as different from each other.
Given that most of us change careers on average 5 times in our lives, is it really realistic for us to think of ourselves as what we do for a living?
In my personal opinion the answer is no. But I’ve also had approximately 9 million careers in my adult life so I’d probably be suffering a multiple personality disorder if I identified with my career. Then again, maybe if I’d become the movie star I set out to be then I’d have a very different perspective.
All of that said, though, its not really healthy to judge ourselves by what we do, especially in these uncertain times.
Another thing America is known for is changing people’s lives, sometimes seemingly overnight. Take, for example, an unwed teenage mother living in a trailer, working long hours at a fast food restaurant and subsisting on foodstamps. If she wins American Idol she could be a superstar in less than 6 months. What of her perception of herself? I think that quite often this identification with jobs is why people in those situations have such a hard time transitioning into new positions in life. They want to shoot into that superstar role right away without taking the time figure out what that role really is and how it will fit.
So today I suggest we all take a moment and realize that we are not our jobs or careers. We are clearly nothing more and nothing less than the cars we drive. Kidding! I meant to say that we are the clothes we wear. Oops. I meant we are whatever our mothers see in us. Which hopefully is a big strong loveable kid who can do no wrong even if all you do is ride big wheels all day long.