Monday, March 15, 2010

My Moniker

I’ve been in a struggle for some time to define myself; to find out what I’m good at and who that makes me. This isn’t a rare search, as I’m sure most people with even a slight grasp on cognitive reasoning have also had the same questions.

My cyber-friend Adrienne, whom I’ve never met, made an interesting observation some years back. She said, “The one thing that doesn’t fit is that you’re a banker. That just doesn’t fit the picture I have of you.” When I’ve shared that statement, both with other cyber-friends as well as in-the-flesh friends, they all agree. In fact, I’ve never had one single person tell me they would have pegged me as a banker. If the thing I spend the most time in my life doing is not how people who know me intimately would define me, what does that mean?

I guess the first question arises, well am I good banker then? The answer isn’t as simple as you think. After opening an account for my MIL she made an observation to my wife about me as a banker… “Sam is a different person at work than he is any other time. He was very professional and very good at what he was doing; he wasn’t the normal Sam.” (I wonder what she thinks about, ‘normal Sam’.) She was right. Behind the shirt and tie I can be exactly what is required of me. I know all about banking and its wares, I’m able to sell almost-anything to almost-anyone, and I can handle anything, I mean anything that falls within the realm of banking. I can be a banker; and a good one. So why am I not viewed as a banker?

The most obvious reason (even though I could be wrong) is that I only play banker when behind the shirt and tie. Every good banking manager I’ve had, respected or not, played banker in and out of the office. My current manager likes to say, “I’m always Dollar Bank.” (Bank name changed to protect the innocent.) And she means it. In church, in the Cub Scout troop she leads, with her neighbors, she is always listening and talking in a way to possibly sell a bank product or offer a bank service. It’s not something she’s embarrassed about or can see a line when to stop. It could be a funeral or her son’s piano recital, if she can find a way to offer a, “Features & Benefits” statement, she will.

I see this attribute in many successful people. For them there is no line between what they do professionally and what they do privately. I, on the other hand, refuse to bring metaphorical or physical work home with me. It makes no sense to me to take out my bad day on my wife or spend my free time doing paperwork. I also don’t take, “home” to work with me. If I had a fight with my wife or I’m dealing with my parent’s health issues, I don’t take it out on my clients. In stark contrast, those successful people I mentioned do both all the time. The problem I see is that for most of those people their work life impacts their home more than their home impacts their work life. I don’t think that’s fair and it’s why I refuse to do it. (A lesson I learned early in my marriage.) For that reason alone, I think the Banker moniker doesn’t settle on me. So what does settle on me?

I was watching a show on PBS this afternoon called, African American Lives. It was a show, coincidently, where the host was helping African Americans find their true heritage in what seems like a lost cause considering so much history was lost for these people when they were taken from their ancestral homes and sold as slaves. The host sat down with black people and studied DNA, family trees, and even slave ship manifests in an attempt to find lines of sight. As he met with these people, their names would appear on the screen with a line underneath stating who/what they were. Samuel L Jackson – Actor; Lisa Johnson – CEO; Maya Angelo – Author & Poet. That action of definition got me thinking… what would the line under Sam read? Sam – Banker? That is what I do, right? That is what monopolizes my time, right? Whether I like it or not, my moniker, even though I fight it with every second of my spare time, is Banker. I don’t like that. I can’t even express the distress and anxiety I feel when I think about that.

Growing up I had some clear paths before me of what I was going to be as an adult. According to my parents, God told them three years before I was born that their first born child was going to be a son and his name was going to be Samuel. It was as clear as day to them and they knew without one second of doubt that God’s word was going to come true. (Since I’m here, as their first born and carrying the name Samuel, I guess I can’t argue either.) As parents tend to do, that kind of prophetic word prompted my folks to see a grand plan for my future. Since they were Christians, and in the Christian world as well as the secular, the highest visible rank of Christian service is a pastor, my parents drilled it into my head I was going to be a church pastor. I guess it seemed logical to them that since God foretold of me and then named me, I didn’t have a choice but to become that high visible rank. So before I was born, and without my choice, I had a moniker. But it didn’t stop there.

