When Work Shifts: Recognizing Our Selves Again
I've been in the studio all day for a photo shoot that started at 8am and lasted until 6pm. It was a very long day that, regardless of the hours, felt like a marathon. It reminds me of the special events work I managed many moons ago when I worked in fundraising for nonprofit organizations in New York City. Those days were truly work marathons. We prepared for weeks ahead of the event and then endure 15 or 16 hours in one day to make it all happen. Then we collapsed into a tired office heap.
Today I wore pink corduroys, a denim shirt, and sipped green tea all day long. Back then we wore black dresses, black heels, and sipped champagne with our guests. But the elegance was temporary--immediately after the event we kicked our heels into the corners of some strange storage room before taking all the decorations back down and schlepping all the materials to the elevators, out delivery ramps, and into rented moving vans. The next day in the office we wore tattered jeans, drank too much coffee, and magically made all the decorations cram back into their tiny cupboards before reviewing infinite spreadsheets. Then reluctantly we'd start all over again.
This makes me think about the fluidity in our work, in our studios, in our homes. How one transition often feels like it is taking our lives in a very new direction but once we have transitioned into this new direction we find familiar scenarios from previous jobs, homes, cities, colleagues, or friendships. We find our own familiarities. The players change but not the positions. The uniform shifts. The colors change. The black dress is swapped out for a denim shirt. The job description alters or ebbs or changes considerably but our character does not. The detail-oriented find the details and the big-picture thinkers find the big picture and the very organized refine the organization and so it goes.
I take comfort in this sameness. I take comfort in moving from one side of the country to the other and finding familiar feelings, familiar stories, familiar ways of interacting with new (but seemingly familiar) people. I take comfort in finding all my previous lives very useful to this present life too. I still use the skills I learned in special events to organize a photography shoot and I have the same mix of exhaustion and relief when the day is done. I use the organizational skills required in various art offices to plan my week, outline my meetings, and coordinate efforts with colleagues and collaborators. My desk looks very different now but many of the functions are actually the same.
I like to think that we are the same at our core. That my core is the very same now as it was when I was 7 or 17 or 27. I like to think that my situation has changed, my environment has shifted, my work has shifted too but the core of my character and, likely, the core of my weaknesses and strengths have been weathered by my experiences but they have not really been altered. My job description changes but maybe, in some ways, not actually my work.
This is not to say that people cannot change. They can change. They do change. We must change to evolve and grow and stay engaged with our living. But I am beginning to think that the evolution is more about getting honest with our selves, about recognizing our selves, about knowing our selves than anything else. That growing into myself is actually the work of my age--not growing into somebody else.
And in these moments when I've had a very long day and I feel like I haven't felt this kind of exhaustion since I was running special events in Manhattan over a decade ago--I like knowing that I've actually been right here before. That I've been here since. That I'll be here one day again and it will feel simultaneously familiar and totally new. I like seeing myself in the nuances and finding myself tucked into the ups and downs of what a long day demands. I like knowing it's the same me in that black dress and black heels or in these corduroy pants and denim shirt--substitute the champagne for a pot of green tea.
I like recognizing the details of the work as the same details in previous positions--just the setting and the goals have changed. I like thinking of this continuum and how I'll recognize so many sides of myself over the next several decades of my career. I like knowing that it's the same me--just a different desk, a different drink, and a different pair of shoes.