Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Identity Crisis

I thought I had finally decided "what to do with my life." This cliche has plagued me for years now -- the feeling that I am not quite there yet, that my life will begin once I find the magical clue... I've always envied the few people who just KNEW what occupation to pursue. I have never had a clue and still don't.

I never finished university -- I dropped out in the beginning of my second year. I was enrolled in the U of A Business program, and just became disillusioned with academics. I met one fellow who after 4 years pursuing the same degree as me, landed his first job as a Kentucky Fried Chicken manager. I remember thinking to myself, "Crap! If I just stayed in the Pass working, I could be a manager at K-Fry and have saved a bunch of money too."

There were a number of other reasons for me dropping out...Many of which had to do with identity and expectations. Expectations of my family, and correspondingly high expectations of myself. I went through some rough periods of judging myself --the whole "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting" pretty much sums up the inner turmoil I have experienced my whole life.

So what has sparked this identity crisis now? I have been taking correspondence courses via Athabasca University to earn a BA in history. Then, I thought, I could go to school for another year and qualify to become a teacher. To make a long story short -- this is not my path. I have turned inside myself and asked some hard questions and have come up with a number of truths that I have always been too fearful to acknowledge or articulate. Big breath --- here goes.

Our culture places so much emphasis on what it means to be a success and what it means to be a failure. I bought into this belief system, and consequently, if I do not finish something, I deem myself a failure. It doesn't matter if this "something" is a bad choice, a bad relationship, a bad mistake. I have always been the type to walk down the road until the very end, and I know for sure that I should change directions.

Lately, I have struggled with my goal of becoming a teacher -- Is this something I truly am excited about? Or is this a way for me to prove to the world that I have worth because I have a degree? Honestly, it is the latter. This is not a path I am going to continue on -- I have been doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Real worth and acceptance comes from within, and by shifting my focus to external matters instead of internal ones, I am doomed to repeat performances of feeling like I never measure up. It's not about studying, or working --- it's about what these things symbolize for me.

I still cringe with the thought of notifying my tutor that I will not be completing my courses. I am still struggling with the Donald-Trumpesque attitude of "If you quit you are a loser," and the knowledge that this perspective is a cultural construct that I am choosing to believe in, instead of choosing to believe in my own truth.

Added to this, is the fact that I am selling my business (dollar store) I have owned and operated for the past 8 years. It is a decision that is long overdue -- my original plan was to sell after 5 years. Living in a small community has its perks and its pits. (for lack of a better word LOL!)

I know pretty much every resident of the Crowsnest Pass, and if I don't know them, they know either who I am, or they know my parents. The biggest challenge for me has been responding to the nosy parkers and gossip-mongers -- just about every second person that comes into the store asks what I am selling it for, if anyone's interested in buying it yet, what I am going to do if it doesn't sell, am I going to let my inventory run out, etc.

For the record,people: IT'S NONE OF YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS!!!!!

Can you imagine asking a person on the street about their personal financial information? God, sometimes,I tell you, just because you have somewhat high visibility in a community, people think they can ask you all sorts of personal questions. I could never handle it if I was a celebrity.

This also ties in with my identity crisis. For all you want to say your identity is your own -- it is also how others perceive you. My identity is "Julie, from the Dollar Store." I'm always happy, perky, and say "Hello there!" to every customer. I am helpful, courteous, and friendly. It's actually so bad that when I go into other businesses, I usually beat the staff saying, "Good morning, How are you!" But that doesn't mean that I am the store -- the store is my job and only my job. It is not my passion, my be all and end all. It drives me nuts when I am out swimming and someone will ask me about the store -- the hours I work, etc -- it's like I OWE them an explanation. This happens to me ALL the time - at the grocery store, at the post office, at Tim Horton's, at the gas station,even at the frigging gym.

People expect me to be the "Jovial Dollar Store Clerk." When I am not at work, I don't want to talk about my business. ESPECIALLY when I am working out -- that is MY time and it pisses me off to no end that I have to constantly endure the same questions again and again and again. I really hate the comments about how "I never see you at work." Like these people wake up to watch the sun rise every morning - but LO! and Behold! Every morning the sun rises regardless of whether they were there to see it or not. Ahhhh-- I digress.

One final point about identity and gender I have learned through owning and operating a business in a small community. Most people (now cities may be different, I am only talking about the Pass here) cannot reconcile that I actually own the store. My parents must own it. After 8 years I still have people openly challenging me when I answer them that "Yes, I own the store." I have long since learned to ignore them, but after the millionth time of hearing it, sometimes I am ready to slap them.

It's funny, if I were a male and owned a business, it would be a whole other story. You see, my mother works for me, and people cannot wrap their heads around the concept that as a woman, I can employ family members. This is where the gender identity comes into play -- my parents must be employing me, instead of the other way around. Male business owners in the Pass do not experience this.

Identity is a strange animal...I am finally getting the courage to collar my inner dragon and work WITH myself instead of AGAINST myself.


Kelly B. said...

Hey...my dad is in his mid-60s and says he still does not know what he wants to do with his life!!

My advice is that you need to do what is right for you. Sounds simple but it is true!! If you have taken a good hard look at things and you don't like them...then change them. You have the power to do that.
And it is just human nature to be curious (nosy). Just ignore it. Harder than it sounds but big minds talk about ideas, mediocre minds talk about events and small minds talk about other people!! I just totally exagerrate or out right lie...gets them every time...b/c you darn right that they will not get the info correct when they pass it on to others!!
And as for women in business...could write a book on that one...TOTALLY hear ya!!
Take care of YOU!!

