My place of employment has just been hit with a tornado of sorts, leaving behind a new world that is governed by the “pink slip”.
There is little decor in this building other than the occasional employee that goes overboard to create a “home-like” atmosphere of a cubicle that will always be ugly, beanie babies and photos of children, grandchildren and dogs all assembled together without symmetry. The atmosphere fits the decor and now resembles a morgue as people walk with shoulders slumped, not making eye contact, lost in a world of uncertainty. The only sounds are whispers heard behind file cabinets and cubicles as employees exchange information on who is losing their jobs and what that means for the rest of us. Tempers are short and small talk is non-existent in our world, dictated only by pink slips and pink slip repercussions.
Pink slips – a term that has been about since the early 1900’s and they used to, quite literally, be pink. Arriving unexpectedly with the cash from final wages they announced to the unlucky employee that they were done. Terminated. Fired. Though news of termination is no longer on pink paper, the metaphor remains and people across my agency are living in the world according to the pink slip. It’s a bleak world for it exposes a societal weakness in recognizing people, not for who they are, but for what they do. Our identity has become significantly wrapped up in what we do so pink slips, illness, change in a child’s needs – anything at all that disrupts employment also disrupts identity. If I receive a pink slip I will no longer be able to claim an identity.
When you introduce yourself in Pakistan or Egypt you rarely introduce yourself by what you do, rather who you are or whose you are – meaning who are your grandparents, parents and other members in your community. While living in Arizona and working with Navajo and Hopi tribes I found that Native Americans introduced themselves through their tribe and mesa. In the West we are introduced by what we do. You cannot escape a social gathering without being asked what you do and where you work. Who you are is far less critical to the conversation.
I’m not sure when our society adopted this as a cultural value and I will not rail on the “good old days” because “good old days” are never as good as they are assumed to be and our current reality is not as terrible as it is made out to be. But I will say that I wish to not live my life according to the character that has been carved for me in the temporary world of employment. There is a bigger picture that creates a more purposeful place for me as a person than my employment will ever be able to offer. While I recognize and am grateful for work as a gift, I reject the idea of work being an identity.
As I ponder this while walking through the halls of this world, I realize I may quickly have to put my post into action as none of us are immune from being affected by the world of pink slips – it’s a reality.
But I still write these words so I will remember that who I am is far bigger than what I do.