It’s almost the first question to be asked on occasions of meeting strangers. In most instances it’s a question about your job, your career. Amongst creative folk it’s about your art, recognising that there may be a bill paying job that has very little to do with who you are. The work we do defines us economically and socially, all too often. It becomes who we are. Yet how many of us really identify with our jobs? How many of us work predominantly on callings and vocations? Is what you do to afford food much measure of who you are as a person?
I have a lot of jobs. At the moment, in no particular order I am press officer, author, PR elf, provider of website content and editor. These are all regular paying gigs to at least some degree. I am sometimes public speaker, teacher, celebrant and musician. I have all the non-paid work that comes from being a mother, and the wife of an artist. There’s intermittent voluntary work. My adult life has always been this kind of happy muddle. Who am I? Well, there’s not much point looking to my job title for an easy answer!
I wonder about the impact of specialising. I wonder about how it informs who we think we are, and how we see each other. Pay me a couple of hundred pounds an hour for my time, and I am not the same struggling creator who could barely make a pound an hour, am I? And yet… Those who are highest paid are often furthest removed from doing the work that the rest of us really need to have done. Too many jobs don’t give much sense of satisfaction or completion, many are incredibly dull while seeming to serve little purpose. As a culture we are apparently more concerned that all the cans in the stores should be neatly facing forward than we are about the not so neat littler outside the stores.
If work is your identity, then power over your sense of self is given to whoever pays you. If you only have one job, then the power this puts in other hands is vast. The job pays for your life, it defines you, and yet someone else could take it away, deeming you unnecessary or not good enough. This makes aging and sickness much more alarming than they need to be, because these things can rob you of your work identity.
Of course this fits very well with capitalism, and a life that is to be all about money and exchange. What you earn is who you are.
We would as a society have more practical resilience if people tended to have multiple jobs. A wider skills base gives more options. Not having all your eggs in one job basket makes a person less vulnerable to changes they have no control over. It’s more interesting. You aren’t locked in to such a narrow social engagement if you have multiple jobs, and better networking and more contact also gives communities more resilience. It’s easier to walk away from a job if you don’t totally depend on it – which would tend to push working conditions up.
What do you do? Imagine a world in which you have some control over that, and where your pay packet does not define your social identity. Perhaps ‘hard work’ isn’t the most important thing in life, and perhaps if we did not feel so defined by our jobs, we’d have more room to question their usefulness. Imagine if living well was the most important thing, and on meeting people they were most likely to ask ‘What are you interested in?’