Academic Jobs Wiki

Non-self, the Art of Dis-identifying (A Buddhist view of job searches)

1,143pages on
this wiki

I'm new to Wiki, so in the case that this is posted to an inappropriate place, please let me know - and give me some hints on how to connect better, please. Thanks.

I'm identified with myself. That's actually a threefold redundancy. I have a view of myself that's based on all of my experiences, all of the interactions I've had with others, all of the feedback I've gotten from those experiences and those people who have given it to me. It's based, also, on my interpretation of that feedback. On how I take it, how I internalize it, how I apply it to the formation of "myself" that I've already constructed. The one I'm tied to. I'm attached to this identity, tied to it. If it's attacked or threatened, I defend it. (Ever wondered why we get so worked up if someone proves us "wrong"?). If it's massaged, I enjoy it, revel in it, am drawn to that person or thing that affirmed "me." There's a dark side, too, of course. There are those conceptions we have that are negative. These we generally keep to ourselves, hold in some dark corner of our psyches, but they're there, hovering, affecting the sense of self that has become the "me" I conceive.

This all smacks a bit of psychobabble, but the basis of it is drawn from the Buddhist understanding of self, or more accurately, non-self (or Not-self, pali = anatta). Anyone who claims to completely understand this is either already enlightened or a liar. I don't, but the thin tendrils of understanding I've gained from this has helped me immensely. Most recently it has helped with my job search. I write this to tell you how - and why.

The more I examine the definition of self I've constructed, the more ethereal it becomes. The more I take a close look at what I identify with and how I identify with it, the less substance there seems to be to the whole idea of self-identification. The less I hold tightly to those concepts ("me") the less I have to justify and defend "myself," the less vulnerable I am to criticism or applause - from myself or others. The advantage of this is that when we can attain even a measure of the equanimity that comes from this, the less tossed around we are by what people think - even by what we ourselves think. We've all known people - or maybe we are people - who undergo a large amount of stress about the opinions others have of them. Their lives, it seems, are driven by these opinions, and they are constantly putting forth a huge amount of effort and energy to manage the perceptions of others. Often this happens with little thought regarding who they actually "are," what they actually think, stand for, value.

I have come to identify myself as a particular "brand" of person. I'm educated. I won't go into how many degrees I have (because it would be a way to manage YOUR perceptions of me!) Having become tied to the idea that I'm an educated professional, being unemployed has affected me greatly. With applications to Harvard awaiting review by HR committees, I stood in line at the state unemployment office today, applying for the job of census taker. During my graduate studies I've been poor. Poverty level, according to the standards. Eligible for - and a recipient of - food stamps, heating assistance, unemployment. Is THIS who I am? Oh no, I'm an educated professional. I'm destined for "greater" things. I will one day wear the mantle of professor, enjoy the automatic reactions people have to the title, have enough money to go to nice restaurants. Right? No really, right??? Well, sure, this is one road my mind travels. The path of self. The path of attachment to accomplishments, of an identification with what people think, how they measure and view me, and how this affects my own view of myself. The other path...the healthier one...the more useful and skilfull the path of non-self. Of reacting neither to applause or criticism, for they are both founded in appearances (honorifics?) and not in truth. They are both founded on temporary actions that are seen, heard, or intuited by self or others.

So, can I wait tables, go door to door and ask questions, brew coffee until my "big break" comes? The answer is not only yes, but it sparks another question, which is: why live in a virtual reality? Why live in what our mind conjures as the future, something that doesn't exist any more than the past does? That "reality", the one our mind dwells in much of the time, is empty and takes the raw experience of our present away from us. So you have umpteen degrees and you're serving coffee (insert any other "menial" job)? Well, yes. And the less I am attached to the identity I've formed for myself, the more of today - and the joy of a brewing a great cup of coffee - I can enjoy.

Any other educated job seekers struggling with the same thing? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Around Wikia's network

Random Wiki