There’s a sign just across the road from my 84-year-old Scottish cousin’s house that says “Elderly People” and it features two stooped figures walking.
When I drew my cousin’s attention to the sign, mostly because I was surprised at the way the senior citizens were being depicted, she told me, laughing: “That’s not there for me!”
Then added: “That’s for the elderly people over there,” still laughing, as she pointed to the retirement complex up ahead.
And it’s absolutely true – she defies expectations for an octogenarian. This conversation took place in the car as my cousin was driving me home from sightseeing around Glasgow and the township of Blantyre where my father was born, about eight miles (~13 km) out of Glasgow.
We were returning to my cousin’s nine-bedroom home, which she continues to operate single-handed as a Bed and Breakfast. Yes, she’s incredible.
Seven years younger than my Dad, she’s actually his first cousin and my second cousin. Her mother, my great Aunt who has long since passed away, was like a second mother to my Dad.
My cousin remembers Dad spending hours at their house, chatting with his Mum – both as a youngster but also as the grown man who returned from Burma, where he had served with the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Her youthful energy and unstoppable work ethic reminds me so much of my Dad. He gave the same impression that he would go on forever – always busy, constantly looking for new challenges, never one to waste a day.
Dad loved to recount the story of a visit he made to his doctor in his mid-80s, only in the year or so before he died. When the doctor asked him to describe how he had strained his shoulder, Dad explained that he had wrenched it as he jumped down from his tractor. “What were you doing on a tractor?” the doctor asked, to which Dad replied: “How else am I going to get the firebreaks done?”
In the past few days as we’ve toured the sites of my father’s childhood and I’ve chatted for hours with my cousin, there have been many times when I’ve found myself saying to her: “That’s exactly what Dad used to say.”
These conversations have really got me thinking about the nature of identity and how it is shaped.
Dad moved half way around the world from Scotland to Australia as a young married man with two children and never returned to his homeland. However, it’s clearer than ever to me this week that so much of who he was, had been forged in Scotland and in serving Britain during the war. I’m sure there are things he left behind as he continued to learn and grow through his life in Australia, but some of the fundamental values, beliefs and world views clearly stayed with him.
Having just had my job and my job title taken away, this question of identity has extra significance for me. For so many people, their jobs become synonymous with their sense of identity and when they’re made redundant, that becomes part of their crisis.
I’m glad that’s not the case for me, but there’s no doubt that working for a large corporation does influence your identity. There are company values and behaviours to be followed, which ideally have some alignment to your own.
Given my hiatus from work, there’s a lot for me to think about in relation to the way my own values and beliefs have been shaped. What do I want to take with me, is there anything I want to leave behind, and what do I want in my next role?