The Apprentice: What defines manhood?
By Kizzy Katawonga, Uganda:
“So, what do you do?” – a question that you hear almost in every social setting, and one which I've had difficulty answering for a long time now.
You see, I spent the whole of 2014 and part of 2013 unemployed and unable to get much in the way of gainful work.
It has to have been one of the most personally challenging times of my life. Primarily, because of my responsibility as a husband, a father and my desire to take good care of them and giving them a good life like most men desire to do. But there is also an intrinsic value and self esteem derived from work and the recognition one earns as a result.
Men, it seems, get a lot more from work than just a paycheck. For centuries, men have been getting their identity from the work they do. This has invariably led to a dependence on our title to define us.
Why is this? Perhaps, it's because men crave respect like oxygen. Work, especially the highly-paid and socially praised, earns men a lot of respect.
I've looked at the differences in men's responses to that opening question with deep interest. The difference in a man who can say “I'm a C.E.O of XYZ, the largest such company in the market” and how wildly it varies from the guy who vigorously avoids saying “I am unemployed”.
Interestingly, it doesn't matter if 'Mr. C.E.O' is dressed in torn clothes and 'Mr. Unemployed' is in a fine suit at the time of asking. The response received is always clear. People respect titles. Men need respect, therefore they seek the highest title.
My personal answer has been “I'm a full-service husband”. It evolved from an embarrassment in saying, 'I'm an unemployed man sitting at home.'
Yes, I confess. I also want the respect that comes with a glamorous title. My confidence was at an all time low because I couldn't answer the what-do-you-do question ‘satisfactorily’.
Dealing with being unemployed brought out ugliness in myself that I never knew existed. Suddenly I didn't think I was a man because I had no job.
Because I had no job, I couldn't provide well for my family so I was now a bad husband and father. I had no job and suddenly I was not considered man because I wasn't doing anything “productive”.
And the more I looked for work and failed to get it, the stronger the idea that I'm not much of a man grew, because I couldn't even get a job in the first place.
I became angry, bitter and frustrated. I was burdened with shame and guilt. I withdrew into myself, hiding from the world as much as I could. It was just easier to be unseen, unnoticed.
This got me thinking though. Why do we, men, depend so much on our work to define us? Are we really what we do or is what we do merely an expression of who we are? Must I be a doctor, CEO, Entrepreneur, Engineer, Plumber, Pastor to be considered a man? How do those titles or jobs define who I am as a human being? Why should I think that I am much less of a man because I don't have a respectable career or vocation?
Let's be clear. Being unemployed for an extended period of time can be an incredibly difficult thing to deal with;whether for a man or a woman.
The stigma, shame and frustration can shatter even the strongest person's self-esteem; even more so when you are responsible for the lives of others who depend on you.
But work, titles, achievements are poor definers of manhood. A man's identity should never be hinged on anything outside of himself; Not his work, his relationships, his bank statement and certainly not his car.
I think identity should be found on nonnegotiable principles like integrity, excellence, faith, kindness, humility, diligence, responsibility, accountability…
These are all things that are internal and aren't dependent on anyone or anything outside of the man. Whether a man is successful in a career or not, married or not, educated or not, if his identity is built on such principles he will inevitably express them and succeed in all that he sets himself to do.
So now, when someone asks me, “what do you do?”, I am more confident in my answers. My having work or not doesn't make me any less or greater than my true awesome self. I am a complete man even when I may not be employed. I don't have to prove my worth to anyone by having the coolest job, bank balance or the fanciest car.
True manhood is striving to be the best you, whatever the situation; taking responsibility for one's self and those around you, being authentic and full of integrity.
So men, don't be shackled by that job; it doesn’t define who you are. You are far more than it or anything else in this world.