Keith said...

Where to start?? This might be a long comment. I hear you loud and clear. Stay strong!

Welcome to my life. I was asked going into grade 6 what I was going to be when I grew up. Forty some years later I'm still struggling with that same question. What I do now wasn't a job then, and who knows what jobs will be available in another 10 years? The downside of knowing what you want to do is the anguish of not being able to do it for some reason.

The best way to learn to do something is to start doing it. That sometimes means that you learn you really don't want to be doing it after all. Then you find out if you've learned to move onto the next thing you want to learn.

There's a story about two zen monks walking together. A woman asks them to help her across a river. The older monk picks her up, carries her across, puts her down, and accepts her thanks with a nod. The two monks go on. The younger struggles with this for a while, then asks the older one "Our order isn't supposed to have anything to do with women. How could you do what you did?" The older monk says "I put her down on this side of the river, why are you still carrying her?"

Quitting, and failure, are such hot buttons in our world. And it's all perception! Even worse, it's often OTHER people's perceptions. How is quitting something you don't want to be doing anymore a failure? Rather, it's a recognition of someone with the strength to steer their own course. Even when you've given something everything you have and it still hasn't worked out, you're stronger for it, and if you look, there are likely unexpected wins in there too.

I once talked to a guy going through bankruptcy procedures. He'd been a multi-millionaire. I was just out of high school. He said he had learned more from this "failure" than he ever had from his successes. He encouraged me to get out and try things, because the worst that will happen is that you'll get lucky the first time, live the fat and happy life and you'll stop learning.

I feel sorry for the people that strive to get the trappings of success in our society, the big house, the big car, the big blonde (sorry) the recreational properties and vehicles, and all the "toys". Are they happy? Often not. What's important is to do what's right for you.

So I encourage and applaud your decision to stop the courses, and sell the store. Move on with the path of your life whatever that might be. Listen to your heart. The more you do it, the clearer the messages will become, and deeper truths will emerge into the light of day.

I totally believe that when opportunity knocks, you have to make the most of it. Some people say that's luck. I say opportunity is much more likely to knock at the door where the sidewalk is shoveled, and the steps are swept. New opportunities seem to come to those that are making the most of their current opportunities. My theory is that dreams, opportunities, love, friendship, luck, happiness and all that, as well as their opposites will go to where they are loved and appreciated.

I don't think I need to tell you to have fun in the process!

Jenna said...

Julie. You are Julie. Not Julie from the Dollar Store. Just crazy young, funny, entertaining, wild, adventourous, Julie. You dream the dreams and then give yourself permission to go get them - whatever they are - they are YOURS. Pick up a copy of What Happy People Know.....it was a life changing book for me!!

Jason said...

So Julie, are you leaving the Dollar Store??? You do right, you've outgrown the place and you have better things to do. Keith has said it all in a much more eloquent manner than I could ever aspire to.

Here's to looking forward to the next stage of your life from someone who knows a bit about making a fundamental change!

Julie said...

Thanks guys -- Keith, I have to meet you. :) :)

And, I'm going to be reading "What Happy People Know" -- Thanks Jenna!

runningman said...

Wow that was a good post, and good comments. I really don't know what else to say, I got no wisdom to share. I just know I also don't know what I want to do with life. I work a job I don't care for, I just do it cause it's there and is a means to accomplish all my hopes and dreams. I'm satisfied with this, but somtimes I wish I also had a job that felt fulfilling.

Charlie Browne said...

hey jules....even the majority of people that are "happy" and "know their identity" question who and what they are and where is their life headed....the important thing is to enjoy the journey and if what you are donig is not enjoyable leave it behind you!! oh and i forgot to unclip again!!

Cath said...

Well, it's all been said - and anyhow, quite honestly you don't need to explain to anybody about anything, whatever you decide is right for Julie Anderson, not me, not anyone else, but the very important and wonderful you! Come live in Fernie with us......now wouldn't that be fab....

John Prince said...

Beautiful and touching post, and 'straight from the heart'. Excellent comments, especially Keith's.

Read 'Eckhart Tolle's', The Power of Now, and the one I am reading at present titled, A New Earth, that I am finding 'insightful' and 'helpful' in trying to understand this 'mad world' we all find ourselves living in, that so easily weighs us down with what we call 'modern living'. What a joke! There is nothing 'modern' about it. Humanity has been going backwards since the Industrial Revolution that changed everything. Nietzsche said it best, especially with his now famous line, 'God is Dead'... 'Modern Man' (woman) must re-invent themselves, while at the same time keeping George Orwell's 1984 constantly in the back of their minds, while doing their best to prevent 'that world' from becoming 'our world'. Anyhow, I think you will find Tolle's books filled with much Buddhist wisdom and understanding.

/btw Maybe you have already turned a corner!? With your new blog on hiking, makes me think you would make an excellent tour guide. At heart and in every fiber of your body, you are an outdoor enthusiast with many hard fought battles with the environment and with overcoming personal and physical challenges, which we call 'experience'. Why not work at something you really love, which makes you feel it is not work at all? I think you would be 'perfect' as an outdoor adventure 'Pass Tour Guide and organizer. Think about it!!! :-)