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When I Grow Up…

credit: R. Flowers

credit: R. Flowers


A couple of recent conversations have reminded me how I have long been uncomfortable with the emphasis our society places on career as the basis of identity.

It’s in the ritual question we ask a stranger: So what do you do?

It is generally assumed that what is most relevant and interesting to others is the particular way in which we have been able to monetize ourselves. The consensus is that this defines us. And this shapes assessments about our relative success, worthiness, potential, and status.

Since I started freelancing a few years ago, I’ve observed my own shift. My work is kind of all over the place. So I don’t have a simple label or title. Contrary to the prevailing advice out there from the world of marketing, I haven’t managed to come up with a “personal brand.” To use a silly tech metaphor, rather than a solid Ruth 2.0 product, I feel like I may be in alpha testing mode indefinitely. And, at this moment anyway, I don’t really seem to care.

I no longer think of myself in terms of a professional role. And I’m extremely grateful for the way that the lack of structure in freelancing (at least the way I do it) has given me the space to relate to my life as so much more than an occupational box. The thing that’s striking to me now as I look back is how much bandwidth – how much life force – my career was using up. And how much anxiety it generated, both in terms of emotional claustrophobia, and also in the sense that there were always more rungs on the professional ladder and I was never quite where I needed to be.

I still notice how deep the programming is. I still feel its impact.

It was a scary thing to walk away from the herd and its rules when all my life I was told that the herd and its rules would keep me safe. I still feel the disapproval sometimes. Questions. Pity, even. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

There’s a steady, relentless pressure out there to shape ourselves into something acceptable and worthy. The weight of it is exhausting. Embedded within is the constant, merciless message that we are not OK the way we are. Perhaps the pressure to conform is inherent in any human society. But there are biases and dynamics at play in our culture – e.g. patriarchy, domination, technocracy, post-Cartesian abstraction, capitalism – that make this modern variant seem especially oppressive to me.

The forces that are out there devouring and diminishing nature are doing the same thing to us. Most of us just don’t see the irony.

credit: M. Popov

credit: M. Popov


  1. I long for the kind of freedom you describe in free lancing. I’ve taken to describing myself in terms of my unpaid side projects rather than my paying job. It feels more interesting and more accurate to me. I love the challenge you are posing here.

    • Kiri, I have no idea what your paying job is and have never given it a thought. Instead I am grateful to know you as a wonderfully creative, generous, thoughtful, capable soul. A person who sees deeply and grasps the nuances of a situation. Someone with an open, curious, relational, uncontrived, dare I say feminine way of showing up. And someone who is contributing to the world wholeheartedly. 🙂

      If I refuse to relate to a tree as lumber, then surely I can refuse to relate to myself or anyone else as a business card. Sounds simple. But the hard part is actually doing it. We must challenge how the culture seeks to define and diminish us, as a starting point to denying it the power to do the same to the more-than-human world. It took me a long time to get this. But I’m so glad I get it.

      • Aw shucks Ruth. It takes one to know one 🙂 What I hear in your words is that it all comes back to intrinsic value. How do we remember (and remind others) that all matter and all life have value in themselves not just in relation to their perceived ‘use’ or aesthetic or productivity? I feel like I’m interested in living this truth but it’s so far from the ways our society is structured, our attitudes to waste, our humanocentric perspective, our economic system.

        • Yes. This is very difficult in the face of what we’re up against. But I don’t see an alternative to at least trying.

  2. Indeed my friend. Over the years I’ve noticed that a large segment of society has lost the ability to discern the difference between “that which matters and that which doesn’t”.

    • Very well said. You put it wonderfully succinctly, as usual. 🙂

  3. Synchronicity… I was sitting here reading your blog, trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, except that you said it already so well that all I came up with was “kudos!” And, meanwhile, you commented on my Footprints post. 🙂

    • 🙂

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