Earlier this week, I attended a dinner hosted by a dear friend and former colleague. A woman for whom relationships are like oxygen, she reached out to several dozen women she knows both professionally and personally and asked if we’d like to meet up. Nearly everyone responded enthusiastically. Schedules being what they are, ultimately 14 of us were able to come together for dinner. We started at 6:30pm. When I got in my rideshare to go home, it was well after 10pm.
This was the first semi-professional event I’ve attended since starting my leave, just over two weeks ago. [Note: I feel like I’ve just started and also been away for ages. It’s cognitive dissonance.]. It’s also the first event I’ve attended in my adult life without what I think of as my shield of worthiness, my armor of instant credibility.
Right now, I’m working on myself, including figuring out how to define myself other than by my job title. When I first started telling people that I was taking leave, it was from a defensive posture. I was convinced that, without the mantle of my job, I was somehow less valuable as a person (thanks, Jerk Brain!). I am so used to leading with my job as a kind of de facto membership card—“See! I really do belong here!”—that not having it leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. Who am I without that imprimatur?
I’d love to say that I had this breakthrough moment where I eschewed the institutionalized social convention and simply said that I was me, working on me, without once mentioning my regular job. But, I didn’t.
I still feel like a fraud. It isn’t rational, but it’s real.