Shapeshifter: Sense of Identity and Job Loss


The seal wife

Shapeshifter artwork: "the Selkie"-Yaamas

Let me tell you an ancient tale I learned from the people of the Orkneys:

There are certain shape-shifting fae folk who live in the ocean. They are seals at home, but they have the ability to shed their seal skins and become human on the land. They would stash their skins behind a rock or a dune and go about. Men were ga-ga about these beautiful, magical “selkie” (seal) women. Women were just as crazy about selkie men. Once a clever fisherman found a selkie woman’s skin and hid it in his house. After the selkie woman was done with her fun day trip in town, she returned to the beach to recover her skin. The fisherman was ready for her. When he saw her, he wooed her and proposed marriage. So the selkie woman became his wife and had him children. All the time she longed for the sea. The fisherman forbade the children to go swimming, but his wife sneaked out to the sea-shore every night to look for her lost skin. One of the barin (children) discovered the skin one day and asked their mother what it was. On a chosen day when her husband was far offshore, she told the barin the tale of the skin as she walked with them down to the beach. Quick as lightning she waded into the surf with the skin wrapped around her and became a seal again. The children ran crying after her into the sea and changed into seals the moment sea water touched them. The fisherman found out what happened when he arrived at home. He lived the rest of his life in regret, mourning the loss of his family until the day he died.

People lose many things when they lose their jobs. One of them is sense of identity. There is an interesting article on Jibber Jobber where the author comments about “loss of identity”– a phenomenon that happens with job loss.

 Read it here:

Loss of identity does not happen to everyone, but more often to those who are emotionally invested in the places where they work.  Badly wounded after the loss of my first professional position, I developed “chronic failure to attatch”; an aversion for “getting too close” to any company. It was step one on the path of becoming a “job gypsy” and a “shape shifter”.

Unlike people who successfully “gain allegience” to their employment, a  job gypsy by default has to derive self-definition from something else other than a job. She therefore is free to “shape shift”,  performing whatever task the company needs like water takes the shape of its container.   Generally, the “regular” staff seldom cares who a shape shifting job gypsy really is. They are only concerned that the project gets done.

As much as I lost, whenever I lost a job (you always lose something),  the one thing I did not lose was a sense of who I was.  I lost sense of direction; I lost sense of purpose, I lost goo-gobs of money, but never sense of identity.  I simply stashed my “skin”/self and became what I needed to become at the site.  A common question I used to get when I did substitute teaching was, “who are you today?” Faculty even spoke to each other as if  I were invisible. Water. Between assignments, I lived life in my own skin; in my native element.  This is how career temps and teacher substitutes stay sane. The self and the company remain exclusive. I heard about one sub who broke the rule. Depression overtook him and he committed suicide. Nobody understood why. You and I know why.

 He never found his skin.


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  1. Pingback: Somebody Lied To Me:Job Loss and Identity 2 « VICTOREE’S BLOG: No White Flag

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