Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Work as Identity

In this culture, we all seem to define ourselves by our work. We meet someone at a party, and the ubiquitous first question is inevitably, "What do you do?" In response to said question, the vast majority of us reply by describing or defining what it is we do "for a living".

First of all, that expression---"for a living"---tells alot about us as a culture, does it not? This expression significantly defines our work as our "living", as much a part of who we are (or more so) than any other aspect of our lives. Isn't this cruel reductionism, minimizing our sense of self and its projection out into the world?

It would certainly be a radical departure to respond differently to this common question posed during small talk. When asked what we do, why do we hesitate to say that we take time to read to our children; play with our dogs; love our spouse; cook for pleasure; listen to birds as we drink our morning tea?

At our couple's retreat last weekend, many people asked me "what I do" during meals and other non-workshop times. I always responded by describing my work as a nurse in a poor Latino neighborhood in the inner city. I realized over the course of the weekend that my identity within the group---other than being "Mary's husband"---also included being "the male nurse". I also realize that within the context of this blog, my identity greatly centers on my professional persona. This "nurse-ness", as it were, to a large extent delineates my self-identity, and I must venture to guess also defines a large extent of my self-worth.

The rhetorical questions to ask here are many: Is this healthy? Is this productive? Is this normal? If so, should it be? What are we missing when we limit our self-definition?

I cried tonight after dinner---the tears flowed as the feeling of being overwhelmed with responsibilities crashed down upon me......Does my over-identification with my work place such demands on my psyche that its burdens carry through into my home-life? The answer is obviously yes; this identification with work can often preclude the ability to leave such preoccupations at the office door. I shed my work clothes, place my bag by the door, set the Palm Pilot, beeper, cell-phone, pens, keys, and other detritus in their resting places. But the psychic shadows remain, and as I attempt to integrate into home and its welcoming warmth, the galloping neurons engaged during the day are hesitant to silence themselves.

It is a practice to disengage, a meditation and a skill. Now, as I prepare for sleep, midnight approaching, I try to shed those tangles of thought, and allow my tired brain some reflective time in the dream-world, where some of that psychic static can be recycled and refined. I will emerge on the other side in the morning, and I hold out the hope that this seven hours of respite can assuage my troubled mind.
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