In Which We Are Not Our Jobs

Question from someone I literally just met: What do you do?

My response: Oh I enjoy watching baseball, reading books, taking pictures…

And their followup: No, I mean what do you do for a living?

I don’t normally start these posts by being negative; that said, I must say that the above exchange aggravates me to no end. For some reason, American culture places a high value on your profession over your interests. We then use this information to categorize the person.

Oh, you are a mechanic so you must not be book smart.

Oh, you work in an office, that explains why hide from the sunlight like a vampire.

Oh, you work in retail, now I understand why… [insert prejudicial thought here].

For the overwhelming majority of people, Americans or otherwise, we are not what we do for a living. We do not live to work (even if it feels that way sometimes).

I recently had a conversation with a friend at work. I told her that I have two websites – this one, and another that I keep as a placeholder should I ever become a bonafide writer. She described me as “techy”, as a result of my current job and because of the two websites. I accepted it, not because that is who I am but because it what I do.

As I was driving home, however, the memory started to irk me a bit, and I realized what bothered me. I don’t consider myself to be “techy”. No, instead, I consider myself to be “artsy”, even though I never labeled myself as “artsy” before this conversation. This was like a revelation to myself: not the fact that I liked art over tech, but because I never thought to label myself as “artsy” – this is just who I am. (Labels are an interesting topic in and of themselves by the way, one which I may someday write about.)

Art is great, though. I like the theater; I like photography; I like poems and prose. These are the thing that define who I am to me. As I continued the drive, I realized I often keep this side to myself, even though I consider myself “artsy”. And I don’t mean this just from the perspective of those I work with, but also from some of my friends. They realize I have these interests, but to them I am not just this or that – they see as a whole. And for that reason, they are who I chose to be associated with.

The fact is, you are also more than just your label. You aren’t the work you do – that is just how you choose to earn a living. The choice of job may in some cases (but not all) be ascribed to a part of who you are, but you are not defined by your job unless you let yourself be defined this way. 

If you are like me, and are aggravated by being defined by your job, you may soon find yourself having another conversation I have had a few times as well. It goes something like this:

New person: What do you do for a living?

Me: I breathe.

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