What About Job?

By | Monday, December 12, 2022 Leave a Comment
You know how many surnames came about because of a person's vocation? If your last name is Smith, for example, you probably had an ancestor who was a metal-worker. If you have the name Cooper, there's probably someone in your family tree who made barrels for a living. That's not how every family name came about, of course, but it doesn't take much to figure out where names like Fisher and Farmer came from!

The reason for those types of names is simple. If there were two people named Bob in the same village, people needed a way to differentiate one from another when they were speaking. So the added an commonly-known identifier as a shorthand. So instead of having to say, "You know? Tom -- the one with the brown, curly hair and the really big smile?" You could just identify him as "Tom the Baker" and everyone would immediately be able to distinguish him from "Tom the Sawyer." To further expidite conversations, the "the" soon became implied and the job description became more of a title. Tom, Baker or Tom, Sawyer. The slight pause got dropped and you've got surnames now for Tom Baker and Tom Sawyer. But the reason I'm explaining this is to reinforce the original point of these last names: you were identified by your job. Regardless of what you looked like physically or what your personality traits were, your most broadly identifying feature was what you did for a living.

I'm not a devout watcher of the show, but over the weekend, I caught a recent Bob's Burgers episode where the youngest daughter, Louise, can't decide about what career she might even theoretically want to pursue and she worries that she have to resign herself to some boring desk job in data analysis or something. Her two siblings invent wacky stories to suggest bizarre, but definitely interesting if they were actually real, jobs before her father eventually suggests that she might land in a perfectly boring job at first but that could turn around at any time, and she could be exactly the right person at exactly the right time to save the world.

What struck me about the episode, and something I've heard/seen reinforced in any number of ways over the years, is that at no point does anyone even remotely suggest that your job and your identity don't have to be the same. What's the standard question you ask someone you're meeting for the first time: "So what do you do?" ("For a living" is sometimes said outright, but often it's just implied.) You can look at it as trying to boil down your entire identity to your job, or you can view it as assuming your job is the most significant aspect of your life, or you can see it as your job being the only aspect of your life that the questioner has any interest in... Regardless, there's not a way to interpret that question without placing your job front and center of your entire life.

But here's the thing... It doesn't have to be that way. When I describe myself, I'll list out my interest in comics, that I do a lot to make my home smart, that I've been playing around with a 3D printer for the past year... I'll mention being an extra in The Avengers, saving my cousin from drowning in the Atlantic, getting struck by lightning, writing an Eisner-nominated book... sometimes I mention running marathons even though I haven't actually completed one since 2016! But absolutely none of that touches on what I actually do for a living. I don't bring up anything that might show up on my résumé. I don't mention my employer, I don't mention my job title, I don't describe what I do at work... None of that comes up at all. I have more of an identity as a drummer, even though my drum kit has been in storage for at least a decade now, than I have as a Web Administrator or Web Content Manager or Senior SEO Specialist or any of the other formal job titles I've ever had.

I don't really have a real way to connect this to comics. I could make some superficial comment about how working as barista or running Instacart orders or whatever it is creators who are struggling to "make it" in the industry are doing doesn't define them in any way, but it's really a message I want to put out more broadly. It's not even a matter "well, I'm just doing this temporarily until my career takes off." I've been doing web work of varying types as my profession for a quarter century now; I like it well enough and I do a good job at it, but it's absolutely not part of who I am. The ending of the year is only a few weeks away and people often use that time to reflect on what they've done and where they're going in life -- I might suggest putting some consideration to how you define yourself relative to your job. Maybe what you do for a living is something you're deeply passionate about and it really is part and parcel to your identity, but it might be worth asking yourself who you are if you can't mention your job.
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