I haven’t blogged publicly much recently. I’ve had some issues that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing openly. Hopefully these are resolving now and I can go back to more regular public posts.

***

Work was hard today. I realised I made a mistake that could have cost us £80, throwing out the office shredder that might have been working because I thought it was broken when it may have been that it just wasn’t plugged in. On testing it again, I think it really was broken, but I felt stupid and feel like I made myself look stupid in front of J again. This may be low self-esteem. Then I had to make some difficult phone calls dealing with someone who owes us a substantial sum of money, but who has cancer. I want to be sympathetic, but, as J said, being ill does not mean being poor, especially in the UK where the NHS does at least mean people don’t usually impoverish themselves seeking treatment. Moreover, this person’s son was supposed to be dealing the matter, but has let it drag on for a year. He said he would pay in two months’ time once J authorised me to waive 50% of the money owed. Again, I want to be sympathetic, but if we just write off large debts it’s not fair on those who do pay. Then I spent most of the day printing off a database again. I did at least listen to music some of the time.

***

On the train to work I was reading The Thinking Jewish Teenager’s Guide to Life by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. Yes, I know, I’m nearly forty, but I feel I haven’t got the “sorting your life’s mission out” aspect of my life down right yet. I have mixed feelings about the book. I’ve heard Rabbi Tatz speak a couple of times. He’s an engaging speaker, and writer, but I don’t always share his outlook on Judaism and life, not least because he’s a Haredi kabbalist (mystic) and I’m not either of those things.

Rabbi Tatz said to draw a circle and write inside it all your character traits, interests and so on and to write outside it all the traits and interests you admire. The stuff in the circle is you. Your mission will involve all those things and only those things. The idea is that you can concentrate on those aspects of your life. Your supposed to be able to do this by the time you are twenty or so, an idea I’ve also heard from another Haredi rabbi.

I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t know what my mission is at thirty-eight! Granted, I’m probably unusual as I have a disability that impacts social functioning (autism) that I didn’t know about until last year; until then I was pushing myself to do things that I just can’t do and feeling guilty or embarrassed about some things that are normal (for me). To be honest, I’m still struggling with this. It has certainly affected what I think my mission in life is and what I can reasonably expect myself to do.

Nevertheless, I’m aware I’ve moved from one career idea to another over the years with no consistency or success. I wanted to be an academic (actually, it was more that I thought I would stay in academia by default because I had no idea what else to do and wasn’t good at anything other than studying), then an academic librarian, then a writer. I have achieved none of these things and currently work in a non-career-advancing low status job. I don’t think your career and your mission are necessarily the same thing (although they are for some people), but Rabbi Tatz implies a strong correlation. I hope my mission is writing, but who knows if it is? And what if my mission is to bear suffering with dignity? It could be. It’s not an optimistic thought. At least Rabbi Lord Sacks said that the rabbinate (let alone the Chief Rabbinate) was his fourth choice career after failing to become an academic (philosopher), economist or barrister. I find those odds more reassuring.

***

On a related note, I’ve been thinking about identity a bit lately, partly the result of reading an article that complained that millennials use medical diagnoses, particularly mental health or neurological conditions, and particularly self-diagnosed from the internet, as their identity. I’m not at all sure that this is true, but it did make me wonder if autism is part of my identity, and what I would consider my identity to be.

I feel like my autism affects my identity, while not being my identity. I don’t feel being a Doctor Who fan is my identity either, although it apparently is for some people. I do feel being Jewish is part of my identity, a key part as it shapes so much of what I do and think, how I see the world and engage with it, but it isn’t the whole of my identity.

In the end I concluded that my identity, inasmuch as I can identify it, is a sort of zone where “What I am” meets “What I do” and “What I think and feel” even though none of those things by themselves would consist of my identity. It’s a dynamic process rather than an objective “thing.” But I’m still thinking about this and am open to suggestions.

***

You may have detected an undertone of self-criticism in much of this post. I have been struggling a bit with negative self-thought today, sometimes apparently justified, like with the shredder, sometimes perhaps not. I’m not sure how justified it is. I guess it’s good that I’m noticing it and being mindful of it.

