Your Mind and Your Job Won’t Do It

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my  e-book,  “A Recovery Journey:  The Beginnings”

Knowledge has always been important to me. I grew up believing that if I knew things, I wouldn’t be invisible, especially in a family where high drama and chronic volatility were more the rule than the exception.

Knowing things gave me the kind of security I could not depend on my family to supply. If I had intellectual competence, I knew, at the very least, that my worth would be valued, that I would not be another cog in the machine of my family’s dysfunctionalism.

Little did I realize that, over the years, I often used knowledge as a substitute for living. I came to believe that my identity was exclusively defined by my ability to acquire information, know historical time periods, pass a college test, get a good grade on a paper, give a convincing presentation in a speech class, shape a college lecture.

Knowledge as power certainly has a role to play in my life. If I pay attention to the world I am in, if I read, if I engage in the dialog of what issues are important to me, if I search out answers, my life can actually be fuller. I don’t have to be victimized by ignorance or by someone else’s false narratives.

On the other hand, the acquisition of knowledge does not define the core of who I am. Knowledge does not “teach” me to be loving and compassionate. Knowing the details of somebody else’s life can certainly add to my love for them, but loving them is an internal experience that goes beyond amassing the facts of where they were born or who their maternal grandmother was.

Socially constructed identifiers exist in all kinds of job descriptions of ourselves: she’s a corporate lawyer; he is a Web site designer; she is a teacher; he is a plumber; she is a pastor; he is a deacon; she is a counselor. Or they niche us into personality types: he’s an intellectual; she  loves the outdoors; he’s got a temper; she’s absentminded; he always wants to control; she is irresponsible; he runs from conflict.

None of these job or personality-type descriptions, however, gets at the essence of who we are. That core runs much deeper than a psychological trait or our career descriptions. It is the underlying biological and emotional content of our fears, our instinct to survive, our hunger,  our need for others, our natural inquisitiveness, our transparency, our need for physicality, our intuitive sense that love is a good thing—the content that often gets lost by the social overlays (careers, job titles), psychological defenses (caretaker, taskmaster, controller, intellectual, codependent, family comedian), and manufactured images of ourselves (weak, strong, indecisive, certain, analytical, creative).

And, for some of us, family violence and trauma can drive all those natural sensibilities into silence or into creating personality traits or careers which we believe define our identities.

Knowledge-driven personality types like myself tend to see knowledge as essential to their existence. We believe that without intellectual content to our lives, we fear becoming the hole in the doughnut. Knowledge, then, becomes, for many of us, our security blanket.

The acquisition of knowledge can also give us the illusion of certainty. We can frame reality into neat packages of the “known” believing that all is right with the world. We have gathered in the “facts” and those facts become our ballasts of certainty.

All the knowledge in the world, however, will not enable us to live in the internalized experiences of our daily lives. We can know things about our jobs; we can know how to put wall board up; we can intellectually grasp the concept of interest; we can mentally figure out percentages; we can compute how much the gas is going to cost us between New York and Chicago; we can analyze the gradual increases in global temperatures; we can figure out what we need to do to get a job promotion.

But none of this knowledge will help up us “experience” love or grief, two emotions that often shut down when we are caught up in how we are perceived by others or trapped by the narratives we have created for ourselves as thinkers, doers, or procrastinators.

Our careers also have a way of shutting out the lights of our own natural sensibilities. We become drawn into the manufactured worlds of our job descriptions and learn, early on, that private emotions are to be held at bay while we’re on the job. Over time, knowing what is required in our jobs becomes the primary function of our identities, while our non-job lives become secondary, something we escape into. In essence, our identities become fractured.

In the end, what I “know” or what my job title is will never tell me who I really am.  

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out “A Recovery Journey: The Beginnings”

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