Wearing labels and personal identity

To some people defining yourself by your work is an odd thing to do. But I’ve pretty much always done that.

I grew up in a family were “it’s for work” was a catch-all remark to justify and trump anything. There isn’t a single thing I can imagine that my parents would have thought important enough to get in the way of something “for work.”

When I worked for the Conservatives I was a constituency agent employed by the local Association. There was only one agent so inside the Association the person who was the agent was only ever known as “The Agent.” When I became married my wife was instantly and from that point on only known as “The Agent’s Wife,”  which amused and annoyed her in almost equal proportions.

Being an agent is a full-time job, as in 24/7 x 365 days a year. Very few if any agents (“in my day”) had a life outside being an agent. It was not only our job, it was our social life. We were in the office, around the constituency or in Westminster morning afternoon, evening, and very often night-time until the small hours. I must have been home twice because I had two daughters during those years, but to my shame I have to confess that during my agent years I saw very little of them.

When I went back into the business world as a head of communications, it used to amuse my daughters that when I took them into the office – on a great many weekends and Bank Holidays – when I announced myself through the intercom at the security barrier to my office building I always said “Mike Love Communications.” My daughters used to parrot this as though Communications was in fact my surname.

In my subsequent career I went through a number of jobs for shorter periods of time and three redundancies. The post redundancy periods were times when I felt as though I had no identity. Having work taken away from you can be a pretty traumatic experience if you are the sort of person like me who makes work their life.

These periods were actually very short and I was soon back into work, but for me they felt at the time and still feel now like the longest times in my life. I woke up every morning believing that I would never work again.

If you have hobbies or interests outside work then these kinds of enforced break can be good times to have, particularly if you enjoy travelling or want to try something new. However I have none of those things and so I used to “go to work” in my home office every day and read and write as if I was at work.

Now I’m writing this I’m beginning to understand why some people have thought I’m more than a little odd!

My advice to people has always been to do the opposite to me. Work to live, not live to work. Apart from anything else that attitude makes it easier when you retire, as I am now.

Being retired officially as of two weeks time is somehow another loss of identity. My slide into retirement has been a gradual one over the past couple of years, so it’s not going to be a shock to the system, but it is nonetheless another one of life’s big moments of change.

Not being “The Agent”, “Communications”, or “Mr Chairman” means I only have Grumpy Old Git as a label left!

My daughters will be quick to tell me that my job is to be father and grandfather, which are much more important roles to have after all.


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