My new job: learning to be a nobody

People keep asking me what I’m doing now that I have, by and large, let go of what’s been my bread and butter to date — working as a so-called “expert” on gender equality, and climate change and environment in the international aid world.

A lot of the time, it’s a painful question, touching on the worst of my doubts in myself and my journey.

On a bad day, I’ll quibble or bypass the question altogether. On a good day, I’ll happily admit “I don’t know”. On better days still, I’ll say that I’m deliberately slowing down, creating space to let next steps emerge. That I’m working on a few projects, including my pet project, The Good Jungle. That I’m reading, exploring, having conversations. That I’m painting furniture, as a way of coming back to my undernourished manual senses. That I’m exercising and meditating several times a week, looking after myself in a way I aspired to for a long time but to date never have. And feeling so very lucky that I can.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I realise that saying “I don’t know what I’m doing”, and feeling the regret that comes with that, is part of a way of thinking I’ve been working hard to let go of: that the only legitimate way of being an adult human is to have a job title attached to oneself. It’s a way of thinking that rewards you for having a snazzy business card, a steady, upward career progression and the corresponding income and material status symbols. I was really good at this in my 20s. Then it stopped working for me.

This way of thinking does not reward our curiosity, desire to learn and explore, our courage to let go of something or our willingness to swim in uncertainty when the options at hand just aren’t cutting it. Last week, a career change agency asked me to publish my story as part of their success story series. When I told them where I am, they said “no thanks” and “maybe later”.

This morning, a good friend asked me “Who are you?”. That’s a strange question coming from someone who knows you well, but it helped me understand something. I realised that I used to be someone who wanted to be a somebody, and now I’m someone who’s working on being a nobody. Because in a society that keeps us trapped in dysfunctional systems by making us feel like we’re not enough, I can hardly imagine anything more liberating than being really OK with that, or perhaps even loving it.