Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The Status Game

on August 20, 2013

On and off for years now I’ve dreaded it when people ask me “So what do you do?”  When I first was laid off, I was embarrassed to tell people that I was unemployed.  When I started ATB Meeting Design I was able to tell people about that, which was OK except that it is very hard to explain.  When I founded the How We Work group with a partner, I had to decide which pursuit I would use to define myself, based on who I was speaking with.  In the last few months, I’ve added yet another company, Moventus, to the list of professional pursuits.  Sometimes I let people know that I write meetings industry-related articles for an online magazine.  If they haven’t changed the subject by that time, I might mention that I have a book for sale on Amazon.  I don’t talk much about the blog yet – it seems like overkill.  I feel schizophrenic when I run the list, and I can see people’s eyes glaze over as I’m talking to them.  I can’t help but imagine they think I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.  It’s entirely possible that I am.

I wonder if we as a society will ever stop defining ourselves by what we do.  A dear friend recently told me that she has a job she loves but that it carries no status – meaning, people don’t respect her as a professional in her chosen field.  I had a job I loved that carried a lot of status, but as soon as I didn’t have that job anymore the status went with it.  In the blink of an eye I went from holding the keys to the kingdom to trying to melt into my plastic chair at the unemployment office.

Status is an illusion, but we all buy into it, pursue it, try to convince others we have it, and downplay it when we think we don’t.  I compensate for my lack of status by listing everything I’m involved in at the moment, because for some reason I still care what strangers think of me.  It’s hard wired into my brain to want to show to others that I meet the definition of “relevant”.  I would love to live in a society where I could say “I want to be a writer, but in the meantime, I’m doing all this other stuff to make some money” – and have that be not only acceptable, but what everyone aspires to do themselves.  There are people out there who want to pursue their dreams, but they’re afraid of losing the status they think they have.  They may admire someone else for taking the plunge, but there is a part of them that thinks that person is an idiot at the same time.

When I think about the people I admire, they are not the people with a lot of status according to society’s definition.  Most of them are artists who continue to pursue their calling in spite of the enormous struggles they face – no money, intermittent work, and sometimes, a lack of support from their family and friends.  I admire these people because they have the courage to keep going in spite of it all.  Sure, there are lots of heartwarming stories out there about artists that struggled and struggled and finally broke through – those people are easy to admire, because their struggle “paid off”.  Those are great stories, but I’m more impressed by people who struggle and struggle doing what they love who never “make it”.  Who do what they do because they can’t do anything else. They have never been “successful” in the eyes of most people, but they do it anyway, and they don’t care what anyone thinks.  The idea of that kind of life both attracts and frightens me.

It is possible that one day I will regain my status in the world.  For a long time I pursued avenues that I thought would result in me getting my status back, but it didn’t work out that way.  I’ve talked about that before, about how I’m now convinced that my motivation for doing something is probably more important that the thing I’m actually doing.  If that’s the case, then, here’s the paradox – I’ll only get my status back when I don’t care about it any more.  I can tell you for a fact that I’m not there yet.  I hope I will be one day; I just have to stop being afraid.


3 responses to “The Status Game

  1. Barbara says:

    Get used to saying “I’m a writer”. Read The Art of Racing in the Rain. Lesson: “your car goes where your eyes go”. You are the third writer this week that I will point to The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. Though he is famous for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance, The War of Art is a nonfiction love letter to all writers. What is your Resistance?


  2. Carolyn Cook says:

    You are a writer. You are a writer. You are a writer. Just say, “I’m a writer.” Because you are.


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