Since graduation, I’ve been working part time in a job that I — for the most part — really like. Working three short days a week has a lot of benefits — more free time (especially important while planning our wedding), more time spent with Sean. I have time to pursue things I love, like writing, reading, running, baking, etc. Since we never have had it any other way, even making just a part-time salary isn’t really a financial burden. We’re used to it and so we don’t feel a money crunch. I know that this luxury of extra time is a HUGE blessing. I spent most of college longing for more free time, and now I have it.
So why has this transition from full-time student to part-time employee been so rough for me? Since this summer, having this extra time has really thrown me off. I’m not sure what to do with myself where there is nothing to be done. On the days I’m not working, I make long to-do lists to make sure that my time is filled. If I have a free afternoon, I don’t sit down to read or write — I’d feel too guilty because that’s not “getting things done.” In fact, my journal has been the emptiest since graduation than it was throughout the entirety of college, and the lack of prayer that results from little reflection has taken a noticeable toll on my spiritual life. An introvert who needs time alone to recharge, for the past six months I haven’t been able to stand being alone with my thoughts.
Any time I would try to use my extra time for something I enjoy, I’d become stymied by tiny thoughts that turned into debilitating self-doubts: What’s the point of journalling? What is accomplished by reading or cooking or writing a letter to a friend? Most upsetting: What does it say about me that I have the time to spend on those frivolous activities when everyone else I know is busy rushing around to and from work every day? Working part-time has made me feel like a part-time person, worth about half as much as everyone else.
All this has gotten me thinking about the source of my identity. People say “you are what you eat” — am I what I do? A lot of the time, that’s how I act. I am the sum total of what I get done, what I accomplish. What did I accomplish? Not much to speak of. Who am I? Not much to speak of.
Since this is the framework that shapes my self-image, I pursue the only solution that seems logical: do more, be more. Ironically, while looking back into a journal I kept during a particularly stressful semester in college, I realized that no matter how much I do, it’s never enough to shore up a shaking identity:
I got home in time to go to bed by midnight, get up at 7:15, run 4.5 miles, do three loads of laundry, eat a full breakfast and here I am at the library at 10:15 am. I’m not going to church but I am going to mass. And I feel so guilty, so condemned. So much a failure. Why? This is what I cannot figure out, and I need help.” 9.30.2007
Self-justification barely veils a desperate cry to be called worthy, acceptable, even righteous. Does the list of what I can get done during three hours on a Sunday morning cover whatever happened the night before? Will God still love me if I skip church and go to mass on campus? Two years later, it’s difficult even to read this inner turmoil over insignificant points of conscience and moral law that tormented me then.
But the truth is that these thoughts are part of this very same paradigm that drives me to work so hard today to shore up my part-time identity. Whether I’m overextended or not, what I do and get done will never be enough to reach that place where my self-image bottoms out.
This ought to be the part of my post where I reach into the Psalms or the Gospels and dole out some truth about what my Savior and Creator has to say about my identity (and yours, if you’re reading). To be honest, I’m not ready for that yet. I haven’t found the answer to this particular identity crisis — clearly, it’s been on my heart for two years and I haven’t really made much progress. I guess I just noticed this pattern in my life, and wanted to document it because writing about it helps me process. I also hope that honestly addressing these things that we do to make ourselves feel better would grant us some clarity about what is and is not helpful, necessary, or even godly.
I know God loves me no matter what I do — and I know that in spite of that, I keep doing and doing to try to earn His love and approval. I’m so grateful that while I feel stuck in this pattern, God at least sees it, loves me in spite of it, and has plans to change me. That’s all I can count on for now!