12 thoughts on “Mission and Identity

  1. I feel similarly about migraines. They don’t define me, but they affect my plans and how I respond to things. In that sense, they are a part of my identity. For example, if I were to date, I couldn’t be with someone who smokes at all nor could I drink alcohol… these both used to be limiting, especially the alcohol part. There are a lot of other things too re noise, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know what my mission is either. I have mixed feelings about the character trait exercise because I feel like my strongest character traits are negative. Like ok sure, I’m a halfway-decent leyner and writer, but you know what I’m *really* good at? Comparing myself to others and being judgmental and pessimistic. Not exactly great starting material for a mission.

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  3. I think anyone suggesting we all have a Mission (capital “M”) really unknowingly puts a lot of pressure. Who’s to say we don’t have several missions? Some very intelligent and significant people throughout history have often worked at several jobs, some very menial. They were often jack-of-all-trades. I can’t come up with “a Mission.” When I think of doing so, my body immediately tenses up.

    I like what Judge Judy (a Jewish celebrity judge who has/had a TV show in the States, if you don’t know) said about work, vocations, and avocations. I found this helpful as I’ve done a lot of different things and am now trying to find something I’ll enjoy, knowing I might have to do things I don’t enjoy to fund the enjoyable pursuits. And things can change with time, like she said. https://twitter.com/forbes/status/1427083941236854786.

    I really want to start compiling articles about people who accomplished things at my age or later. I have often had a feeling that chances of success are slim once you reach a certain age, but that idea should be examined and questioned.

    Regarding how you speak of your autism, I think that your diagnosis is so new that you’re still working out what it means for you. It probably explains a lot of your difficulties throughout life, and that must be a huge relief and feeling of validation, as in, “Soo THAT’s the reason for X,” and X could be anything. And you could be right or wrong. I do notice often you refer to “autistic exhaustion,” but I wonder how you can tell it’s related to autism? I am not arguing that it’s a trait of autism, but that I think sometimes perhaps you’re simply exhausted.

    Labels and diagnoses can be extremely helpful at sort of encapsulating a lot of things we want to say and are experiencing into one neat word, but I do wonder sometimes at what point they also become disabling. I have a narrative for people who ask me various questions, and they are so practiced. “I really have an *awful* memory, so please don’t be offended if I ask your name again.” I am conditioning myself to believe it’s every bit as awful as it was when I had the mild cognitive impairment diagnosis. Believing this narrative is damaging.

    Sorry so wordy. I should blog about this. Basically, I think you are highly successful and will blossom to become more successful after you are married and adjust to married life. There is someone at my synagogue who has high-functioning autism. Unfortunately, several have talked about how he USED to be in not the most sensitive terms, but that his wife has been good for him. Being with her, I think, socialized him to be more comfortable in trying new things. He’s published a few books about one of his passions and has spoken about it at local places like libraries. He’s well over your age (maybe 60?). I have high hopes for you. And you are currently very disciplined and productive. You graduated from a university that only takes the best. Give yourself some credit. I think your future is bright. Truly.

    Shabbat shalom!

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    1. Well, I’m not sure that a person’s job is the same as their mission. It might be for some people, but not for others.

      Re: autistic exhaustion, it is a known thing and it fits with the extreme exhaustion I get. I mean it could be something else, but Occam’s Razor seems to suggest it’s not. But I’m open to other ideas. To be honest, what matters is less what is causing it and more finding a way to tackle it.

      Thank you! I guess I don’t feel “highly successful”. I mean, I haven’t actually achieved much, compared with other people or even compared with what I want for myself.

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  4. We’re supposed to have a mission? Oops, I’m 65 and haven’t found it yet. However, I’ve made goals and met some of them, mostly enjoyed my career but also my life outside it, and generally taken things day by day with an eye to the past for lessons and to the future for hopes/plans. A day job can be simply a vehicle to survive financially while the true enjoyment comes after work with writing or other pursuits.

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