From womb to tomb - How a job can become your identity.

December 13, 2016

 

A while ago I attended a mingle event where one of the getting-to-know-each-other questions were, “What were your childhood dreams?”. Firefighter, doctor, police officer, baker and even accountant was heard. When I got the question, I answered that I wanted to be Robin Hood from the Disney cartoon, his bushy tail seemed soft and snugly.

 

And then it struck me: everyone answered their childhood dreams with a job title instead of, flying like a bird, or to be a dolphin, or perhaps not even being an entity, but a color, or a spirit. Perhaps they did at the time but forgot? At the end I remarked, “How interesting that your childhood dreams were to have a job”. A silence spread among the group with contemplative faces.

 

I made my way home and took a shortcut through a cemetery. There I noticed tombstones from the late 19th century to early 20th century, with job titles engraved under the names. In one evening I had seen the whole cycle, and I both thought and felt that there must be more to life.

 

Children emulate parents’ behavior and look up to them for guidance. To see their parents rush for work every morning becomes a norm that probably everyone, including the child,  feels is “normal”. Children also learn about having a job from play, books, movies, and TV. But there are other cultures from around the world where there aren't jobs in the traditional sense that we have come to know, like the ones I mentioned above. This means it’s not coded in our DNA to have a job.

 

Yet, in the typical western society, we stress through school trying to find “what we want to do in life” and preferably knowing this as early as possible. I find it absolutely astonishing that anyone in their teens are expected to have mapped out their whole life by that time. Sadly, it feels like school grades become our identity. When I worked in schools and managed to initiate talks about this subject, a lot of students confessed that they felt shame depending on grades and insurmountable stress.

 

 The constructed work life we currently follow is in direct contrast to how life usually flows; life is organic, like a tree branch it twists and turns growing in sudden different directions. However, our school system and work life expects us to live a mechanic and linear life. Our inherent twists, turns and different directions are seen as mistakes, and we all know that most people punish themselves when a mistake is made by saying “I'm not good enough” or, “I suck”. Mistakes (within legal proportion) can actually be the greatest ways of learning. So pretty please with sugar on top, a redesign please!

 

The reason why many have a problem finding, “what they want to do in life” is because it's not actually our dreams to be chained to a desk 9-5. Symptoms of this lifestyle are, among many, that we start to evaluate each other over what type of job we have. John the doctor is most likely valued more than John the facility cleaner. So I say, take away status and money, then you will see who the real person is.

The phrase “What do you do?” is used as an icebreaker when meeting someone new at mingle events, parties, and even dates. There are millions of things and experiences to talk about, but instead we seem to think that a job will tell us something about another person. It even happens that we subconsciously start to describe ourselves as the job, “I'm a doctor”, “I'm a teacher”, “I'm a psychologist” etc.

 

Some will now start to defend jobs as an identity, it is what they know. They find it hard to imagine anything else, which is sad since we were given imagination to look beyond borders, especially demeaning narrow borders that in the long run are detrimental to personal growth, and for many - health. Even if we like what we work with, we shouldn't equate the unlimited, dynamic and beautiful diversity that is human life, with a 9-5 job.

 

 

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