Apparently I am very bad at anniversaries, having forgotten my parent’s wedding anniversary this year, and always being caught off guard by those Facebook reminders that so and so’s birthday is today, but I was not expecting to miss this one, and lo and behold, I sure did. Not only did I miss it, I completely forgot all about it until a couple of days ago- as of March 19th, 2011, I have been unemployed for a year.
I am discounting the two month stint I did as a temp in November and December, since it was vanishingly temporary, and I was deep in the fog of my first trimester- I was way more concerned with the goings-on of my general midsection than correcting the copy in front of me. Minus those two months, I have done nothing that brings in real, actual cash money to my household.
Which is not to say I think I haven’t contributed to the success of our family- I coordinated our move from Seattle to Long Beach, I did a lot of the unpacking, I took a shameful number of trips to the DMV, and I run the boring parts of day-to-day life- the bills, the dishes, the grocery shopping. Which is also not to say that it isn’t a cushy set up- we don’t have kids yet (10.5 weeks to go OH MY DEAR GOD), so I am free to surf the internet, watch SVU marathons, go to yoga in the middle of the day, and otherwise while away the day as I see fit, mostly free from responsibilities.
Quitting my job, the one I had for a decade, that’s a third of my life, for those of you keeping track at home, was probably the most liberating thing I have ever done in the history of ever. Not only because I was drowning in a mud-flavored depression of hating my job and my boss and sometimes, the very air molecules around me, but because my whole concept of work and self-worth and identity changed too.
Growing up, work was what you did. You went to school, you got good grades so you could go to a better school, you picked a major that made you marketable and then, barring more school, you went to work. You didn’t just get a job (a job is what you did over the summer, so that you could buy ice creams and eventually, beers), you entered a field that allowed you to develop a career, a path, a ladder to climb and goals to achieve, and maybe a door with a nameplate with your name on it. You would introduce yourself as Noemi, Career Woman. Not that this is a bad set of expectations to grow up with- indeed, this is the American ideal for success- but in my case, it led to a nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing something quite RIGHT. Although the job I had did, indeed, have the potential to become a career, I never felt that way about it.
My job was the path to paying for all the other things I wanted to do in life. Spend hours at the bar with really good girlfriends? Financed by the job. Own a place of my very own? Financed by the job. Buy the ridiculous pair of shoes, you know the ones, with a giant bow and four-inch heels, the ones you’ll only wear a handful of times in your life? Financed by my job.
I don’t think I ever felt so wrapped up in the actual work itself that going to work was the reward, in and of itself. Which is not to say I didn’t work hard- for the first 9-ish years, I was a dedicated and dependable employee, and I got recognition for it, and I thought, wow, looks like this career is going to happen in spite of me. It might have too, if I hadn’t made a series of bad choices that landed me in the aforementioned depression, and then I had to really look, like hard, at what it was I wanted a job to be. I wanted the job to be the sort of place where I felt compelled to go in on the weekends, because there was work, interesting work to do. I wanted to feel proud of any given day’s input at the office, I wanted to feel like I was doing important work, and I wanted to feel absorbed by the job, the project, the career. And since I never felt any of those things, I thought the problem was with me.
And perhaps it is. Perhaps EVERYONE ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE is a happy and fulfilled worker, but I seriously doubt it (mostly because I don’t think I’m that special). Wanting all those things from that job didn’t make it so. Being unemployed has made me think about myself (and others) differently- that no one is the sum total of what they do for a living, and that measuring anyone’s worth by the number of digits in their salary is deeply reductionist and unfair, especially your own.
I am not Noemi, Career Woman, and I sometimes suspect that I will never be. What, exactly, I will be has yet to elucidate itself to me. I am open to suggestions.