The tough journey of not being defined by my work
I owe the idea of this post to my therapist (Oh yeah! I’m far away from the therapy taboo, and I keep trying to heal my inner child and outer grownup), it has made me have some days of introspection and enlightened me on how I see myself and my work now.
For the context, I was used to an environment of working 12+ hours per day in a University/Academia setup (for the full story check my post “My special recipe for a breakdown”), with all kinds of abusive and toxic behaviors.
Many of this these behaviors were responses to the people I was working with, the environment of the Academia, the society’s expectations, the pressure of my peers and my bosses, but also the pressure I’d put on myself to put all these labels on me: “Teacher”, “Researcher”, “Profesor”, “Engineer”, “Manager”, “XYZ Scientist”, “Doctor”.
At the end of 2020, being in pandemic mode, all the time home alone, and with very little contact with people outside, I went deep into depression after I got the notice that my contract at the university will be finished and my visa (and means to stay in Germany) would be gone. My dreams of being a professor or a full-time researcher in a University were also gone at that point, but I needed to find a job immediately, and of course, I started the (frenetical) search. The problem… I didn’t know what I wanted to do then. My experience and skills matched many jobs, but not entirely, I didn’t have a long list of various job titles (”Super Senior Monkey Master”, or “Staff Master Manager” to name a few) in my CV, and I was genuinely not sure what did I want to do, for so many years I was pursuing the same dream, and at that point, nothing made sense anymore. Additionally, during that time many interview processes were stopped or very slow because of the COVID restrictions and the financial situation of the companies.
Then, it was when it all started, my brain was in full fight-or-flight mode, and all I wanted was to get a job, any job. I still needed a job to pay my bills and for my visa, in spite of my emotional status. So, with every application I would send for employment, I’d start to envision myself in the role and how my responsibilities would look like. Even when positions would be different, I started to realize that, all of those images of me had something in common, they were not happy. The reason: None of those jobs felt like it was me. The problem: I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.
I know, how insane all this sounds. How does a person not know who she is? Well, thanks to the power of therapy, I embarked on the journey of finding myself. The first thing was, getting a job that at least made me feel comfortable to pay for the bills (which I did), without thinking too much (tell that to the anxious brain) about the future. The second thing was trying different hobbies to find things I like, meeting friends more often, and simply learning how to wind down. Let my brain guide what it wants. But of course, my sciency spirit was calling: learning about my brain functions, how to overcome trauma, and having a plan were also part of the following steps.
Over time, I found my skills beyond work, I found my hobbies, I found my approach to life and things. At work, I needed to wear many hats that were beyond my job title, which sometimes was tiring, but also made me see that the title at work is just a name.
So I continued the magical and painful journey of finding myself, of finding what I like and dislike, of seeing that life is too freaking short, of starting to enjoy things again, of having time to rest or sleep or even go for a walk, of having dreams of who I wanted to be. To my surprise, my dreams changed, they weren’t any more of having XYZ job, they were of having a holiday in Egypt, making a road trip in Italy, having a house with a big garden for all of my plants and crops, learning how to make sourdough bread, having a chicken coop, going on a holiday to Paris with my mom, spending hours on the phone with a friend to talk about everything, getting old with my partner together, having all night conversations with my mom to hear about her life and the life of my relatives. I was hungry for life, not for work.
And now, after a few years into this process, I’m sure of who I am, and it has nothing to do with my job title, because my job is just work I do to pay for my bills, I do it with the best of my capacities and to have a career, but I also know that if tomorrow I want to change and become a baker, a cook, a tailor, a saleswoman, a software engineer, open a business, or anything else, it’s going to be fine, because it would still be me behind, I would still be Dr. Taco, my personality, my experiences, my way of doing things, and my skills would be there, and I will use them to anything I do.
Above all, I know that the least relevant thing is what my job title is because that is not me.