the loss of identity


I feel a bit lost without the business cards from my company to hand out. I still have a stack of them at home, but I don’t use them anymore. Plus there is not as much need for business cards these days when I just stay home most of the time. But I do wonder sometimes who I am without that little piece of paper with a well-known brand logo, my name and a title underneath it. 
It never dawned on me how attached I had become with the company, when perhaps to them I was but an employee number in the system. Of course, I made a difference some how – at least that’s what I’d like to think – but at the end of the day, with my being on sick leave for a few months, the company stood strong (though I wish the share price would shoot back up soon). So it’s more of a one-way street in the big picture. And without this corporate backing, when I met people in social situations as I ventured out again for those limited periods of time my head wasn’t hurting or when my mood picked up a little, it became a bit daunting. They always asked “so what do you do?” And I didn’t really know how to answer.

Most of them probably meant which company I work for and what I do for them i.e what my position is and how senior was I. It was as if the company and my job represented me and established my existence vis-a-vis the people I was speaking to. In hearing the name of the company and your title, people knowingly or subconsciously put you in a little box they have created in their minds and assessed you accordingly. They associate what I do with who I am. Partly they are right I guess. It takes certain qualities for people to do certain jobs.

Yet, what scares me is how much I depended on my business card to tell my story. It does in a way, but perhaps I had become over-reliant on it and allowed it to invade my identity. On top of that, I had probably struggled and worked very hard to achieve that identity and respect from people – yes I am young but yes I already manage a team even though I have no experience, I just learn it, and really, yes really I have worked in London, Paris and Tokyo in the last few years, it’s not a lie, and yes I have  a 4-bedroom apartment and a driver and I don’t pay any rent or taxes, and NO, I did NOT sleep my way up!!! It was a difficult balance – to be assertive and not bitchy, young but not immature, mature but not pretentious, friendly but not flirtatious, confident but not arrogant, and loud enough to be heard without yelling. I survived in a world ruled by the opposite sex, and we were not seen as “precious” because we were the minority, we were simply the minority who fight hard against prejudices against us. Therefore, I battled to safe keep that identity and maintain an image. And for a while, all of it boiled down to the company name at the top corner of the little card, and my title… ooh, Associate Director, I almost drooled over it when I got promoted!

And so, when I no longer was going to work temporarily , I felt like some one had messed with north and south poles’ magnetic fields and my world was in disarray. The compass was lost.  And with that, my self-confidence crumbled. I felt so empty.

That is the reason why when they ask me what I do here in Beijing, why I am here, how long etc, I can only gingerly say, “um, I don’t work right now…” I could not pretend I was working at the moment and yet I didn’t feel like telling my personal story to strangers. They go “oh” and almost cannot wait to run off to talk to someone more interesting. I don’t blame them. I am not very charismatic to begin with so couple it with nervousness – not exactly conducive to socializing. And in a way, I intentionally kept quite a low profile and didn’t talk much in these social settings.

However, slowly the tides turned. I started to become amused with people’s reactions when I say I don’t have a business card. They seem a bit thrown off track. I’ve had quite a few incidents already, when people still try to delve into my lack of corporate backing. Am I trying to do PR here? looking for a new job? teaching English? project manager like many expats out here? doing everything? in an NGO? still trying to settle into Beijing…?

My favorite assumption is “did you come to Beijing with your boyfriend and his company?” It cracks me up. I keep a straight face and say “no” solemnly. They rub their heads and don’t know what else to say. Sometimes I think, “if only they knew”… Then I chuckle to myself.

(And seriously why do people have this stereotype of “expat wives”? Many of them do very admirable things, they don’t only paint their nails and go to tea with a poodle! They probably contribute more to the society through community service than our dear hot shot corporate executives who flap around all day with meaningless emails and redundant meetings, then go drink themselves to oblivion afterwards. Oh wells, maybe their expenses help boost the economy. Something good in everything hahaha)

But of course, I have committed the same mistake as well – ask someone which bank they work for, and with their title, automatically a little formula goes off in my head and I attribute the type of person they are to them, whether they liked it or not. Well, they couldn’t really like it or not, because I don’t tell them I’ve passed judgment on them already and so they had no chance of self-defense. So I’m not blaming anyone. I am guilty as charged.

Not to say a personal branding is not important though, but that can wait. Business cards may enhance my image and represent me, but it certainly should not be my image. Those little cards are really, just a piece of nicely printed scrap paper… it makes me look better, but is not who I am.

My challenge is to remember that…

29 Responses

  1. Eva says:

    Enoch, one of the first things that struck me about meeting you, was how self assured and confident you seemed. It was something you simply exuded. Like you really knew who you were, while the rest of us are still relying on scraps of paper to tell us that. It takes a courageous soul to share what is beneath a polished and elegant exterior. You truly are one of a kind. I want to be just like you when I grow up 🙂 (which is any day now..)

  2. nochnoch says:

    hey girl thanks for the kind words!!! hahahah are u sure you wanna be like me when you “grow up”? i’m always told I’m a bit “bonkas” but if that’s how u’d like to be, then good luck! But i love the way you are now, all that energy and genuine sincerity with people, listening to them. so as much as u are “like” me when you “grow up”, stay the way you are!!!! keep smiling!

