Occupation and Identity

ethnomusicology[First published on Flickr. July 9, 2008]

Try as I might, I can’t stop thinking that I am defined by what I do at any given time. But as long ago as Grade 5, I was told by a teacher that my generation would probably not stay in one ‘career’ as our parents did but instead would have as many as six. By the age of 46 I’ve already had several distinctly different jobs. But in a society where what we do is often confused with who we are, what is our identity?

Recently I froze during an otherwise great conversation when the other person asked me about my occupation. It’s not just the big changes which can cause this uncertainty. What if you’re using the same groundwork or training to do a completely different job? What if it’s your ‘role’ within a group or organization which changes? How do people view you differently? What if you gain, or lose power, in reality or the eyes of certain people? Is it possible that you might gain or lose friends as a result? (Sadly, I can attest, it is.) And what of all your prior accomplishments, the years of accrued skill, the colleagues, and one would hope, the wisdom? Are they lost forever or can you carry them over into your new world?

In moments of clarity I believe that everything is connected. My experience, talents, and probably sense of humour, are the constant in whatever job I choose to do, and it’s how I view the world and move though it that defines who I am.

So just because I’m holding this journal “Ethnomusicology” doesn’t mean that I am no longer a singer, a broadcaster, a hack pianist, a snowboarder, a lover of LA but also of New York, a wife, a daughter, and as you can guess, a procrastinator.


One comment

  1. If we can figure out who we are first and then choose what we do, I don’t see a conflict between occupation and identity. Too often, though, we do it in reverse. Enjoyed reading this thoughtful post.

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