Last night I participated in the #SAchat on Twitter, and it spurred an old conversation that I’ve had with myself and others about the role of work in my life. I used to say that work is “something I do, not who I am.” The chat was focused on work/life balance, and I posed that idea to others in the chat. Perhaps it’s not unusual that a group of dedicated professionals participating in an after-hours chat are inclined to be heavily invested in their careers. So, I wasn’t caught off-guard that many others felt that this quote wasn’t representative of how they felt — many posited that their work is who they are, or at least a very big part of who they are.
I’ve been pondering today whether or not that makes me less-dedicated as a professional or if it’s more of a semantics argument. I have worked in higher ed since 1993. In fact, I’ve never held a position outside of higher ed. It’s been my career for as long as I’ve had one. When I’m at work, I work hard. I think others would use words like “dedicated” when describing me. I’m a contributor. I generate new ideas. I’m totally dedicated to the students I work with. I love higher education and student affairs.
But, I still don’t feel like my vocation is equivalent to my “being.”
To be fair, I am one who sometimes feels like he’s had a 40-year-long existentialist crisis.
Sometimes I’m impatient. I used to think I had wanderlust (until I realized I’m a homebody…). I have a need for new projects and challenges. I used to frequently feel a non-specific sense of being unsatisfied. But, I didn’t understand why. Now I know it was because I didn’t quite understand myself. It was a great relief when I came to understand that one of my personal drivers is change. I crave it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reluctant to define myself by my career – I keep expecting it will change.
I’ve done exactly what I tell my students to do – I’ve focused on my strengths and looked for organizations that provide a positive environment to apply those strengths. One of my skills is working effectively with students, and I’m thrilled to have dedicated 15+ years of my life to that work. However, I still can’t comfortably say that’s “who I am.” Without a doubt, it’s part of who I am. But, it feels limiting to give vocation that much power and “real estate” in life. No doubt you can tell by this muddled post that I’m struggling with getting my thoughts around this. So, I’d love your thoughts.