Imagine you’re at a dinner party, enjoying effervescent conversation over freshly poured glasses of wine. The person to your left, whom you’ve just met, asks you one question. It’s a harmless question, but is one of the most defining and also limiting questions we ask one another in society today:
“What do you do?”
How do you respond? What do you DO? Most often we answer with our profession because that is how we identify ourselves to the world. I am a teacher, a mechanic, a nurse, a sales rep, a manager. We construct tidy little identity boxes around the job that pays our bills. And it works. Somewhat.
Women who are mothers tend to get one additional question, or at least they do in the southern part of the United States where I live: do you work or stay at home?
These are all loaded questions that shoehorn us into one role, one job, one identity. The way we answer these questions does not describe who we truly are: our passions, our dreams, our hobbies and the je n’est-ce pas that makes our soul dance with joy.
For example: I am a university professor, but I only teach online and am no longer in the classroom. Which also means I am at home all the time, and so I am a stay at home mom. Writing meets my creative needs, but it isn’t my job, at least not yet. I hate answering the questions listed above because I don’t feel like I fit in a tidy little box. And frankly, neither do you.
None of us do. So why do we continue to hold one another to tight bounds of job based identity? I think we do this for a few reasons. One, we like the safety and comfort that is conferred by a specific and recognizable identity. Two, the United States has a collective work ethic that rewards traditional jobs and labels people outside the norm as lazy or slackers. And finally, rather than letting motherhood be uniting, we tend to let it divide us into narrow identities. There can be no bench sitting in motherhood.
And so I want to encourage you to think deeply about who you actually are and what excites you. If nothing comes to mind quickly, you have some thinking and dreaming to do.
One more thing: the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them what you’re passionate about instead. It might lead to a far more exciting conversation than the one that would take place otherwise. When you allow your passion and dreams to define you, you’ll find that the need to fit in a safe box will slowly disappear and be replaced with the desire to just be YOU.