I was invited to write this blog on something “besides work” – Ha!
“Give people a sense of who you really are, Maggie.”
“What have you been thinking about lately?”
“Don’t make it about your cats!”
Full transparency, I am having trouble thinking back to a time when my personality hasn’t been driven or shaped by where I worked, whom I worked for, and with whom I aligned to make my money. This is something I’m talking regularly about with other folks and simultaneously unpacking in my own life. I realize it goes deep for me. It has seeped into all parts of my being; it’s in my groundwater.
It started with the message from my parents - in between drags off a cigarette - to “find a job with insurance.” I grew up in small-town Illinois in the ’70s and ’80s and couldn’t wait to get out and go - somewhere else. I’d be leaving behind loosely held illusions around security and a demonstratable precedent for bearing down in a long-term job that you may or may not hate your soul because you must do it every day, but you just swallow it down and go and maybe you’re miserable, but what else is there to do? Oh yeah, we got an Olive Garden.
I moved to Washington D.C. in my early 20’s, circa 1994-1995. I had a part-time job making legal copies for law firms on Pennsylvania Avenue. I remember for the first time internalizing the term Generation X and the descriptors of us as an age group- apathetic or lacking bearings...slackers.
I read an article in a magazine that suggested that you should never ask someone what they do for a living the first time you meet them. Some folks might not be working in an industry that defines who they are as a person or “making a living” based on their skills, artistry, and talents. That resonated with me because I wasn’t in love with making copies and never felt like what I did for a living had anything to do with who I was or wanted to be. From ages 21-45, I was more focused on how I was going to get the dollars to support my life outside of work. I only ever made enough money to hold it together barely. I really wasn’t thinking about a career or climbing the corporate ladder. I had to have both a full-time and part-time job until I was 37. I wasn’t interested in power. I was interested in paying my power bill.
In 2005, I was sitting with a friend in the Elbow Room having a drink, when she told me she didn’t like me when I didn’t like my job. OUCH. Harsh? Yes. True? Also, yes. How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives, or so they say.
At that moment, I vowed to myself that I would only work for places where I believed in what they do. I wanted to feel whole-hearted about whatever I was selling. I could no longer work in an industry where my passion and skills did not meet. I left my job, took a pay cut, and started working for non-profits.
The first 15 years of my working life were spent in the corporate sector. The last 15 years have been in non-profit work. Now 30 years in, I’m asking myself, how do I chip away at work as an identity? Choosing what career and company to work for is a way to carve out a sense of identity for me. It’s never been more clear to me than in the past seven years how much of a cultural creature I am and how I’ve been shaped by a series of inherited norms about what it means to have a job and go to work. Work is an interesting thing. Of course, I want to talk about it!
I think about where the world is, the state of business, and the state of organizations. People are experiencing burnout. Folks are tired. We all need a break. Now is an extremely fertile time to start thinking about how we can make things different for the future of earning a living and what it means to break the cycles of generations that have been building up around us. It doesn’t have to hurt. It can be quieter, and gentler. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Want to talk about that? Or should we talk about my cats?