As an American who has lived in the UK for an extensive time, I have noticed both countries’ obsessions with defining ourselves, albeit in different ways.
In the UK I can’t fill out a form without having to indicate whether or not I am married or a spinster. Ms., Mrs., Miss, whatever it might be, no online form will submit without that field filled. Mind you, men’s titles are always ‘Mr.’, but that topic is for another day. British people seem to be obsessed with including titles. When it comes to revealing professional identities, however, that is a different story. If you ask them ‘what they do’ too early, or really ever, you are a social outcast. There are some British adults I have known for years where if it weren’t for Google, I might never have known this potentially juicy information. While they will never ask me if I am a corporate accountant or a ballet dancer, it is rare that I will be addressed as anything other than ‘Mrs.’ Stephanie Dawson. I love being married, but why does that have to define me?
And why does my marriage status matter on my online order for council recycling bags?
In the US, it is the opposite. My theory is that Americans are a little less traditional, coupled with the fact that no one can be knighted by the Queen into a ‘Sir’ or a ‘Dame’, limiting the boasting potential of a title. Your profession, however, is vastly important, and along with it can come judgment. When you meet an American, the first words they will say to you are ‘Hi, nice to meet you, what do you do?’. My profession has been a big part of my life, but why does that have to define me?
I get it, I really do – defining people in specific ways helps us to neatly put each other into categories. The problem is that not one thing defines any of us, and each of us can’t be neatly put into categories.
For Stephanie and Yoga, on my website I define myself as a ‘yogi, mother, wife, friend, entrepreneur, and many other random titles’. How could I possibly pick just one? They are all important to me and intertwined. Even the photo shown with this blog post displays me as a yogi, mother, wife, and entrepreneur, all at the same time. Taking it one step further, in what order should the list go? My internal battle goes on.
Work/life balance is part of this conversation. Getting the right balance every day with multiple identities of ourselves can feel absolutely impossible. For many years I put aside my entrepreneur role to prioritize my mother role. That never meant that I wasn’t still an entrepreneur, just as I will always be a mother no matter how independent my kids become. We can’t ‘have it all’ perfectly every single day, but we can have it all spaced out at different times throughout our lives.
The next time you're on the phone with a British customer service rep and they ask you if you are a Mrs. or a Miss, tell them you are a Ms., causing them to waste their time wondering if you are married or not. When an American asks what you do, tell them you are a CEO of a Home instead of a Lawyer, reminding them that the role of running a home is important as well. Embrace all of you. Be all of you. Mess with a few people along the way to put them in their place.
Label me a mother, label me a yogi, address me as Mrs. Dawson if you must (although my name is Stephanie), but with all of the things that I am, I am not a 'ma'am'. Please don't ever call me that.