Most of you will have been in this situation…. picture the scene…. you are at a social event and making small talk with people you don’t know. Someone asks you ‘What you do?’ – How do you reply?
My response most often is that I am a nurse and my friends often reply with a similar answer relating to their job or career. It can be described as social identity or cultural identity relating to the roles that you play in your life. So, what happens when you are no longer playing that role as a major part of your life, how then do you view yourself?
I recently left my long-term career in the NHS as a nurse. I am finding the transition tricky and I think this is because my social identity and personal identity are tightly bound together. I find it hard to say I am ‘retired’ partly because it acknowledges a loss of the social identity that I hold so close. Plus, the fact is, I am still working, but not in the same way and not in the type of role I held for decades. I see ‘retirement’ as something my parents and grandparents did when they completely ceased working and think that this just doesn’t fit me! They seemed so ‘old’ too, much older than I feel.
So how does it feel? It is sort of an identity crisis. I am having to think carefully about why I feel the way I do. I feel the need to strengthen other aspects of my identity and I am doing this through reconnecting with old hobbies and looking at starting new ones. Some of this was planned but some was not. My new little flock of hens was very much planned but some of my volunteering was not but I am enjoying them all and have more plans in the pipeline including learning to bake some amazing bread. – it’s helping.
I also recognise an amazing freedom where I can make different choices; exactly who do I want to work with now and do our values align. I am choosing in different ways that feel more aligned to my preferences – because I can! Sometimes it feels incredibly liberating but can also be very scary and lonely. Unlike most of my working life there is no one to turn to, no work friends who are sat at the close next desk, many of whom I became incredibly close to. The good thing about those people is that most of them are still there and many are very happy to meet socially and have coffee and sometimes more – we have been known to imbibe other fluids! I hope I would be there for them too.
What I did find slightly disconcerting at first was several people who I thought were great work colleagues clearly only saw me as my work role alone. I knew this would happen with some people, but I was surprised who behaved like this. It is as if Anne, who was the Chief Nurse, is no longer of any consequence. I hope I have never viewed people like this and nor would I treat them in the same way!
So, how will I answer the question now? What do I do? I dislike the ‘portfolio career’ cop-out. So, I am going to take a lesson out of my husband’s book. Ask him what he does, and he is likely to say: ‘I am a musician, a maker of costumes, a learner of new things and I make great pasta!’ How will you answer when someone next asks you ‘And what do you do?’