Our Job Descriptions Don't Define Us

Why is it that we put so much value on titles? I've done it most of my life too and often felt the need to try to increase my status level with my title. For example, being in marketing doesn't sound as good as Director of Marketing, even being a doctor doesn't measure up with being a surgeon.

These notions of taking our job description and applying it to our self-description is a hard one to deal with. Every form you fill out asks for your occupation, your value. Every party invitation brings the need to be clear about your assets from what you do for your job to the vacations you take and the books you read, movies you watch. I hated going to parties many times. The question, while seemingly benign, has been used throughout generations to catalog people

Worthy/Not Worthy

Wealthy/Not Wealthy

Knows the Right People/Doesn't Know the Right People

Can Help Me Get Somewhere/Can't Help Me Get Somewhere

...it's endless and pointless, yet it happens all the time. We define someone by the job they have and oftentimes don't go any further in getting to know them. If you're currently unemployed or underemployed, this question can be particularly unbearable. You can leave a party feeling worse than when you arrived.

For many of us, jobs are what we do to earn money, not who we are. There are very few select individuals who are their job. It is something they eat, breathe, sleep and work at all day every day. Farmers kind of fit this description to me. They live at their job-site and can't stop caring about the rain and the sun, the wind, and the storms, it's in them; but for the majority of people, we do what we need to, to put food on the table and pay our bills. Hopefully, we do it well and find some satisfaction in it, but most of us, don't want to be defined by it. In this case, it is very American of us.

For many cultures and especially in the past, your name was tied to your job. You were, John, son of the baker...John Baker. But, in our day and age, we long for individualism in a way that has not been attained before. We all want to be unique, irreplaceable, desirable. We place great stress on how to stand out, be different, make a name for ourselves. The idea of doing good for a family name, owning up to our heritage, the good and the bad, is hard. It is however, an undeniable part of who we are. Our parents, the DNA, the very fabric of our being is created by unchangeable parts. Yet, many rail against these norms. We say things like "I won't be like my father." But it is inescapable. We can modify, we can change how we react, we can learn, but we must acknowledge this shared portion of our lives. This is so much more a description of who we are then any job will be. No matter if you're a billionaire, you are the son or daughter of your parents.

While this realization has been a tough one for me in some areas, it has also been settling. It's taken away much of my striving. It's taught me to look at my family tree in a whole new way. Not to glorify it, gloss over instances and behaviors that never should have been, but to acknowledge them and call them out for what they are and then carry that into the future. The past does not dictate the future in so much as we can make changes, but realizing we do come from something, we are grounded by a history gives a framework for our lives. We have value, however big or small in the world's eyes, from something we had no control over; our very beginnings, our essence, our life. That gift was given to us by another. It is one that we can be thankful for and use for the best good we can. We can begin to describe ourselves by our past and redefine ourselves by what we do with our present and our future. If your job has great value to the community or only to your family, the description of your life will be felt by those around you. It won't be the titles or the the promotions that give you a name, but the setbacks, the failures, the conquests and how you pressed on and persevered through it all that will remain.

Our history is set, but our future is ours to write. The path may take many turns and the jobs and descriptions we ascribe to ourselves will vary widely, but this path is one no one but you can walk and we get to define its end. May the road rise up to meet you as you journey on.