Flashback to December 2016, and I was just starting to recover from what was, up to that point, one of the greatest losses of my life. I know that sounds so very dramatic, but in my mind what I had with a former employer was more than a job...it was a kind of relationship that I expected to last until retirement, based on an unspoken promise of "if you work hard, everything will be okay". In hindsight, that was a big issue: What I thought of as a kind of relationship was, in fact, just a job. Those last three words, "just a job", are easier to type than to actually admit. In fact, I'll still call it something of a work in progress. More on that in a moment.
The above comes from a fairly deep place. Having grown up on the downside of the socioeconomic spectrum, I wanted nothing more than to have some measure of success, even if I couldn't actually define what success was, well outside of not being poor. What I could define though was the idea that success came from hard work. I got that much from my mother. And I did work hard, at pretty much everything I did. I earned some of the things that came with my naive vision of success, including more money, leadership responsibility, and decent professional titles. What I didn't understand though was that along with that version of success came a dependency...a risk if you will...that ultimately and actually had very little to do with hard work.
Fast forward to the working world of 2023, and any collective sense of employment being an actual relationship is continuously, truly, and utterly false. A fiction of the most poorly written sort. This isn't just me being overly dramatic for blog hits; you just need to pay attention to the news. See HERE for just one of the hundreds of similar articles. I feel for these folks. Been there. Done that.
Part of my clarity has been an ongoing effort to understand that I am valuable over and above what I do to earn a living. I'll readily confess that this is an extremely difficult thing for me, and I can't declare any kind of victory; at best I can say that I've moved in the right direction. Heck, by the time I actually do retire, I may almost get it. The "it" is that "it's just a job".
By the way, my goal (if you want to call it that) of understanding that "it's just a job" isn't a reflection of my failure to care about what I do. If anything, I think I am doing better work now than I ever have in the past. It just means that I try to care about the right things, like the people I work with, and not some amorphous, amoral entity (and to hell with what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided). Anyway, at almost 59 years old, it's good to know that I can still be learning.
Driving all of this? The fact that I actually took a big step recently: I disposed of a ton of old work stuff. These were like artifacts that I kept of a former life. I wasn't using them, and they took up a lot of space, but for years I clung to them as if they were a kind of medal for winning a battle. Or more like a large participation trophy. They were a kind of proof that "I was someone" once. Lo and behold, I've always been someone; it's just taken a while to grasp that point.
I probably still have too many things I am hanging on to, too many things that are more of a safety blanket than anything else. As the song goes, "life is a series of hellos and goodbyes", and it's time to say goodbye to some things.