  3. kk says:

    hehe i get asked that too. altho i guess i could honestly have said that i followed my hubby here, i found myself hastening to add that i have indeed found a job, albeit part-time. *sigh*, still need to work on the whole identity thing i guess 🙂

  4. kevlaria says:

    Hey, I completely sympathise. I went through a period of drifting and I always dreaded the “so what do you do?” question. Though in reality I think having a business card and a company name to hide behind only allows you to be lazy and not really explain (and in order to explain, really think about) who you are. Nowadays I actually find people with the “oh I currently don’t work now” answer more interesting, ‘cos there’s actually alot more you can ask and talk about. Talking about the company you work for is an easy ‘conversation filler’, but at the end of the day it’s not THAT interesting.

  5. nochnoch says:

    @kk – add oil. but if u are teacher u should be proud of it, u are helping bring up the next generation!

  6. nochnoch says:

    @kevlaria: true true, i wish many more were like you though. perhaps it was the places i used to hang out, but it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk, and brag about was work, deals they’ve done and all that. maybe it’s just us bankers. and perhaps some people dont know how to make conversation so if i say i dont work, they are stuck. but u’re right, those who dont have a 9-5 job are probably more interesting 🙂

    i hope u are not drifting anymore? 🙂

    • Richardo Mustachio says:

      My least favorite question: “so, what do YOU do?” it always turns my stomach and makes me pause, awkwardly, for a few seconds, followed by “ummmn” and then an awkward self-defacing answer along the lines of being a hopeless no-body, jobless dependent person with a (several, depending on my openness {inebriation} ) disorder(s) that hold(s) back my progression in life. (all true)…. For now.

      That is honestly one of my least favorite questions to ask as well. I dont care what people do, more so what they value; art, science, good cheese, alcohol intake, whatever.

      I am not identified or measured (correctly) by the accomplishments of my life, but rather by my survival. You (they) dont know what it takes to live for a single day as myself, and if they could, maybe *that* would be an impressive answer to those shallow quandaries.

      Sorry nochnoch, but who else here feels like second banana next to “awesome banker woman who is also (to the deflation of my ego and devaluation of my being) super-hot and happens to suffer from depression/ is a philanthropist genius angel inspiration maven”? I mean really?!

      Life is a blessing and a curse. We are here, and though we suffer there is beauty. There are things that i have seen, simple things; a sunrise, a birth, the souring of hawks and buzzing of humming birds, new shoots, budding trees, and old edifices that have made my heart cry bitterly in happiness….And daily i look at the world that i, and we, inherit and see only blackness and despondency. What an era we are handed. What do *I* do? What does it matter?

      • nochnoch says:

        Hi Ricardo

        Thanks for reminding me of of the sunrises, humming birds and simply life in general. indeed, what does what one do matter?


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  18. Richardo Mustachio says:

    Off topic, sorry. Bearapy…. I do see some value there, I wish I could make use of that solution, that philosophy. I really do want to listen to you, your circumstances and make use of them, improve myself and all that. I am always more sincere than I sound. Its a defensive technique. I really am incapable of properly expressing my true appreciation, and I do sincerely apologize for that.

    Do you have a secret?

    I have plenty of time to plunge into the void and forget my issues. I have the means and ability to drink myself to sleep nightly, much to the chagrin of my self conscience, and family members who use my “bedroom” as a hallway to theirs. (I am making it worse than it seems, they seem to understand… to a certain degree… my recent step brother is a drunk and a monster of a person (the guy who tried to kill me with a baseball bat while meth-headed. (I am not one to cry fowl, foul, f… whatever…my ability to communicate to anyone is inherently flawed, I only talk to the internet crowd via inebriation. as you might have surmised.

    • nochnoch says:

      hi Richardo

      Hmm… did your doctors suggest you reduce the drinking, maybe that’s one way? I’m not sure. And no secrets, pretty much everything is on this blog!


  19. Richardo Mustachio says:

    Sorry. I am actually doing better now in regards to drinking (and posting). Just decided to and plunged head first, as usual. Not perfect yet, but it has not been that long. Ups and downs, the sin wave of my life. Which looks more like the stock market at times. Depressing? Yes, but I have been showing a marked, if slow and tedious (if oft dismally appearing) improvement since 2008 -which happened to be the worst year of my life despite anything going on outside my room- so, it appears I am doing better than the world’s economy. Ha! I can out-perform tens of thousands of economists, hapless bureaucrats and dubious traders! That’s my sense of self, my identity I have to try and remember; take it all in stride, have a good cry and “bugger on” as Winston Churchill was so famously noted to say. I may fall, but I know I can pick myself up, I always have, I always will.

    Thanks for your patience, and apparent appreciation of my meandering monologues. Kindness, even if only in politeness (and I cast no presumptions, no doubts here) is a rare and precious quality.

    Ah, I do have something to snuggle up to and drown out the world! My murder mysteries! Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, pretty much anything taken from Agatha Christi, made into British TV and located on my hard drive. Big Doctor Who fan too, but I’m not into reruns, and so I wait…..

  20. Chou says:

    Fell out of bed feeling down. This has brgnitehed my day!

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about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.