I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? Ok, here goes: I had a short-lived job last month. It’s true. I worked two days at a retirement home. And I came away with a full-fledged identity crisis.
The process of phone call to interview to hiring happened fast. I spent the morning picking up branches in my backyard. Hundreds of branches. I gathered and piled them into rows of three, six feet high. My dad was chopping down dead trees in the forest behind our house to let in natural light. He’d been doing this for the past couple of weeks and I noticed that it was making him skinnier, so I thought I’d join him. When I came in for lunch there was a phone call for me. I had dropped off a resume at a retirement home a few weeks earlier. They said they weren’t hiring at the time but they’d keep me in their records. In my cover letter I proposed doing some communications work and creating a resident newsletter.
The lady who called asked about a job I worked at a group home three years ago. I told her about it but I asserted that I did not have my PSW (Personal Support Worker diploma). She asked me to come into for an interview anyway. The following day I was already signed up for two orientation shifts. Less than an hour into my first shift I was questioning whether I was qualified for the job. I was being trained by an RPN called J. J was administering narcotics, taking blood pressure, using the glucometer – things I’m sure I could learn, but definitely not in two training shifts, and certainly not for 75 people.
Dinner ended and we finished our first round of meds. One lady asked J if she and her “nurse friend” (me) could come to her room and take a look at her toe. J examined it and told her the only thing she could do until she saw the doctor was give her an ointment, like Polysporin. So this dear old lady’s husband says, “Hey, I think we’ve already got some cream for your toe.” He searches for it, comes back and passes her a jar of cream. The old lady begins to unscrew the lid when she looks more closely at the label and exclaims, “Honey! This is for my vagina!”
I started to laugh – hard, but then I realized that no one else was laughing and it occurred to me that this might be a serious moment. So I tried to turn my laugh into a cough and look concerned. The same thing happened to me at a wedding once. The bride was saying her vows and I thought they were supposed to be funny. But when the sanctuary was silent except for my laughter I realized my error and began to clear my throat/cough intermittently for the remainder of the service.
But back to the job – the point of this story. My shift ended at 11pm. I went home, and the whole night long I dreamt about giving meds, treating toes, and taking blood pressure. When I woke up in the morning I did not want to go back. Who the heck am I? What the heck am I doing? This is not me!! How did I get roped into this in the first place? Surely this isn’t the job I’ve been waiting for!
I was scheduled for the overnight shift that evening and decided that if I still didn’t have a good feeling I would simply tell the supervisor that with no medical training I didn’t feel comfortable tending to the health needs of 75 individuals. However, a lot of freaking out can take place within a 12 hour time frame.
You see, I wanted a job. Any job really. I just wanted to make money. I wanted to buy a MacBook Pro. I wanted to have a routine. I wanted to get settled and make some friends. But all of a sudden I was faced with the fact that in accepting this job I now had an identity. I was a Personal Support Worker. I worked in healthcare. No longer was I in Communications. No longer a writer, but a healthcare provider. And I didn’t want that label. But then I started to get really confused. Does it define me? Am I defined by my job? Can’t I work in healthcare and write at the same time?
And that’s when escapism came knocking. This happens to me a lot. Usually when feel unsettled. I start dreaming about the next destination I can head off to, the next fantasy that I can pursue, usually forgetting that the unsettled feeling will follow me there as well.
So I went online and googled “Grad school communications.” And lo and behold, what did I find? The European Graduate School of Media and Communications! Cool…where is this place? Oh, it’s it Switzerland. Sweet! I’m a Swiss citizen. What, whoa! It’s in Saas-Fee? My aunt and uncle own a condo in Saas-Fee! This is perfect…I can attend lectures by day and ski by night! And I probably don’t even have to pay anything because European schools don’t have tuition. Maybe I can even start in the fall semester! New plan: I’m moving to Switzerland!
And all this, simply because I didn’t want to go back to the retirement home.
However, my newly mapped out life in Switzerland didn’t make it very far. About 20 minutes later I got a call from the retirement home. Apparently I wasn’t qualified for the job…Yeah I thought I mentioned that…The head of the healthcare department was on an extended leave and the woman who hired me simply didn’t know that certain qualifications were necessary. “But come in tonight and finish your orientation shift!” she said, “You’ll get paid for it!” Sure!
I realized something through my short-lived job/high-impact identity crisis. I don’t think I know what I want. I realized this even more so when I was reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (yes, I am always going to reference this book). Here’s what Don says:
I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made that movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reason our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want (Miller 113).
I wanted a job. I thought I wanted any job. I wanted any job so I could make money. But when I had a job I didn’t want that job. I wanted to go to Switzerland. But when I didn’t have to go back to my job I didn’t want to go to Switzerland anymore. I had a vague list of wants. I don’t want that anymore. That I’m sure of. If I want my story to be meaningful, then I have to have a clear idea of the things that I want. And once I have a clear idea – a strong ambition – then I don’t need to worry about losing my identity in the process. Sure, it’s possible that I’ll have to work a job that “isn’t me” if it means paying the bills in order to get where I want to go, but as long as I know that then I don’t risk living a hazy, muddled, directionless life.
So right now I’m mapping out my wants. They’re more concrete than simply, “a job” and “money.” Some of them are quite extraordinary. And as always, there’s a lot of conflict to overcome. But conflict is the very thing that makes the story interesting, right?