What happens when you’re a woman without children and you lose your job? With what identity are you left? For me it feels like precious little. I don’t want to inflame or malign women who have children but societally it is the ultimate get out of jail free card. No matter how little else you achieve in life if you’ve procreated you’ve done something good in your life and everything else is gravy. If you haven’t but have a career you’re still stigmatized (don’t kid yourself- you are) but at least you’re contributing.
When the job goes so does the identity. I may be a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend but those are labels not identities. I have always had a career and it is only as the kids thing became a permanent non-issue (no pun intended although that is freakin’ clever) that it became more important. It is who I am. To follow this logic through to the extreme- without a job I am nothing.
I’m not at that stage- although concerns about my value on the planet have started to manifest themselves in tension filled awkward dreams that are not technically nightmares but involve me being unable to do even the most basic of tasks, wearing shoes that don't match, and feeling useless in a job.
This is all compounded by the age factor. Never, in even my worst-case pessimistic musings about my future, did I see myself unemployed at this stage of my life. Nope, by now I was supposed to be Anna Wintour (but likable) or a published author. Fantasies aside, I did believe I would be an established professional in my field because I have always worked hard and excelled at my job. Knowing that I’m not alone in my economic situation (thank you subprime mortgage lenders and Wall Street financiers) doesn’t help. This is go-round number two for me (laid off and unemployed from 2007-2008).
So I’ve lost the identity I worked so hard to create. If I were following the Buddhist precepts I learned after my MS diagnosis I would accept that it is being not doing that is important to life. That what is truly me has nothing to do with what I do. Much easier said than done, as evidenced by one of the first questions we ask each new person we meet- “so what do you do?” It also doesn’t take into consideration the mortgage and healthcare costs which are very real concerns.
If the being belief won’t work for me at this stage I’m left to wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned?
The best I can come up with is that the lesson may be the elusive nature of identity and for those of us who don’t have one that can’t be taken away there is a different process. A matter of slipping out of (or being removed from) one identity and forced to find another. A challenge at any age but at an age when you’re supposed to be settling into the rewards earned by hard work it’s terrifying.
But here it is. I can fight or I can embrace it (or some combination of both with lots of whining and wine-ing thrown in). When I took the time to be still and breathe deeply my mind went to two women I admire who changed their lives later in life and it not only consoled me, it gave me a little bit of hope. Funny what will come to you if you simply quiet your mind and take a breath!
I’m stepping back and trying to let go and maybe, cut myself some slack (at which I am notoriously bad). Not surprisingly, I’m following my tried and true path of reading and learning to find inspiration and maybe even guidance. I’ll leave you with my reading list and will be back in the coming weeks with more thoughts.
My Life in France by Julia Child