Lesson #2: Our jobs are often our identity. Also, unemployment sucks.
"What do you do?"
So often in this life of ours, we are asked this seemingly simple question. Harmless, short, a great way to kick-start a conversation with strangers. For many of us, the answer is simple: "I work [insert job here]. I am [insert occupation here]. I do [this], I do [that]. This is who I am." Well folks, you don't need us to tell you that things aren't always what they seem.
In today's society, the jobs we take are not just places or professions we occupy from 9-5: they define us. They make and mold us. They can even become our everything.
In season 1, episode 3, "Homer's Odyssey," this is absolutely what we are told. And trust us, we know a little something about how this works from (recent) past experience.
Homer works at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant as a technical supervisor until an unfortunate screw-up, albeit his own gross incompetence, leaves him unemployed. He tries very hard to find a new job. We see door after door slammed in his face, and each missed opportunity leaves him a little more distraught. His old pal, Duff Beer, is there to temporarily fix his woes; at the bar, however, Homer is unable to pay for his drinks. Moe tells Homer he won't cover the tab because he doesn't think Homer will ever get another job. Defeated and broke, he lays around the house like a lump, day after day, sinking deeper into his depression. He becomes unresponsive and distant from his kids. It seems alcohol is the only way to fix his sadness; alas, he still finds himself unable to afford the delicious brew he loves, so much so that he steals Bart's piggy bank only to find a few measly cents. Homer is at rock bottom. He writes a suicide note to his beloved family, ties a huge boulder to a rope, picks it up, and begins marching to the nearest bridge. Homer is his job.
American society is in a rut, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. As of today, California has an 11.9% unemployment rate, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. In a time where so many people define themselves based on their profession, the high unemployment rates across the country have left many of us without an identity. Something as harmless as standing in line at the grocery store can become awkward reaaaally fast for someone who is unemployed. A common conversation starter, like "where do you work?," can become a conversation killer within nanoseconds. While this question was meant to be friendly or light in context, it quickly turned into an embarrassing situation for the unemployed grocery store patron. Seemingly trivial incidents like this may lead to a deflated sense of self-worth or deep depression, like in Homer's case.
Fortunately, Homer stumbles upon an idea that gives him a new sense of purpose: a much needed stop sign at a dangerous intersection. From there, he begins a crusade to make Springfield safer by adding speed bumps, traffic and warning signs, etc. Homer even goes as far as challenging his old employer to change their safety regulations. Seeing that his company might be thrown under the bus for being dangerous, Mr. Burns offers Homer a new position as "safety inspector" at the plant, with a raise. Homer's "movement" to get people to pay attention to safety eventually paid off for him in the end, and he was able to find something he was passionate about and turn it into a job.
What we took away from this episode is not just that it sucks to be unemployed (because IT DOES). In fact, it's much more than that. If you have a full-time job, you're spending over 2,000 hours each year doing it. In that respect, it's hard not to identify yourself by your profession. When you lose your job, it's more than just not having it, but also the baggage follows: being broke, being depressed, feeling worthless or feeling unable to provide for the ones you love...it's losing a piece of who you are. We need to find a way to discover who we are outside of our professions. Define yourself first, then get a job that fits your definition of yourself.
PS: It has only been two weeks and we have already spawned many philosophical discussions and soul-searching within ourselves, not even related to "The Simpsons." This is going to be AWESOME. :)