Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Identity Shifts

My decision to get married a few years ago brought with it a whole kit and caboodle of new identities. I became not just a wife, but a seminary student wife, fire department wife, and guy-with-a-host-of-health-issues wife, as well as a parent. And not just a parent but a swim team, water polo, band, and Boy Scout parent. And as a stepmom, I lurked somewhat in the shadows on those parenting roles, not feeling the full weight of them but also unable to confidently take a place among the moms because the kids already had a mom and she was probably there too. A relief in some ways; a tension in others.

All these new roles might have helped me make friends. That sort of happened. But the circumstances were stacked against me; my background and interests were generally quite different from those of the people in the circles where this new life has taken me. It was hard to find  common ground. I often felt I didn't have time for friends and/or I couldn't be a good friend because I had all these things I had to do with or for my new family, including getting dinner on the table every night and trying to put in a full week of work (not always successfully).

Now Chris is done with seminary. This week he leaves the job that has sucked so much life out of him, and he'll be leaving the fire department soon, too. And his health is pretty good now. We won't have any kids living at home, since home, in its previous sense, is no more. Swim team and water polo are behind us, and we'll be 3,0000 miles away from any band concerts or Boy Scout events... and from the regular round of Wade family birthday and holiday gatherings too.

Yup, just over three years into parenting, I'm an empty-nester! Sometimes I joke about that because I know how funny it sounds. But it's weird funny as well as ha-ha funny. I feel some of the same mix of grief and relief, pride and concern, that "real" parents feel about having the kids out of the house. I'm kind of used to Haley doing her own thing, but I don't want to say goodbye to Daniel!

What will the next year or so mean for me in terms of identity? I'll still be a wife and parent, of course, but the job descriptions are quickly changing and the emotional price tag, which had been so high, has just been drastically reduced. My social calendar is practically empty! But I can have friends again, right? At least theoretically? I know, it's not automatic, and I'll still be working full-time and going to school. But I'm praying for a good friend or several. A supportive small group. A church where I can serve and connect with people in more meaningful ways than of late, and yes, maybe even a book club.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

People don't need good advice.

"People don't need good advice, they need good news," one of my Twitter feeds tells me. "My friends appreciate my advice most if it’s brief and wrapped in encouragement. Advice is a seasoning, not a meal," says another.

"Few people like to be told what to do or how they should do it,"  says a leadership guru I also follow. "Leaders often inadvertently discourage their staff by being overly directive."

Many of us get defensive when someone tries to tell us, to our face, what to do. Like little kids are wont to tell their older siblings: "You're not the boss of me!" Just listening to another offer unsolicited advice is tough for me... I find it hard not to leap to the advisee's defense and defend their right to reach conclusions and make decisions on their own.

Despite this resistance to being told what to do, why do we we embrace advice so readily when it comes from a more impersonal source? Few can resist seeing what someone else has to stay in a those ten-steps-to-success, eight-mistakes-you-might-be-making, or five-things-you-need-to-do-right-now sort of list-icles.

Maybe it's like reading your horoscope or a fortune cookie. You know you can take it or leave it. Whereas when a friend, colleague, or family member puts a finger in your face or starts laying out a case, whether harshly or lovingly, about what you (yes you, personally) need to do, emotions are provoked. You know that a response is required.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Odd jobs, new ones, and those soon to be obsolete

About a year ago I wrote about a woman I met who had one of those jobs I didn't know people had... as a pretend patient to train medical students. New jobs crop up all the time these days. Back in the late 50's when my mother's parents urged her to become a teacher (a suggestion that didn't stick) they probably had no idea that the career as a software tester she'd eventually pursue was even an option. Who'd imagine it? As Douglas Adams once said,

“Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things.”

One of my favorite movies, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's Desk Set, explores the tensions of a group of information specialists afraid of being made obsolete by a computer, one that probably had less power than the phone you carry in your pocket.

Such tensions haven't gone away, but gotten "worse." Today I came across an article from a 2014 edition of The Economist assessing the likelihood that various livelihoods will disappear as people are replaced by machines. The article is behind a pay wall, but here's a chart summarizing their predictions along with a caption:

"Which jobs will be obsolete in 20 years and which are likely to survive? We looked at the impact of automation in an article last year. Telemarketers and accountants beware. Personal trainers, dentists and the clergy are unlikely to disappear any time soon."