Last month, an old friend reached out to discuss her fear that her husband was suffering from something she called, “Work Separation Anxiety.” Not only did he struggle with committing to take vacation days, he also had trouble taking time away for “life or death” absences such as loved ones’ funerals or his own hospital stay.
I did some research and it turns out anxiety about missing work is pretty common. Regardless of age or gender, we take a healthy slice of our social and emotional identity from our vocational choice. We grow up and “become” our job title. Ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, and you hear career choices, not qualities such as kind, loyal, or honest. We value the roles we play as cogs in the occupational machine rather than how we’re choosing to play our roles.
If we identify ourselves with the tasks we complete on the job, it makes sense that we’d harbor a deep-seated fear of who we would be if those tasks went undone in our absence.
This summer, I’ve celebrated the retirement of several good friends. I never sit back and think, “Goodness, the world has lost a great paper-pusher, verb conjugator, diagnosis maker, or kitchen contractor.” Instead, my thoughts turn to the rich, non-job-centric opportunities that each one will now have time to pursue.
Separating ourselves from our occupational identities shouldn’t be a painful, anxiety-provoking experience. It should be embraced as a chance to finally figure out just who -- and how -- we want to be now that we’re finally “all grown up.”
I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.