Most of you read that headline and immediately thought, “I’m an accountant.” “A fireman.” “A secretary.” Or, “I work on an assembly line.” “I’m a postal worker.” and so on.
Most Americans, for whatever reason identify with, and get their self-worth from, the job they do.
And for many, when they lose that job, they lose who they are. They sink into depression and feel like they’re less than human, half a man (or woman).
Why do we associate who we are with the job we do? Why do we place so much of our personal value upon such a transitory, ephemeral thing as employment?
I’m not saying having a job isn’t important. It is. We need to have an income to pay our bills, feed and clothe our family.
But it shouldn’t identify us.
Especially when it can be ripped away so easily leaving us feeling vulnerable and naked.
When answering the question, “What do you do?” we should think of the real things that make us who we are, the things we do that make us happy, make us feel alive. The things we’re passionate about.
So instead of what do you do, how about we ask each other, “What excites you?” What energizes you?
Do you enjoy reading? You’re a reader. Be proud. Talk about your favorite book, your favorite author. When asked, “What do you do,” reply, “I’m a voracious reader. I’ve finished 10 books this month. My favorite was Such and Such because this happened and the writer hit me right in the feels.”
Any hobby is what you do. Do you do Knitting? Crochet? Painting? Craft-making? Baking? Are you learning a musical instrument?
I’m learning the trombone. It’s what I do.
I also write fiction. Not enough to make a living at, but it makes me feel alive to create new worlds, to put my characters through hell and bring them back.
I also run. So I’m a runner.
Ask me what do I do and you’ll get those answers and I’ll also tell you I collect comic books from the Silver Age. I enjoy collecting and listening to vinyl records.
In fact, I probably have far too many things I do and I could discuss each at length if I wanted to.
The one thing I’ll never answer to the question, “What do you do” is my job.
I mean sure, I used to be a documentation specialist and a technical writer. Then came the Great Recession and I became unemployed.
But none of that defined the real me. Your job is just a means to earning a paycheck so you can continue to do the things you really enjoy, the things that matter, the things that make you happy.
And because of that attitide I didn’t lose who I was when I lost my job. I didn’t feel I’d been cut adrift, that I no longer had an identify, or I had lost my self-respect.
Did I worry about where our next meal was coming from? Did I worry about losing the house? Hell yeah.
But that’s different. Those worries are always there, even with having a job. Money worries are different from feeling you lost yourself when you lost your job.
I heard someone say they have no hobbies. I bet you do. Do you do crossword puzzles? You’re building your vocabulary. Do you do those adult coloring books? That’s a relaxation technique; you’re fighting stress. Do you follow a sports team? You’re a fan. Do you have a pet? You’re an animal caregiver. Do you watch daytime soap operas? That’s a great memory exercise keeping up with all those lives. Do you workout at a gym? Do you eat healthy? Are you vegan, paleo, or a paleoveganista? Are you liberal or a socialist?
You see, everyone has something that makes up who you are. Sometimes you just have to look harder for what that thing is.
So the next time someone says, “What do you do” don’t go for the knee-jerk response and tell them what your job is, tell them, really tell them, what you do. And say it with pride. “I’m a stamp collector! You know what my favorite stamp is?”
You’ll feel better and maybe it’ll open up a whole conversation of discovery.
“You do? I collect beer steins! I have this really interesting one from Germany, when you look through it while holding it up to the light, it has a picture in the bottom.”
So really, what do you do?