Ponderings on Identity
This is a 2nd article in a series of Ponderings. Failure in my life endeavours does not mean that I am a failure. There are several threads here.
Subsistence – As a man, I am expected to earn money to feed my family.
Success – As someone with academic and professional pedigree, I am expected to be in a certain stratum of society, with sufficient achievements on my resume (hello LinkedIn!), and a salary to match.
Society – I think as a society we’ve been used to a straight line up of success since independence. As a generation, we 30-45 year olds have lived through crises that were brief and over in a few months (e.g. Global Financial Crisis, the acute phase of COVID). We anticipate our incomes, assets and successes to be continuing in a more-or-less uninterrupted straight line up.
(So many S-es! Unfortunately the lack thereof means I am low SES rather than high SES?)
We forget that we have been living in an exceptional period of human history, one with unprecedented progress, and an upward trajectory since independence. Not even oscillating waves around a shallow upward trend (since the Industrial Revolution), or bouncing around just above the subsistence level (vast majority of human history).
Understanding history and the difference / sameness of the present, I begin to understand how in any scenario, you can find blessing.
I left my very first employer, one at the center of the financial system, from a position that was, by all accounts, an important and well-respected one. I left for career progression, beyond the four walls of a culture sliding towards Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, where I was possibly Steerpike.
The next four years were spent bouncing around three different employers. While I started well at each of them, I didn’t manage to finish well, mostly for reasons beyond my control. Disappointments along the way – company cultures, founders’ competencies, superiors who stepped aside when the going got tough. Very difficult to swallow for someone who had partaken of the Career Progression! meme, especially when peers seem to be going from strength to strength and setting up for bigger things. That Could Have Been Me.
That was a large part of my identity, and I am thankful it has been (mostly?) stripped away. I wish it didn’t take so long and wasn’t so painful though. During my past 5 months’ enforced sabbatical, it has been great to re-discover a little bit about what it means to be human. Building relationships, doing things for the sake of it, learning to draw boundaries to have identity shape expectations rather than the other way around.
Having had these few months to rest and recuperate, I emerge more confident in my own abilities. I know I don’t have to contort myself for others’ expectations. While there may be a price to pay if I’m not following the agenda, I have long reconciled myself to being materially not as well off as a result. Now I am (or at least I try to be) content with living a quiet life, having seen / heard / thought more about what failure or success means.