You are what you do?

13 Oct

I work as a freelancer. Recently a long-term contract came to a sudden end. I was working full-time on the project and had no back-up plan. All of a sudden, I went from being very, very busy to nothing. No work to get out of bed for. No sense of achievement at the end of the day or week. No office banter. Just me, my computer and an ever-decreasing bank balance.

I felt bereft. Gutted. Short-changed. And I felt the dark clouds of uncertainty, insecurity and meaninglessness start to hover ominously around the edges of my world. I know, I know – we are not what we do. Right? We need to have an identity outside of work (whatever ‘work’ may look like). We are of value because we ‘are’, not because what we do. Yeah?

It’s very easy to say these things when life is looking good, when work is busy and rewarding, when we are getting paid regularly, when we look proudly at our little children and who they are becoming. But. But it is less easy when an overwhelming sense of failure – the dark clouds – moves ever closer.

Did I fail? Don’t think so. Did I feel like a failure? Yes. Even though matters outside of my control led to the end of my job, I somehow felt it must be my fault. Again. And I panicked, fearful of days/weeks/months of unemployment, inactivity and listlessness.

I don’t know about you but I find it hard to define myself outside of what I do. And maybe it’s only when what we do is halted (albeit temporarily) that I stop hiding from this reality. You see, I’d love to be able to tell you that achievement and success and work are just part of who I am – and essentially they are – but it doesn’t always feel that way when there is no achievement/success/work. Do you know what I mean?

So when the thing(s) we do go wrong – what are we meant to do? Ignore it and keep busy – even if it means ironing your husband’s pants in front of This Morning? Pretend we are enjoying “the break”? Or embrace the moment – even if that moment is enveloped in a sense of failure?

What does a mother do when her child ‘goes off the rails’ – when she has exclusively devoted nearly two decades to raising him? What does a writer do when her manuscript is once again rejected by publishers? What does an investment banker do when his risky bet goes all wrong? What does a teacher do when more pupils fail exams than pass?

How do we cope with these ‘failures’? Maybe we need to work harder at accepting that life is replete with failure and that it doesn’t mean ‘I am a failure’? Maybe we are all ‘what we do’ more than we usually admit? Or is it just me?

One Response to “You are what you do?”

  1. Carole Filby 14/10/2011 at 22:12 #

    There’s thoughts rumbling somewhere in the back of my mind about the need to make sure we continue to foster our sense of self… in the good and easy times and in the hard ones too. Who am I? What do I love? That doesn’t change, even when jobs / life stages / relationships etc do. We pay lip service to it but we’re not very good at investing time in this development of our inner selves, I find. There’s always other things to be doing. And let’s face it, it doesn’t pay the bills or get the laundry done! What images delight you? What books move you? What music stirs you? What words ignite you? These are the things that don’t change. These are the things that stop our failures defining us. I think.

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