What I've learned about self worth from this unexpected time away from work
For the first time in my life, I’m not able to define myself by my career. Growing up I defined myself as a good student and by the activities in which I participated. Then when I started working I defined myself by my jobs. If someone were to ask me about myself, I would start by saying where I worked and what I did. And when I asked them about themselves, what I really wanted to know was what they did and how prestigious their company was. I would mentally assign value to their roles, because that is what I had been taught to do. However, when I made the difficult decision to leave my job in the midst of a pandemic, I found myself, along with many other Americans, unemployed. This left me without a career through which to calculate my self worth and without a clear way through which to define myself to others. And you know what...it was surprisingly liberating.
Last week during one of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram Q&As someone asked “Are you ready to bartend again when you lose your seat Nov. 3rd?” AOC responded, “I’m ready to bartend any day of the week because I am not a classist who believes that a person’s job is reflective of their human worth. And for what it’s worth my colleagues in restaurants were oftentimes much better people than many of the congressmen I now work with. Smarter too.”
This sentiment really resonated with me. In the wake of leaving my company, I realized who I am both with and without a job. Part of that involves what I can bring to a new job, but it is no longer about how the job will define me, but rather who I want to be as a human. I thought about what I enjoyed doing, I flexed creative muscles I hadn’t used in far too long, and I challenged myself to learn more about racism, new technologies, and our upcoming elections. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my previous roles, but I’m also proud of who I was as a person in those roles - an empathetic listener, a collaborator, a supportive friend. I’m proud of the times I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in the jobs that I did (I moved to Mississippi for goodness sake!) and in the hobbies I pursued (taking a stand up comedy class and starting a podcast).
I’m excited to get back into the workforce again soon, but what I am most excited about is my new perspective. My job and my accomplishments within that role will continue to be a part of who I am because I will continue to seek out work that I am passionate about, but I will no longer measure my self worth through my career, or even through my hobbies. Instead I will measure my self worth through the person I am to my colleagues and creative collaborators. I will measure my self worth through my desire to try new things, even if I fail miserably. And I will remember that even when I don’t live up to the high standards I set for myself - I am still worthy. But most importantly, I will see other people as worthy, not because of what they do professionally, but because they are human beings who are trying their best.