Since the future is so far away, and bills have to be paid today, as a teenager I went into the family business. My father’s legacy on this planet has two very different, but equally impressive sides. He was a beautifully talented musician, and he was a Master Carpenter. As glorious as his singing voice was and his instrumental talent could be displayed, it never quite made enough money to support a family. He supplemented that by working construction and eventually owning his own cabinet shop. The kitchens he handcrafted were magnificent and his work was something to behold. Since I didn’t get his musical genes, plans were set into place for me to go to business school and then take over the cabinet business. Once again, not something I chose for myself but rather my parent’s strong will set for me. Once again and outside my decision I had a moniker.

I never felt the church calling so I rebelled against the pastor thing. And then a horrible car accident took my father’s business from him. All of a sudden and for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan and my moniker was blank. While I hold no ill will towards my parents for their insistence (and can now understand their desires to see me succeed,) growing up with a plan already in place set me at a severe disadvantage. I was seventeen years old and didn’t have a clue how to make my own plans or chase my own future.

For about six months, I was heavily recruited by the United States Armed Forces. Without trying or even knowing what was happening, I had scored the highest marks in my county and scored in the top one percent of the state of Ohio in an Armed Services aptitude test. Nuclear energy was all the rage in the early nineties and everyone thought I was a genius. What they didn’t know was that I hated school. And so despite their promises of status, officer ranking, sign on bonuses (much rarer in 1992 than now,) and repeated trips to my parent’s home to push the hard sell, I turned down the Navy, the Marine’s, then the Coast Guard, Air Force, and finally the Army. I walked away from money and status because my mind still had this roadblock that my plans were already made and this didn’t fit into them; most ironically, while those plans were crumbling around me.

For the next four years I fought an internal struggle on what I should do with my life. There had been no talk of finding my own way in the world for much of my growing-up years, but now I was being forced to try and figure that out. I eventually met my wife and in planning to marry her, took a hard labor job to support a new house, new car, and a new life. For those four years and the first four years of our marriage, if I had been interviewed for a show like this afternoon’s PBS show, there would have been a blank space under my name. Those were strange years for me.

I eventually took the education and corporate ladder steps to rise to my current title. But during those years, I wrestled with a lot of career thoughts. Should I go back into the cabinet-making business I sort of knew? Should I try my hand in the field of history I loved so much? And what about becoming that farmer I secretly wanted to be my whole life? Could I make any of those opportunities work? They would all be monikers I would be proud to carry, but today I still have one that reads, Banker.

Career counselors would say, and observations of contented people would agree, the people who seem the happiest in life are doing what they want to do; what makes them happy. My manager, who is Dollar Bank all the time, finds the role honoring and fulfilling. She’s yearns to be known as the local banker. That makes her happy. The question I struggle with is what makes me happy?

A couple hidden and often-unspoken barriers to this pursuit of happiness, is this culture’s slavery to money and the fallacy that a college degree makes you a better person. (The latter being relative to certain fields but overwhelmingly a mistruth.) I am the happiest in studying history, tending my garden, and writing; none of which bringing me independent wealth and all blocked from worldly recognition due to my lack of degrees in those areas. So what do I do? How do I pursue them with obvious stumbling blocks across my paths? How do I make them my moniker?

I don’t know how to answer those questions. And so I continue to search for a definition of my life. My only answer is continue to be a Banker because it pays the bills. While doing that I will still write and I will still garden and I will still study history. I will still love them and they will still be what sustains me. My wife loves me for everything I am and everything I do, and gladly sees no moniker under my name except, Husband. My friends love me for the same reasons and gladly see no moniker except, Friend. And maybe when it all washes out in the end, those will be my successes. If only that made the questions stop.


Blogger dynamiteterri said...

i think you have already answered the question in your brief bio--
"I am a Banker by profession, a Leader by passion, a Husband by heart, a Gardener by stomach, a Christian by Grace, a politician by debate, a hippie by beliefs, a writer by inspiration, and a friend by friendship."

7:11 PM  
Blogger *Austin Mommy* said...

Wow, Sam. I definitely vote writer...this was SO well written! Well done, you!

