My partner said this to me about 8 years ago but these words still loop endlessly through my mind.
He meant financially – although that hurt enough as I had always tried to work and feel that I was contributing money-wise as well as doing most of the childcare and housework. I took pride in the fact that, despite moving every few years with children to settle into new schools, I managed to do some kind of work. I had, before children, even earned more than him for a year or two.
I come from a background where money was tight. Lack of financial independence meant that my mother stayed with my father despite a multitude of reasons for her to leave. I had vowed to my 20 year old self never to be financially dependent on anyone.
So those words hurt. My self-confidence was shattered. They led me to question whether I was making a difference in other areas. If I couldn't "make a difference" by working, was I making a difference in any other areas of my life?
My need to be part of the world of work was only somewhat assuaged by working part time. It wasn't great but it seemed better than nothing until one of my children asked why I was doing it. He said that, when I came home I seemed either very sad or very angry! That didn't seem worth putting my children through either.
I stopped working, too demoralised to see what the point was and have since volunteered in a variety of roles. Those roles mean that I do make a (small) difference in areas other than in my family life. But it has changed the way I think about myself and how I assume other people see me.
We underestimate how much our sense of self and status is bound up with the work we do. Even if we don't enjoy the commute, the meetings, the inevitable one person at work who annoys us, whatever we do, we still like to be able to introduce ourselves with a job title. And the fact of a pay packet at the end of the month is irrefutable proof that we're earning our way.
There are many reasons why it makes more sense for me to volunteer. I can drop everything if I'm needed elsewhere in the family. But I do still wonder what all that studying, exams and qualifications, all that "keeping the cv going" was for.
How do we ensure that we can "make a difference" and be satisfied with smiles of gratitude rather than a healthier bank balance. We are told that we should be able to do good deeds with no thought for a reward but that's easier said than done. We're not all saints!
Learning to be content with the rewards of volunteering rather than those of a monetary kind is another skill in itself. It requires a different mindset from the "time is money" of capitalism that we have been encouraged to embrace.
How do you feel when people ask what you do? Does it make you proud of your achievements?
A Moodscope member.
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