‘I was told I shouldn’t wear my Doc Martin boots to work because they didn’t look “professional”‘.
‘Don’t give me that’, I said. ‘They may not look lady-like, or look like the corporate image, but that has nothing to do with professional. In fact they pass workplace health and safety regulations, are comfortable and sturdy, and I’m not worried about what gets splashed on them!'” Catherine
ARE YOU A PROFESSIONAL?
The word ‘professional’ originally meant that you were following a particular occupation to earn your living. It then acquired the more elevated status of belonging to a particular group of workers (white collar). It now suffers from overuse and carries strong connotations of certain standards of behaviour that remain mysteriously undefined. Elevation of ‘professional’ to heights of authority and glory it never before possessed, has left both professionals and non-professionals wondering what they don’t have that ‘the true professionals’ do. For Catherine, it was clear she lacked a corporate image.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK
Aren’t we first and foremost human beings, some more skilled and experienced in helping others, some with more knowledge in a particular field, and some earning more money than others? Is the aspiration towards caring human virtues within the field of care being forgotten in striving for an elusive professional image?
As a birthworker, it is likely you will have higher expectations of yourself than those working in many other professions. Your work may embrace you and you it – much more than you are aware of, or anticipate. But regardless of how committed or connected you are to your work, it can be a useful practice to remind yourself that you are an ordinary person full of human qualities and imperfections.
There is a tendency to identify ourselves with our work – ‘I am a careprovider, midwife, professional etc….’ This can be dangerous. By always identifying with our work role, the expectations we constantly impose upon ourselves in order to live up to an image or ideal of whoever we think we are can become unbearable.
Identifying only with our role serves to reinforce power structures and power struggles. And these power structures and struggles are reinforced not only in our work relationships, but also within us. One of the down-sides of the ‘I am my work’, or ‘I am a professional’ syndrome is that it can engender an over-inflated sense of personal power, making us more self righteous and authoritarian. For example, ‘I am the doctor, lawyer, etc., so I know more than you’ – (I’ve heard it called the ‘ITYATI syndrome’ – ‘I’m trained you aren’t that’s it!’). This attitude can easily convince others (and ourselves) that we are in full control, and taking full responsibility, because we identify ourselves with the ideal of power and authority that these professions have long represented. At the other extreme, identifying with our work can also be disempowering if we see it as unimportant – ‘I am just a housewife, just a mother, just a patient’. It can also be used as an excuse to not embrace the natural human impulse to care for others, or do anything that seems to lie beyond the realm of our chosen identity.
This traditional Sufi tale could be a metaphor for the pitfalls of living a strictly professional life:
‘It is narrated that Mulla Nasrudin (a spiritual teacher) was once trying to walk along the top of a very high wall which was only about three inches wide. The crowd had gathered as he climbed to the top. When he fell down and twisted his ankle, people rushed up to him to find out what he had been doing. ‘I have been demonstrating,’ said Nasrudin, ‘ that you cannot walk along a high wall which is exceedingly narrow without falling and twisting something.’
If ‘professional’ to you implies skilled to the point where you may never be in error, it can be extremely difficult to deal with what you may experience as mistakes in your work. You may be plunged into despair over your shortcomings, regardless of your training or status. If you accept that you are human, and therefore prone to occasional error, you may find it easier to reconcile making a mistake. Should you know everything and have all the answers? Especially when you are working with one of life’s most powerful and profound experiences? Another downside of promoting yourself as the invincible ‘professional’ is how easy it is to then blame someone or something else, and also for others to blame you for not living up to their expectations of you.
As a wise person once said:
‘It is a great human failing that we deal with tragedy by apportioning blame.’
Conversely, joyous moments can send you soaring into heights of ecstasy where life is full of great meaning and purpose. You are worthy and important! Or was it the moment that was worthy and important and you just happened to feel very connected to that moment, experience, or person? Do we really have so much significance and power that we can always determine and shape other peoples experiences all by ourselves?
‘I AM A HUMAN BEING – SO ARE YOU’
It is our human qualities that bring nobility and fulfilment to any work and to our lives. It is not so much who we think we are, what we do in life, how many qualifications we have, or what we wear, but how we do it. Reminding ourselves that we ‘work at’ or ‘work as’ helps us interact with others from a place of equality.
Care-providing is a very subjective profession. If we remain humble and attentive, human and interactive, then the joys and tragedies in our everyday work can be shared from a basis of everyone doing the best they can with the skills they have in any given moment. Consider this empowering proposition:
‘If the success or failure of the planet and of human beings depends on How I am and What I do, Then How would I be, and What would I do?’ Buckminster Fuller
Notice if you have a tendency to say ‘I am a nurse, doctor, midwife, care-provider, professional…’ when you talk about your occupation.
Notice how it feels when you sometimes consciously say ‘I work as a nurse, doctor, midwife, care provider etc.’
Does this way of presenting yourself feel different? Is it more, or less comfortable? Does it require effort?
Notice the people in your life and your work hierarchy who identify themselves with their work.
How does it feel to consciously identify with those in your work hierarchy as human beings first?
Notice how it feels to start considering and appreciating yourself as a human being, rather than as a professional care-provider.
How does it feel to consider the human needs of those you are working with, including practical considerations of comfort?