Monday, July 27, 2009

Definitions

A long time ago in a land far away --- Okay it wasn't that far away but it was a long time ago -- I think about 1986 when my lovely bride gave me some valuable advise neither one of us took very well. I repeated the advise to a lot of people, I repeated it with passion, with fervor, but until our life changed I just couldn't heed the advise.

Back in '86 I was a stalwart Texas Power and Light employee. I had been very successful and the company had treated me very well. I had gotten every job I had interviewed for and was moving up the proverbial career ladder. I pledged allegiance to the green of T P & L every day. Then reality hit. Corporate America came to central Texas and the company I had been working for changed forever.

I had a good job in Hillsboro Texas that I liked. I worked with people every day, I was involved in the community, I had good employees working for me and I had a certain amount of prestige. Then the company changed the rules and consolidated a couple of departments within our office. All of the sudden I was competing with another guy in our office for the one remaining job. I lost, I didn't get the job. To this day I would swear they made the wrong decision, but it was made and I was in purgatory.

This change shook my core. It made me doubt myself, my abilities, my skills and my worth. That's when Marty hit me with the advise. It was pretty simple, but true, "what you do for a living does not define who you are".

Marty said that who we are is so much more than our job, we are so much more than how we earn our daily bread. We should be defined by what we do outside of work, how we treat other people, how we treat and love our family, how we participate in life, how we commit to others and how that commitment affects the world around us. She said we should be working to live, not living to work. I had been living to work and everything I did orbited work. I had my priorities wrong.

Honestly, I listened to the words, I even used the words over and over again with some of my employees. But the truth is I continued to let my job define me for another 20 years. I was a good employee, I was often times a great employee, I was an ambitious employee and I was a successful employee. I ended my career with TXU at a higher level than I ever thought I would achieve. But, when I left, when we got our corporate divorce, I was relieved. It was time but now that I didn't have my job, my career, how would I be able to define myself, how would I be able to explain my existence to the outside world. When you are employed, that's easy, I'm a lawyer, I'm a nurse, I'm a teacher. Me, I was ---- well nothing for a while and that ain't easy to accept for those of us who have worked all of our life.

And then when Marty got sick her words really came back to me. I still sort of double clutched when people asked what I did, but I knew I was now doing the most decent thing I had ever done. I thought for a while I might be able to teach, but I just couldn't focus enough outside of the house, outside of my new caregiver role, to really give any job it's due. I was doing what I needed to be doing, taking care of my wife.

Should I define myself by what I do now? What would Marty say about that? I don't really know. I don't think any of us are simple enough that we can be defined by something as simple as how we spend most of our time, I think it is much more complicated. I do know what I am doing now is more important to me than any of the work I have done. I do know I am more comfortable being defined as someone who loves his wife and takes his responsibilities to her seriously. Maybe I'm just older, more mature, maybe I finally have my priorities straight, maybe I finally listened to my wife.

3 comments:

Typical in Texas said...

Larry, I've said it before....you are a good man!!

Sharon said...

Okay, then if I'm not defined by what I do, who the heck am I? Good food for thought, Larry. You can add "writer" to the list of who you are...

Matt said...

This is a message that I've taken whole-heartedly into my burgeoning professional life as well.

The work I do at Raytheon is means to an end, not an end unto itself.

The real end is my life outside of my job, my close friends, and my family. Those are the things that define me.