Somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.
Here’s the thing. I’ve passed the fifty year mark and I’m still not always sure what I want to be when I grow up. I thought I wanted to be a professor, so I got myself a PhD. I love everything about teaching except marking. I especially hate having to tell those students who work their ass off on a paper that their masterpiece is at best only a B- paper. So I couldn’t teach full-time, but I have taught part-time for nearly a decade. This year is the first year in a really long time that I won’t teach a course in the fall. I’m okay with that.
I do have another career, another job. I love this job of mine a lot of the time. Earlier this year, I had to take some time away from work after a period of not liking it very much. I had the most amazing stress leave, really learned a lot of new things about myself, and remembered some old things that I had forgotten. Most of all, I learned how not to be so damned addicted to working. The time away allowed me to “reset” the proverbial button. I’ve blogged a bit recently about being back at work over the past few months. It’s mostly pretty okay. Other times, not so much, as you know from my post a few weeks ago. The odd day is extraordinarily awesome.
For background, you may need to know that in this other career, I am a public servant, a director of research. I like being in the public service. As someone who has been in recovery for several decades, I understand what being of service is supposed to mean. I have been recognized as a strong leader, a good teacher, mentor. A strong businesswoman. I believe those things about me, although I know that there are also a great many things I could be better at, on the job.
I’ve been on a quest for a long time to figure out who I am and how I want to be in this world. That includes figuring out who I am at work. Being a director of research is a good gig, it will help get me to my “Freedom 72” plan. However, this job, this career, is not my career dream come true. I dream of starting a business that runs retreats for women in recovery. I dream of finishing a screenplay that I am writing. I dream about writing a book about what happens to women who continue to work a program of recovery for multiple decades. I work a little bit each week, on each of these dreams. I’ll get there, I know I will. One day at a time.
I am fortunate to have figured out a few things. Above all else, I have come to believe that I just need to be who I am, wherever I am. Even at work. Perhaps even especially at work, where most of my insecurities come out to play. Even there, every day, I just need to be me. Imperfect, flawed and quirky Dawn.
So that’s how I generally roll. Still, the doubt sometimes creeps in. Am I “too much” Dawn at work? Should I shave off a bit of my Dawn-ness and try to be more of somebody else, perhaps somebody a little more closed? More quiet, reserved? Should I lose my silliness at work, try to be more mature, more often? I do wonder, once in a very blue moon.
Fortunately, the answers to these questions come to me. Last Friday, my answer came in a little booklet beautifully written by a researcher who is leaving our team for a new opportunity. It is one of the most thoughtful gifts that I have ever received. In it, she wrote about our relationship as colleagues. I was her boss, but more than that, we were teammates. As with all of the people on this team of ours, I utterly adore her.
In the book, she wrote out a timeline of the past three-plus years, chronicling her impressive growth and development, and some of the fun we’ve had while we’ve worked. I laughed out loud at a lot of what she wrote. But she also brought tears to my eyes with the warmth of her words. She made a brief reference to my having gone on stress leave earlier this year, and then wrote:
I was so incredibly proud of you for taking care of your body, mind and soul, above all else. It is a lesson I will hold in my heart for my entire career and life. I’ve learned so much this past 3.5 years. I’ve learned how I want to treat coworkers, and how I want to be treated. I’ve learned to never give up on something (Good Lord, we went through a lot together) because you never know where it will take you. I’ve learned to stand up for myself, pave my own path, and find what makes me happy. I wish for you…an amazing journey in your career, life, soul…the ability and support to wear your heart on your sleeve and cry when you need to. I wish that I will never forget this journey, will grow my confidence and listen to my intuition, that I will be brave and do what I need to be happy. It’s been a wild ride, I’ll miss you.
For the record, I haven’t cried that often at work, but when I have, I haven’t been ashamed to talk about it. I am also openly joyful, at times. I really have come to believe that it is okay for me to just be me, at work.
But I really want to say, thank you for the confirmation, sweet friend, dear colleague. You, and the rest of the amazing people with whom I work, are the reasons that just for today, I’m not going to quit my day job.