I used to be a full-time teacher and for a long time, that was my identity. In a small community, I was known as the Grade 3 teacher. The teacher box was the one I fit in. Almost two years ago I gave up this position to train for a new career in writing and editing.
Since completing my editing coursework and graduating from Simon Fraser University, I’ve taken on some writing projects and I’ve also done some substitute teaching. The substitute teaching has been great. I work at the school here in town, so I get to walk to work. I also get to work with older students. I wasn’t sure how that would go! They’re so tall and I’m not. As it turns out, those big kids suit me just fine.
Listen to me read this post:
The trouble with substitute teaching is not substitute teaching. This job lets me feel useful and it helps teachers out. It’s fun to work with the students and refreshing to teach new content. The trouble with substitute teaching is that it reminds me what it’s like to be in that teacher box but denies me actually owning that teacher identity. This is uncomfortable. I don’t quite know who I am or where I fit in anymore. My identity was clear and now it’s blurry.
We are not our work.
This is true, and yet we all identify each other by our occupations. “So, what do you do?” The inquirer is not asking about whether you garden, exercise, or meditate. The inquirer wants to know how you make a living. “What is your key identifier?” That’s usually what we want to know when we ask about what another person does.
Now that I’m transitioning between careers, I feel identity-less. More accurate to say that I don’t have as solid and reliable identity as I once had. “I’m a teacher.” It was certain and no one could dispute it. It was the container I belonged in.
Supporting our identities takes energy.
We spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining our self-identities. It’s handy to be able to describe ourselves: married, employed, Gemini, middle-aged, menopausal, rock music fan, hockey fan, agnostic, and not a morning person. We wear rings and T-shirts to support our identity. Our posts on social media proclaim our self-image. To own a solid identity is to exist.
But there’s an obvious problem with relying on identity. Identity changes constantly.
Identity is not static, so why do we strive to make it into something more solid and real than it is? Why do we cling to our self-identities as if they were life preservers in the waters of life’s ocean? Self-identity changes as sure as each wave rises and falls and disappears back into the sea. Who we are doesn’t stay the same. Sometimes we change imperceptibly and sometimes we change in the blink of an eye in the biggest way.
It’s time to let go.
It’s difficult during this life change to let go of my professional image, a ghost that’s long since faded from a colourfully-decorated Grade 3 classroom. If I want to move forward, I need to take this old picture of myself out of its frame and throw it away. It’s not me anymore.
What would happen if I let go of my self-identity and took a break from trying to label myself? Probably nothing would happen because this identity is unreliable. Just like today’s weather, my identity will be different when the sun rises tomorrow. We humans crave constancy, but it’s not to be found in this mortal realm.
Life without an identity is freer.
This identity we work so hard to support and nurture might just be weighing us down. It’s like we’re building boxes of specific dimensions and out of imaginary lumber, and then shaping ourselves so that we’ll fit. We’re limiting who we might become and what we might do, all the while ignoring the fact that we constantly change shape and size. We’ll never quite fit into that box.
Let’s step out of that self-made container, take a nice deep breath of fresh air, and stretch our legs. The view is broader out here and the present moment is bursting with potential. Outside the box, we can discover that we aren’t what we do. We simply are. We are all human beings, not human doings.
If you don’t already, consider following my blog by email or through WordPress. My posts won’t always show up in your social media feed. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time! ~ Lori