So what do you do? What are you going to do?
The two questions that have made me avoid talking to some people over the past weeks.
I have finished my 14-month long trip through South-America just 2 months ago. Shockingly, or maybe not shockingly enough, that was something everyone just nodded at, when I mentioned it. No additional question, not much of a comment. Instead: So what are you doing now? What are you going to do now?
Doing. Working. Achieving. Acting. This seems to be the definition of ourselves.
When you are asked ‘What do you do?’ ‘What’s your job?’, you will most likely answer ‘I AM a teacher, an engineer, a baker…’. You are your job. At least that’s what it sounds like.
I can’t help but notice how that puts pressure on me. On many people I know. Time is all about ‘doing’. Howelse would you talk about yourself? What other easy way do you have to somehow categorize a person?
As a parent, howelse do you make sure that your child is OK? Having a job can mean ‘my child is doing ok. It does what one should do in society’. At least that’s how I was raised.
I am not saying that I think it’s bad to strive to find something useful to do.
The problem I see with that question is that it tries to define us too much within one category.
What happens if you happily answer ‘I am a teacher and the day after you lose your job?
Who are you now? Before you were a teacher, now you are….?
What if you described yourself through your hobbies or talents?
I used to say ‘I am a polyglot and language lover’. What if by whatever reason one day I wouldn’t be able to speak those languages anymore?
I would feel as if I wasn’t myself. I would say ‘this isn’t me. Without languages I am nothing.’ And I hear this phrase a lot. We cling onto titles, roles and practices that give us purpose. That define us for who we are.
I struggled with this question a lot over the last months. I always defined myself by saying. ‘I’m a globetrotter. I’m traveling and moving around the world.‘ That’s what I DID. Now that I live in Germany (which is another story), I suddenly felt a lot of emptiness. People around me wanted to know about my next step, my job etc. My actions were questioned all the time and not DOING anything or the RIGHT thing was the prevalent concern people expressed towards me.
I can’t blame them. What we do is the first thing that defines us. It’s a question we ask automatically and the easiest way to somehow describe someone with one word, like ‘ my friend who’s a psychologist/programmer/yoga teacher’…
What other way could there be talk about ourselves then?
Some people actually asked me, how I was feeling. How being back in Germany felt to me. They told me how they were inspired by how I go through the world. They felt confident, that despite not being on an active path of ‘doing’, I would again make my way through this world. I can only thank these people because they made me feel valued at a time when I wasn’t sure how to put down my value on paper…..
I’m writing this because I want to assure you that your job or your role isn’t what defines you. Who are you when these ‘attributes’ are stripped away from you?
I think it’s a valuable point to think about.
Think about your personal characteristics. What you mean to people by being YOU.
You can certainly inspire through actions but what’s more important than your actions are your own motivations that got you to do these actions.
PS: I have noticed that when asked the question ‘What do you do?’ I am now saying ‘I’m working as a teacher’ or ‘I am teaching English at X school’ instead. I don’t want this job to define me. I am passionate about languages. The activity in it is that I teach them. If I stop doing that, then I’ll still be passionate about languages, even if I was working at a job that wouldn’t include that at all.