Lately, I’ve been meeting a lot of new people. With each new face comes the same questions: “What do you do? Where do you work? Are you married? Do you have children?” To each I give the same answers. The questions are an attempt to categorize me, to help the questioner understand what we may have in common. By my answers I choose how I am defined. As I have repeated my trite answers over and over, I have come to realize that this story I tell people about myself does little to define who I really am.
Sometimes, when people ask me, “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” I am tempted to skip the arduous explanation of what I do for a living (it really can be quite complicated to explain) and instead tell them what I do that I’m most passionate about. It seems as if that would be a more honest answer and would help them understand me in a deeper, more meaningful way. What I do to earn money to eat and pay the mortgage is not a true reflection of my character and personality. It is, quite frankly, how I pay for indulging in what truly excites me. Now, I know that some of you are fortunate enough to have your work and your passion be the same thing. Bravo! For the rest of us, maybe it’s time to rethink how we define that part of our narrative.
Repetition of an idea can make it become our reality. So, if I repeat over and over again what I’m not, or only a partial picture of what I am, soon I may just become that. Perhaps I will lose the part of myself that is most interesting, that part that is excited about living, the curious, childlike part that is eager to learn and grow.
I suppose there are reasons we give the answers we do. Perhaps it feels safer to be easily categorized into a tidy bundle of profession and family. But wouldn’t it be interesting if we stopped defining ourselves to others as what we “do” and started painting a picture of who we are becoming? Maybe next time I meet someone new I will ask, “What do you do when you’re not making a living?” I think the answers would be well worth hearing and it might not hurt to ask it of ourselves. Who are you, really? You are the one who gets to decide what defines you.