New Jobs, New Identities, & Donut Holes
Every Christmas I have brunch at a longtime family friend’s house. I love that once a year I see the same people, the same coffee and cider, and the same donut holes. It’s a small party, but it’s an important tradition, with people I’ve known for a long time. The host is a family friend I’ve known my entire life. This past Christmas I had recently started at Teal. We were catching up as we do, and she said, “I hear you’ve managed to reinvent yourself yet again.” Part of me screamed inside, even though I knew she meant it as a compliment, and I appreciated the intent. To be fair, over the past few years I had a new job each time I saw her.
But I couldn’t help but think, Reinvent myself? That would mean I’d invented myself in the first place. But I never invented myself — I’m just me, and that doesn’t change based on who is approving my paychecks at the moment. What is it about this reinvention that seems worthy of praise? Is everyone supposed to feel like they’re starting over because their employer changes, or am I different? Is my social, personal identity that tied to my work? Do people think differently of me based on what my job is? Do I act differently based on who my employer is? If I were unemployed, would I be in limbo between different versions of myself? Am I inadvertently acting like a deluded corporate chameleon? If we’re talking transformation — then Bowie reinvents. At most, I just rewrite my LinkedIn headline.
But those were just my sugar-fueled insecurities talking. There’s truth here, because to different degrees, we all constantly invent and reinvent our identities in big, small, conscious and unconscious ways. It’s natural to talk about our work; it’s a big part of our identity, especially in American culture. Even more so if you’re someone like me who works at consumer brands and genuinely loves their work most days. And we all show up differently to different jobs, whether we change our wardrobe, title, etc. Starting a new job is far from the only milestone in our lives, but it is big. It’d be willfully ignorant not to take advantage of those natural, new chapter moments to think about our own story and highlight the parts we like and reshape the ones we don’t.
I’m definitely not my job title, but the work I do is a big part of my identity, and I’m fortunate to have a job I love. I keep thinking about why the reinvention comment got under my skin, and I guess if I’m being honest, compliments make me uneasy in the same way eating donut holes do. A part of me worries that praise will make me soft. Even worse, I worry I don’t deserve it.
But while “Reinvention” makes me uncomfortable, a stagnant alternative makes me even more uncomfortable.
So thank you, I have reinvented myself! I hope it’s not for the last time. My path hasn’t been perfect, but I am where I want to be. I’ll take any chance I have to rethink who I am, to think about the stories I tell myself, and change to whatever extent I can as times change. That doesn’t make me indulgent or fake or ungrounded or soft.
With the pandemic, I doubt I’ll travel back to my hometown for Christmas this year, but I’m looking forward to the next time I do. I look forward to all the things that change, and all the things that do not.