In case you didn’t notice (I hope you did), I didn’t send out a newsletter last week. This is because …*drumroll please*… I was on (paid!) leave.
I’ve been working for over a decade, give or take, and until last week I had never experienced paid time off. I’ve taken time off work before, of course, but only with careful planning and a Silas Marner-esque level of attention to the contents of my bank account. It was wonderful to be able to realise my need for rest, discuss it with the people who pay for my work, then just swan off without having to worry about what taking that rest might mean for me and my family.
During my break, I did as much nothing as I could. I spent long hours on the phone to loved ones, cuddled with my daughter, took random notes of stray ideas that caught my mental eye, attempted to recalibrate my internal wiring (which was very fried) with yoga and breath work, and spent a lot of time re-reading old journal entries. It felt like I was carefully re-introducing myself to myself, which reminded me of an exercise that was part of the recruitment process for my current role at The Correspondent.
In the job application, the very first question threw me off completely. I don’t remember now what the exact phrasing was, but the gist was this: describe yourself without mentioning your previous work experience. I’ve never had a "traditional" job, so after reading the question and being a bit bemused by it at first, I assumed I’d have an easy time answering.
I was wrong.
I hadn’t quite realised, until I was confronted with this question, how much of my idea of myself was externally determined: work, parental status, ethnic group, sexual orientation, etc. I couldn’t describe myself using my background as a writer, and it didn’t feel appropriate or useful to answer the question by saying "I’m a queer Yoruba mother". That might work on a date with a very specific type of person, but somehow I felt quite sure it wouldn’t land me my dream role.
So there I was, trying to apply for the first job I’d ever really truly wanted in my life, suddenly faced with an existential crisis of red pill-blue pill proportions. "Oh my god," I freaked out internally, "who am I?"
Eventually, I figured out a way to answer, by going back to my journal in search of answers to these questions:
- what makes me sad, angry, afraid, joyful or excited?
- what fills me with a sense of purpose?
- what do I seek in my relationships?
- what kind of future do I want for myself and others?
- what is the central guiding principle of my life?
Re-reading my thoughts from the last few years with these questions in mind, I "met" myself in a brand new way. I’ve always been a pretty secure person, as far as identity goes, but I’d never thought to articulate who I am (or want to be) before The Correspondent required me to. This is the answer I came up with:
"I am a thinking, raging, loving feminist whose primary and ultimate goal is to contribute to the wellbeing, safety and joy of people told by individuals and systems that they do not deserve these things.
I live with my heart and eyes wide open, leaning on and learning from people who do and have done the same. I always use my words, at whatever volume rings true in the moment, because I have a gift and a responsibility to. I believe in dancing, active compassion, and rest.
I am grateful for the promise of death, but in the meantime I strive for as much life as I can, pouring myself into motherhood, sisterhood and community. And always, I strive to work from, walk in, and (re)orient myself towards love."
I was really happy with my answer at the time, and as I tried to re-centre myself last week, it was nice to go back to it and remember who I am outside of work, parenting, or any other source of identity.
What about you? Can you tell me who you are, without mentioning your job? Give it a try, under this newsletter.
Till next time,