Aside from the details, this could be the words from my mind and heart as well...always wondering who I really am, and was created to be...

Thanks for posting!

7:41 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Very eloquently written. There's a lot of power in names...

8:50 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

And I somehow feel slightly responsible for it all!

I think going against a common trend and declaring that your career is NOT your identity is a good place to start.

I think you can be good at something without being that something.

Enjoyable post!

1:30 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Well written, Friend.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Swedish Mama said...

Well written, but....
we encouraged you to follow the Lord's calling/leading in your life. Preacher, farmer, carpenter, husband, missionary, train conductor...whatever--as long as you were fully surrendered to God and He was your first love, your wife second and everything else in order to please God.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

sam. i loved this post. so truthful. i love that you know what makes you happy. even if it doesn't pay the bills ;) i think there are a lot more people who dont admit that they too struggle with who they really are. i know im on that list.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

While I can appreciate what you wrote, Mom, and don't disagree with you, my take on what you emphasized is obviously going to be different than your's. You and Dad were quite adamant about my calling to be a pastor. The list of other things was an allowable second place as long as I pursued the one-true-path. (And to be honest, the so-called encouragement was later in my teenaged years and right up to the age of seventeen I discussed. I'm not so sure you fully realize the intensity you two placed on my "calling".)

It's funny and a little ironic that some of my friends now have commented that I do, in fact have "pastoral" leadership qualities. Even so, I didn't want that to be the/a primary focus of my story. The intent of that part was to show that I wasn't verbally given a choice for my future during a good portion of my young life and it caused me to learn that pursuit much later than I should have. Again, not a rip on my parents, just an observation.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Dave and Betsy's Blog said...

Love this post Sam!! I love how you are always searching deep within yourself. It's not something everyone does. I guess it's not always the case that the job we have, that we're really good at, is also the thing that gives us life, that we're the most passionate about. That doesn't mean you're a bad banker or shouldn't be one. When I worked in investments and was good at it, I never wanted to talk about the stock market with people outside of work. I just liked leaving work at work. For me, it was a season and served its purpose and I wouldn't trade that experience b/c of what I learned about myself, about work ethic, and many other things.

This is your banking season. And maybe it will be a really long season or maybe not, but what matters is who you are in the process, and I think you're doing a great job of being an amazing person in the process! ;)


8:53 AM  
Anonymous Papa D said...

Sam, I must also disagree with your idea that we wanted you to be a pastor. That word - pastor - was hardly ever spoken in our home. A spiritual leader of some sort, yes, and maybe a whole lot, but this is the first time I ever knew you interpreted that as something specific. I am sorry for that.

On a larger note, this truly was well written. Your inspiration was flowing pretty well as you shared your story. It is interesting how our plans change with when confronted by the major decisions we face when we are young. At 17 I was planning on having my doctroate in music by age 30 and on my way to either playing in, or even conducting, a major American orchestra. But by 30 I had you and your sisters to feed (and boy you could eat!!) and your Mom and I had moved our little family to another state and I was in commercial construction management.

I guess what I'm saying is that you are not the first to try their hand at a few different things before you find your passion, and you won't be the last. As the poem on my wall says, "Life is strange with its twists and turns, as every one of us some time learns". And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you have left 'banking' for something else that suits your "passion quest" better. Just serve Jesus first, never neglect your marriage, and have a little fun along the way.

Like maybe taking a little hike along some famous trail...

7:37 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks, Dad. I appreciate the thoughts. I find it interesting that I remember that time in my life with you and Mom encouraging a very specific "title" and you both remember it more as a "theme". I wonder what that means. Is it obvious I mis-interpreted something or is it obvious you and Mom don't associate your instruction with a what-seems-like negative reaction? In hindsight it's most likely a mixture of the two. While I doubt I made up something that specific that lasted for that many years, I have to wonder whether that may have been your initial instruction and the repreated pushing toward's church leadership I took as a reinforcement of the initial statements. All very interesting. Thanks again for weighing in. Now I have even more to think about. :)

5:46 PM  
Blogger Dave and Betsy's Blog said...

P.S. This also wins the award for longest blog post, I think.


3:50 PM  

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