At some point in adulthood, our jobs come to define us. Random example: watch a reality TV programme featuring members of the public, and look at the way careers are used as a shorthand to explain to the viewer who somebody is: Police Officer Tom… Teacher Louise….Doctor Max….
We do it to ourselves too. If somebody pays us for a service, then by definition it’s given external worth. We assume that it must say something significant about who we are.
I used to work in advertising, producing commercial after crappy commercial to try and persuade people to buy things they didn’t need. It was a job even those doing it thought was beneath them. Literally everybody there had their own creative aspirations. Nobody I worked with would have argued that we were occupied in bringing much of value into the world.
And yet I miss the way strangers used to assess me when they discovered what I did for a living. As meaningless and soul-destroying as I considered it, to others I was a more interesting, more successful person than I am now, as a SAHM.
If I sound defensive, it’s because I am. I spent years working my way up in that industry, protesting inwardly as cocky male colleagues blagged their way into promotions over my head, celebrating outwardly when I got there myself. I cried, a lot, after stressful days in the office. I worried endlessly about how many pixels to the left a logo was. I still can’t believe I’m done with all that. I hated it and yet maybe I loved it too.
It’s been strange to be unemployed. It had been nearly eight years since I was last jobless. I came to London without a job and spent three months doing interviews and working unpaid as a runner. I didn’t feel unemployed though, perhaps because I was actually working and working hard, fourteen-hour days on my feet – I just wasn’t being paid for it. Two months in I got offered my first permanent, full-time role in production and that was that. I was on the treadmill. Prior to London, there was travelling, studying, school. I worked through the holidays and while travelling was, in essence, a massive skive, there was enough roughing it that it didn’t ever quite feel like a holiday.
Being out of paid work with no prospect of earning my own money any time soon has been daunting. I miss feeling like I can splurge on a skirt I’ll wear once then shove to the back of my wardrobe. I worry that I’m a bad role model for my daughter. I wonder why I spent long hours, days, weeks, months, years, studying at school and university. I’m aware that I’m lucky to be able to be at home with my daughter, and at the same time I’ve never felt so lost.
Now that I’ve packed her off to nursery part-time, I’ve got a new identity to negotiate: freelance writer. The only problem is that I just can’t take myself seriously yet. (Once again it comes down to that equation, money = worth.) I’m going to suppress my imposter syndrome for now and work on faking it until I make it. Failing that, I might just start lying to everybody new I meet from now on; I’ve always fancied myself as an undercover secret agent.