What I am is what I am

are you what you are or what? -Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians

It hardly seems fair to ask you all to write something personal without sharing a little myself. I’ve actually written and re-written my own responses to the questions I’ve asked you, so I can fully understand the dilemma some of you faced in trying to answer the first assignment. It’d be too much to give any one person the entire picture, but here’s a small piece of my puzzle…

I am…As I told one student last week, when I was first introduced to the 20 statements exercise years ago, I wrote “hungry.” It was an evening class, I was broke, and we still had some time before being dismissed. That choice though says a lot. I wasn’t thinking in terms of roles, of my place (or lack thereof at times) in this world, but rather of an immediate sensation. Now however, answering who I am gives me pause.

For years I identified myself by what I did. I was a student, a maid, a gym employee, a student (and maid) again. I was a teaching assistant, instructor, full time faculty, adjunct. Then in the summer of 2009 I lost my full time faculty position due to budget cuts. I felt like I had lost a huge piece of myself. Clearly I identified myself as teacher and little more. It’s understandable. I love teaching, I love the process and I certainly love my field. But without a job? If you have ever been in a position of looking for work and not being able to find it, you’re in good company these days. It’s a difficult position to be in. For me personally, not having some place to be, not having dozens of students counting on me, is what broke me.

I spent some time mourning, as it is only natural to need to mourn the loss of such a huge part of your life. I spent countless hours applying to even more countless jobs. Ok, so I do know how many I applied to, but we’ll not depress ourselves with exact numbers. I had interviews.  I had second interviews, but I just couldn’t land that one position. During this time I was also doing a lot of reflection: What did I want out of life? What is important to me? What can I live with? I still ask myself these questions, because life? It’s about continual growth.

In August of 2010 I started a new job. An office job. I never wanted an office job–this was something I knew about myself with absolute certainty.  Yet everyone encouraged me to take the job as nothing else was turning up and “who knows, Sarah, you might like it.” I tried really hard to give it a fair shake. Honestly? I hated it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand why someone who like the work. I totally understood the appeal, but it wasn’t for me. Part of what I loved about teaching was always meeting new people and facing new challenges. This job didn’t present that to me.  Through the next several months I confirmed what I already knew: I am not an office-only kind of gal. I need to be interacting with others. I need to be busy. In fact, I’m much happier when I am busy and working with others, helping others. I needed to be back in higher education. I wasn’t wrong, as I previously thought, to identify myself with my job. I am a teacher.

So I’ve taken some risks. I quit a “sure thing” job to adjunct. Because being completely miserable? Being something you’re not? It is not worth the stress (nor the poor health the stress can cause). It’s not easy to take such a leap, to have faith that things will come together, but it sure beats being unhappy.

All that said, I’m also working on better understanding who I am. My entire identity can’t be wrapped up in just one thing, as I learned that can be pretty crushing. When my friends blogged themes for the new year (instead of resolutions), I didn’t realize I had created a theme for myself. But I have. What can I live with? That answer to that question shapes my goals, my actions, my thoughts, etc. I couldn’t live with a job that didn’t allow me to be myself, that didn’t meet my criteria for what I needed to be happy, just for money. I can’t live with myself though, being wrapped up in only one thing.  It’s an evolving questions, with changing answers, as I move forward and learn more about myself.

What can you live with?

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