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The Identity Trap

Picture of author outside his former office.
Me outside my former office

All of us can fall into the trap of identifying ourselves by our job. The longer you are in a particular job, whether it be in a food factory, a delivery driver, a teacher, a policeman, a farmworker or a Bank manager the more your identity is entwined with your job. Especially as you get older you enter a battle of having a coherent sense of identity determined by how you consider your past, present and future. Who you are and your role in life become blurred as you become your job. I experienced this as I did the same job for 33 years. But fortunately I changed my view of myself before I was made redundant. But, part of my identity will always be in my old job.

This can be a particular hazard for those people that are born into a family business, especially farmers as they have expectations unconsciously and consciously put on them almost from birth. I have seen this in my own experience, my father had a TV shop in Spalding and when I was at both Primary school and Secondary school I had teachers say to me, “ There is no point teaching you anything as you will go and work in your father’s business.” Whilst this was an option for me, it was never my intention. I wasn’t the only child subject to such assumptions. Nowadays such biases are quieter and harder to detect, which can make them worse.

Here is a particular trap for a farmer. He can be brought up on a farm and spend much time with his parents helping on that farm from a very early age. We see such a thing on TV when we see Amanda and Clive Holden on their farm in Raven Seat. Such involvement will be echoed on different types of farms in different parts of the countryside. It is also a hazard that expectations of succession and inheritance can be built into the farming family as the business does not just become a source of earning a living, but also a sense of place, a source of memory and nostalgia. A farmer becomes as part of his farm as much as his legs are part of his body. This can be a great source of well-being, however the expectations it carries can become an albatross around the farmer’s neck.

If we look at British farming from the mid-twentieth century we see that the number of farmers have reduced dramatically. We can see the writing is on the wall for another generation of farmers to have to take the tough decision to end or amend their livelihoods as they know it. With this goes the additional burden of identity formed largely by how they view their past, present and future being challenged. Successful farming relies upon making profits, looking after the environment, and looking after people. Farmers are very good at overlooking the last bit of this equation, especially when it means looking after yourself. This can put you in a situation where because you are so enveloped in your current job and its identity you simply cannot see or imagine anything else that could be as fulfilling. This view can mean that you end up not managing change and having changes forced upon you by forces other than your own will. This creates the perfect storm for the farmer as he risks losing his livelihood, but worse still his identity. This can lead into despair rather than being happy with your life.

So how can the farmer, or any other person, try and protect their wellbeing and view of their identity:

I would suggest some of the following actions may help you become more resilient in yourself:

Connect with people – this can be very hard for the busy, remote farmer. But this is an essential key to wellbeing. It is always best face to face, but do not wait for people to phone you, phone them, and be curious about what they are doing, thinking. Be interested in others. A good way of doing this is to find people with a common interest, whether it be be something that’s an existing interest or something new. You can connect with people on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, but take care to ensure you keep this a positive experience.

Take care of your mind and body – this means proper meals, sleep and acknowledging if you do not feel well or need help.

Take notice – this is a mindfulness trick, but once you start noticing simple things like the details of the countryside, its sounds and creatures, or even what your neighbouring farm is doing it can help you reflect what really matters. Taking notice and being interested in others may also help them as well as yourself.

Learn something new – this may be as simple as reading a book or magazine or actually having a go at something totally different whether it be origami or salsa classes, wood carving or karaoke.

Do something for yourself – a big mistake we can all make is to try and do everything with our partner or family. Doing something just for yourself can help you preserve your own identity rather than the other badges you carry such as parent, child, farmer, etc.

Emotions – look for what is good, but also allow yourself to be sad. Tears and smiles both have their role in life.

Giving – do something nice for someone else without expecting of reward.

Accept who you are and where you are. Life is not perfect but by accepting where you are it may help you understand what actions you need to take to change or preserve your future.

Direction – you need to understand what direction you are currently heading, this can be painful. At the same time you need to understand what direction you would like to be going. If you cannot see how to achieve what you want ask others that you trust or seek help. Just having somebody listen to you can help you establish your own direction.

Remember: You are not alone. People do not give to rural charities for them not to be used by the community.

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