Monday, 26 August 2013

Confusing what you do with who you are.

Some people are incredibly lucky. They understand that work is simply an amount of effort in exchange for monetary reward. Some of us take things way too far and start to confuse what we do with who we are. I'm guilty of this. Unfortunately I'm now dealing with the consequences.

I'm sure that many of you see no problem with this. Work is undoubtedly a significant part of your identity. Whether you are a fireman, a nurse, a stock broker or a stay at home dad it gives people an immediate indicator of the kind of person you are. They may be completely wrong but people do form an opinion.

Some people find this very uncomfortable. Particularly if their 'day job' is not really who they are. Actors consider themselves actors even if they have spent more time waiting tables than they have treading the boards. Some stay at home mums and dads don't fully adopt this persona. They view it as a life stage before they re-start their career when the kids are older.

Some of us, on the other hand are incredibly guilty of confusing work with who we are. This is particularly true of those in 'professions' or jobs that could be considered a 'vocation'. Doctors, police officers, teachers, nurses - this is far from an exhaustive list but I'm sure you get my drift.

When you have adopted a 'vocation' as your way to earn money you inevitably fall into the trap of confusing your job with who you are. This stems from the in built idea that your 'job' is somehow more than a job. It is something you live, not something you do. I'm not suggesting these kinds of occupations are more important. Far from it. However, they are jobs from which it is very difficult to keep things separate.

So how as this effected me? Well, for the last 12 years I have been a teacher. I did any number of jobs prior to entering the profession. However, one of my main reasons for re-training was to get that 'identity'. Teaching gives you an identity immediately. It can define who you are in both your own mind and the minds of others............. if you let it. If you tell anyone you are a teacher their opinion of you will be crystalized from the start - whether positive or negative. Once you divulge that information you are seen as anything between a 'Florence nightingale' type creature giving up your time to selflessly mould the next generation, or a work shy control freak with more time off than Santa Clause.

I never had a problem with this. In fact, in a perverse sort of way, I quite enjoyed it. So what's the problem? Well, to put it bluntly, I had children.

To cut a long story short I found combing my life as a teacher with my life as a parent incredibly difficult. Most teacher's take it in their stride. Not me. I found coming home to children extremely hard after spending my days with them. More than that, having my own children began to effect my work.

My job involved teaching kids that no one else would teach. The majority of my classes included kids with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. I loved it. I'm quite a combative character and I loved the challenge of whipping a group of un-teachables into shape. However this requires total confidence. If you issue an instruction you have to be 100% confident in yourself and your ability. Kids of any age or level can sense weakness in a teacher - we all remember the ones from our own school days - and they will punish you without mercy if they see a chink in your armour. With the kids I teach you can multiply this by a factor of 10.

However, having your own kids is different. They don't do what you ask them to do, at least for the first five times you ask. They behave worse for you than they ever would for a teacher in school. They answer back, they refuse to do things, they argue and they fight. All things that a teacher would and could never put up with in their classroom. There would be anarchy. I often joked that I was like a supply teacher in my own home. However this feeling started to infiltrate my working life.

I began to give instructions without truly believing they would be followed. A fatal error. As my confidence dropped so behaviour in some of my classes worsened. When you don't have full control in a classroom, teaching can be an extremely lonely and painful place to spend your day.

Over time, things got worse and began to have a significant effect on my home life. At which point I decided that, if my kids were to have the best dad I could be, I needed to wave goodbye to teaching.

This brings me to the crux of this post. For the first few months it was like the weight of the world off my shoulders and I still feel it was exactly the right decision for me and my family. However I've become aware of the fact I'm suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. When I'm asked what I do I sort of erm and ah for a bit not exactly sure what to say. I haven't felt that way in a long time. It's quite a strange and unnerving feeling for someone who has been defined by what they do. In fact, I even started answering this question with "well, I used to teach but now...........".

So where does that leave me? Well, sometimes you need to have a change in direction in life and this is an extremely positive and exciting prospect. It also leaves me at a crossroads. I need to find a way to separate what I do with who I am - something I've never achieved in the past.

Wish me luck!

Hapless Dad

1 comment:

  1. I totally get this. I understand it completely. I was a journalist (or should I say I am a journalist) But I gave that up to stay at home with my children - and plunged into post natal depression because I felt I'd lost who I was. Now my kids are both at school (youngest started last week) and I'm job-seeking. But I don't want to go back to who I was. I'm looking for a change of direction - something to use my skills but a career which will fit in more around my family. Good luck with your search for a vocation. And remember that "Dad" is something very important that you will always be able to say you do.