Thursday, June 25, 2009

Profession and Identity by Marta Szuba

Who you are and what you do are not mutually exclusive. As a kid my parents told me to choose what you do carefully, it will be your calling card.

It’s taken me a little longer than most to finally figure out what I wanted to do with my life. There have been two marriages, four children, two grandchildren, numerous cats and two dogs. But if you were to ask me to define myself, I don’t believe I’d start with any of those things. I see them as givens, what most people do. They are not what makes me who I am.

If you asked me to define myself, I think I would start with my twenty years as a volunteer and employee in the nonprofit sector. I think of myself as a community educator, someone who seeks to give other people information they can use to make our community a better place to live. Working for non-profits is an iffy sector at best. I expect my salary to be small, but I get great satisfaction from the work. Positions come and go, dependent on the good will of the community and government grants. My jobs have never lasted more than two or three years. There have been lay-offs and pregnancies. My last position ended over a year ago when the funding for my position at the Community Alliance for Drug Resistance Education came to an end. I have not been employed full time in my chosen vocation since then.

It has been difficult loosing that job. Of course there are money issues and thankfully they have not been devastating. Much more complicated and deeply felt has been a sense of personal worthlessness that is difficult to explain. It’s as though my identity as a community educator, an activist--someone who works to improve the place they live— has been somehow damaged by the loss of that position. I don’t easily find words to explain my feelings of loss, self doubt, and hopelessness. But they are pervasive—they creep into my day to day activities. At times, I believe I will never again have a job that allows me to believe I make a difference. It is as though I am a victim of identity theft, but there is no one to whom I can report, and or from whom I can get back what I have lost.

This is not to say that I don’t still carry on working in my community. I continue to volunteer. I have two part time jobs that are somewhat related to what I’ve always done, but there is still something missing to my identity. In the past, I have been in charge shaping the focus of what and where an organization is going. Now that’s over, and I feel adrift, waiting for the wind to blow me in the next direction.

The truth as I have come to see it is that I essentially define myself by what I do and who I associate with. It is a concept that my parents taught me well—maybe too well. I crave that moment when I can once again say what I do. Until then I wait for opportunities and hope that who I am will not slip away. Identity is a precious thing.

1 comment:

  1. Marta,

    Your essay describes painfully what all people who find themselves out of a job, through no fault of their own, go through and the subsequent struggle to "re-define" themselves as somebody of value outside of their professional/occupational identity. I once heard a wise woman say, "If what you do is who you are, then when you don't, you ain't!"

    As important as the work we choose to do is in terms of our self-esteem and sense of worth, I hope you will find new ways to define yourself. I personally believe it is in "how" we live, not what we do.
    What kind of friend, mother, wife, sister, neighbor we try to be... putting relationships first... can be a very real "full-time job!"

    If you continue to be a good steward of your time and talents to help others, your identity will be in tact... with or without a job.



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I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .