This summer has been a
tough summer of questions. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my future and what I want it to look like, and frankly, I’m a little lost. I know I have a great life – and for that I am grateful – and I am content with what I am doing, but I am now facing significantly more questions than I have answer and it makes me … anxious and uncertain.
One of the “issues” I have been contemplating recently – and regularly – is in regards to my status. As many of you know, I currently work in a field where I am arguably in the top 10% and this makes me feel as if I should be immune to the feelings of “status anxiety”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Am I proud to call myself a lindy hopper? Yes. Am I proud of my accomplishment? Yes, absolutely. Do I get a sense of fulfillment working with the lindy hop community? Yes. Is there any other job I would like to be doing rather than the one I have? At the moment, no not at all. Do I feel like my opinion is valued? You bet. So what’s the problem?
I remember when I started traveling a few years ago, I was on a plane heading back to Pittsburgh and I somehow fell into conversation with the other two passengers in my row. They politely asked if I was headed home, was I from Pittsburgh, what did I do for a living, and so on. After the couple was finished inquiring about my life, I asked them the same questions. Low and behold, Janet* was a psychologist and her husband Mark* was in banking. Janet talked to me about a number of studies she was doing and I drew comparisons to a number of the ones I remembered from my time in uni. After a very fun conversation, Janet looked at me and told me something to the effect: “Wow, you’re really smart. I assumed when you said you were a dancer that you didn’t have an education. I’m pleasantly surprised! But I must ask, if you have a degree, why aren’t you using it?”
I wish I could say I was shocked, but in all honesty I wasn’t. I think at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a “professional lindy hopper” so I wasn’t offended – I was still trying on the idea. Keep in mind, this was also at the time where, I believe, my parents thought I was going through a phase and was eventually going to move on and get “a real job.” (In fairness to them, I assume the way I spoke about being a full-time lindy hopper left them wondering.) So…..I told Janet something along the lines of: these are the years to chase my dreams, I’ll go back to school later, I’ll eventually get a “real job”, blah blah blah….
Here’s what that moment did for me: the seeds of “status anxiety” had been planted long before and that particular comment had just watered them! The seeds had been planted by the community I grew up in. I came from a community where many of my peers went to ivy league schools; they became doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and bankers; they drove BMW in high school. It was a community where parents didn’t dream of their kids becoming “dance teachers”, but powerful, high-earning members of society. I remember growing up thinking I’d be an accountant, or at a minimum be on a five-year, six-figure earning path. Clearly, that is not the path I followed.
In a way, one could say my fears had been confirmed that day on the plane – being a dance teacher wasn’t as prestigious as being anything that directly used my degree. I kind of felt like I had failed, like I had made the wrong choice, that I was choosing a lesser life. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself, “even an outside source, one that is in no way connected to me or my life, has just invalidating me being a dance teacher. Now what?” I don’t believe that is what Janet was intending, but that is the message I took away from that encounter. I felt like it would have made sense to her that I would be a dancer because I didn’t have an education, but since I had a BA, she was surprised that I chose to dance.
Fast forward to tonight. Here is a snippet from the article I was reading on Big Think about Status Anxiety:
One of the main social/psychological ills Alain de Botton, author of Religion for Atheists and The Consolations of Philosophy is seeking to remedy is what he calls “status anxiety.” In capitalist cultures, he says, […] the first thing we ask someone is “what do you do [for a living].” It’s like that sniffing ritual when two dogs meet: “Sniff. Sniff. Aha. Gotcha.”
Typically, says de Botton, depending on the response to the job question, our interest in the other person rises or drops sharply off. This, he points out, is terribly sad, misleading, and productive of all kinds of harmful social division and personal suffering. Why should we be tribalized or ostracized on the basis of one (admittedly time-consuming) aspect of our lives, our deeper (and, de Botton argues, more important) human traits invisible until/unless we’ve passed the sniff test?
Ok, so now that you have some context, watch the video.
“Job snobbery – what is on your business card determines your identity.” Well, shit. This finally helps me put words to the feelings/fears I’ve had surrounding this issue.n But how do I fix this?
Why do I care what non-artist think about me? Do I see myself being a “professional lindy hopper” when I’m 38? If so, what will that look like? If not, what do I want to do instead? Will I have a family? If so, what I am doing to work towards having a life that supports having a “traditional family?” Do I want to have a “traditional family?” And so on….
Clearly this is an internal struggle I have to deal with. At some core level, I question the prestige connected to being a dance teacher. I further wonder at what age do I think that degree of prestige – assuming I think there some – levels off or bottoms out? Do I really feel that way, or is what society has told me? If I am happy with my life, who gives a shit what “society” told me? What makes you happy (or is this the wrong question to be asking)?
How about you – have you experienced this? When you tell someone about what you do for a job, do you feel like you’ve been judged? Do you care? If you used to care but now don’t, what changed?
Ahhhh, yes, the game of question. 😀 I’m pretty sure I’ve had these questions for sometime now, but I’m finally brave enough to think about them and try to address them.
*Names have been created for sake of the story.