Day by day
Life experiences mold our identity
No person is just one thing.
Recently, I was remembering some of the last words Mike Tikson said to me the day before he died.
“You were never just a secretary, Liz.”
I had been his secretary at Battelle from 1978-1987. We had stayed in touch over the years, but his final words continue to stick with me.
We all wear many hats throughout our lives. Sometimes the hats I wore didn’t fit well and I discarded them. At times, the hat was so unique I didn’t quite know if it fit. But I hope I’ll always remain a wife, mother, stepmother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor and a Christian.
Those are roles, not jobs, I’m aware. Through my life I have been student; waitress; cafeteria worker; shoe salesperson (one thing Mike and I had in common, and he was a retired Air Force colonel); receiving clerk; secretary to researchers, engineers, doctors, nurses, social workers and computer technicians; and I have worked in administration of medical databases (before Windows), as a reporter and lastly as a teacher’s assistant for children with special needs.
Some jobs taught me integrity in the workplace; some gave me great on-the-job training, while others were riddled with problems that led to amusing war stories to tell, especially to young people just starting out. Having realistic expectations is a good thing, and aspiring to improve in the job is one of the best things we can learn.
But in all those jobs, I was never just one thing, and I wasn’t the job itself.
Those roles and jobs, along with other life experiences I’ve had over the years, developed who I am today. The day-to-day routines that were typical with the positions, the people I met, the new challenges I faced and the goofs I inevitably made were all part of the whole.
So when he said I was never just a secretary, he meant that the other roles in my life spilled into my daily work. Being a secretary was how I earned a living. But with his guidance, I learned more than how to greet people, type reports and organize meetings and the like.
When I first came to him with a problem, he listened. Then he gave me a life lesson I would use many times over.
“What do you think we should do about this?” I wasn’t sure. No one had ever asked me to offer a solution. For that matter, my opinion had never been sought out. It felt good but was also unnerving.
He went on to say that I should try to think of a solution and bring it to him to consider, even if we didn’t use the idea. I did as he asked and we used my idea.
I learned to detect and present problems, yes, but also think of at least one solution. That tidbit has served me well in all aspects of my life.
Over the years, I have reinvented myself, you might say. Circumstance required it with my diminishing ability to hear and experience in jobs that required it. I had two years of college under my belt, but one year in music and the other in special education didn’t find me jobs.
About 13 years ago, about the same time my hearing was restored with my first cochlear implant, I learned about experiential studies through Ohio University. I applied, was accepted and spent a few years documenting my experience, which turned into college credit.
I gained more than 50 college credit hours from that effort and years of varied life experience. Had I not met the challenge of trying new things, this education might not have happened. I like to think my determination to reinvent myself was a positive outcome of going deaf. My appreciation of hearing again is never ending.
The news is littered with stories about the jobless rate, unemployment compensation and letters to the editor with comments on both sides of the subject. The jobs are there if those seeking employment are willing to reinvent themselves or realize they are not just one thing. Taking a job “beneath” their qualifications might be a hard sell to the potential employer. They tell you that you are overqualified.
Maybe then a potential employee might say, “But I’m not just one thing and I want to work.” Then when the door opens, walk through and don’t disappoint.
Then we prove our worth. It’s not an easy walk but we don’t strengthen without effort.