Most of my adult life, I have spent seeking definition through a career. My parents pushed for an outstanding work ethic. My interpretation of that lesson was believing a job was the basis of our existence. Careers provide financial stability, security, and take up a vast amount of our time. In my mind, it was so important that I always made it a conversation topic. I introduced friends as “this is Lisa. She is a nurse” or “that is my friend, Kristie. She is a teacher.” My husband is Shaun, a police officer. My mother works at a college. My father fixes lab equipment at major hospitals like NIH and Johns Hopkins. That is how I defined them.
I was once “Lauren. I screen deceased donors for tissue donation.” Then, I became “Lauren, a Medical Biller and Coder.” Now, I am Lauren, “just a stay-at-home mom, taking more classes in computer programming and stressed the fuck out.” Before my third child, I was working towards my sought-after success in medical coding. Then, daycare costs equaled my income and my children needed me home more. I have been a stay-at-home mom for over two years. What I believed defined and increased my worth has been on hold. Six months into leaving my job, I realized I would have to completely start over from the bottom when I returned. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. For over a year, I have felt as if my identity had diminished. I have racked my brain on a different career that would provide immediate value.
Last week, during my daily inventory all my failures, I felt a familiar anxious chest pain. My worth was depleted. I was nothing. I would have to start back at the bottom and, at almost 37, I felt like a joke. But then, a little voice in my head screamed above all the noise: “Stop defining yourself by your career. Your definition reaches far beyond a job.“
Well, shit. There was a time in my life that I frequently told this voice to shut up. But this voice did always know her shit. I decided to throw this idea around for a few minutes.
What else could possibly define me?
After years of focusing on my faults, I still felt a little lost. Instead of looking at my strengths, I thought about how I had always defined other people.
1. Lisa, the nurse, was a hard-working, kick ass, compassionate person who sacrificed her time to save and help others. She was not just a nurse. She was an amazing person with a huge heart who worked long, hard hours, and knew her stuff. This is every nurse I have ever met and talked to.
2. Kristie, the teacher, was an amazingly patient and caring woman who spent many, many hours being a role model for her students. She puts in well over 40 hours and is tested daily by kids that aren’t hers. She influences the lives of so many. She believes in what she does. Almost every teacher I have met possesses extreme compassion and love for what they do.
3. My mother is a huge influence on college students and helps shape them into young adults before they enter the working world. She is a guide and there to offer insight into life that they have yet to experience. My mother works so hard and was recently awarded Employee of the Year at the university she works at.
4. My father works so many hours and has spent most of his life building relationships and knowledge on equipment that helps develop cures for major diseases. He is there when those lab techs need him, because they may just be on the verge of a cure for Ebola or cancer.
5. My husband is so much more than a police officer. The lives he tries to change and the security he provides is more than I can comprehend. He sees and hears things that change people. Every shift he risks his life for strangers in his community. He does not have hatred or disgust for the people he has to take to jail. Rather he still sees them as people who are going through a rough time. He sacrifices his physical and mental health because he believes in what he started doing over 13 years ago.
It became easier to see that the worth of these people are not based on the careers or job titles. It takes an amazing person to go into certain fields, even a receptionist or cashier. Their worth is in who they are and their jobs benefit from that. Their work ethic and character has defined their success in their jobs. They are hard-working, compassionate, caring people that made a difference in the lives of so many, regardless of what their title is. They have my respect because they rock at being people and how they treat other people, even those they are less than fond of.
So, what defines us?
1. How we treat other people.
It is simple, really. Either you are a dick, or you are not. If you are dick, then you are defined as a dick. If you treat others with compassion and empathy, then you are a good person.
An example is taking our heads out of our asses long enough to see other people, be there for someone else, and really give a crap about someone besides ourselves when it is needed. Hold the door for someone. Look someone in the eye when you say “thank you” and “have a good day.” Really give a shit when you ask someone “how are you?” Shut up and listen instead of only thinking about what you can reply with. Really give a shit.
2. How we treat ourselves.
If you spend most of your time beating yourself up, like I do, then you suck at being good to yourself. You can be caring to others, but if you are nasty to yourself, then you are still a dick. Start focusing on your strengths and build yourself up on those. Make a strong foundation with inventorying your amazing talents and characteristics. Everything else is built up around that.
3. Do we take time to really live.
Work takes up so much of our lives. Don’t live to work. I know, I know. There is that whole “save for retirement” thing that is embedded at an early age. But truth be told, I have met some amazing folks who worked their whole lives, only to be physically miserable when retirement came knocking. Retirement becomes doctor appointments and hospital stays. Then there are the late 30 something folks who dropped dead during a jog and never made it to retirement. There are people who die from cancer or in car accidents. Work what you need to and spend the rest of your time really living.
We get one shot at this. We get one life. We are defined by so much more than our careers.
I am Lauren, a super kick-ass stay-at-home mom who loves making a positive difference in the lives of others. I will one day go back to work and be successful, no matter what my job title is. I know this because I fucking rock.
Be amazing at being you. After all, there is only one of you… in this galaxy anyway.