Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Clothes, Identity, and Idolatry

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Who am I?

This week is my younger daughter’s ninth birthday.  She is amazing.

Several years ago, she bought me the best gift I have ever received: a shirt with her picture on it with the caption “World’s Best Dad 2005.”  The picture itself is all ratty and peeled today, but I still wear it at night and to the gym because of what it means to me.  Today I am wearing it under my other shirt right now.

2005 was an interesting year for me. It was the height of my corporate idol worship, and the year I  decided to change my life.   My identity at that time was all wrapped up in my company.  My daughter gave me a present that refocused my identity from “marketer of products that are revolutionizing genetics” to “world’s best dad.”  No wonder I was so happy.

Clothes played a part as I detached my identity from the company over the next few years. The twelfth century Rabbi Maimonides’ taught in the ‘Laws of Idolatry,’ that it is forbidden to wear the clothes of idolators.  Maimonides reasoned that wearing the clothes of idolators was a way of giving tacit approval to the idolator’s value system, and made it more likely that the wearer would start to follow this value system.  On a lark, I stopped wearing company t-shirts on weekends, and found it helped me keep my mind off of work.

Why did this work?  In my opinion, it is one thing to wear a company shirt in the office or at a trade show – it’s like a uniform.  And I had some really cool work shirts.  But what is the purpose of wearing a company shirt after hours?  I was a marketer, and I made cool shirts for my customers to remind them of my product.  The more they thought of my product, the more likely they were to buy it.  So when I wore a work shirt on the weekend,  how could it not make me think about work?  As it was, I thought about work all the time, and the last thing I needed was a reminder to check my email when I was at the park with my kids.

It took me about a year to separate my identity from the company and reorient myself towards the family.  It wasn’t as hard as I though it would be, because it was a series of small steps, each of which brought me closer to my family and friends.  And casting off the cloths of the idolator was an important step in the process.