We can’t help it, but in our society we are what we do.
When you meet a new person (especially in the circles I run in it seems) the first question that gets asked when you meet someone new is, “What do you do?”
And in response free-flowing answers are something like, “I am a lawyer. . . . I teach school. . . . I work for the government. . . . I direct an organization.”
When we hear these responses and other similar to them, we nod our heads in approval and say with our body language and sometimes our words: “Oh, good. That sounds interesting. How long have you been doing that?”
But then there are those responses we can give like: “I consult.”
“I’m a stay at home mom.”
Or, “I’m a writer” that usually seem to evoke less than energetic responses.
Some of us don’t understand how a person could just consult or just stay at home with their kids (aren’t they wasting their talents by not pursuing traditional full-time work?), or we think, “Isn’t saying you are a writer code for you don’t know how to get a real job and that you sit in your bathrobe and eat chocolate all day?” (Yeah, you know you think it even if you don’t say it).
But what if you are called to be a generalist consultant or a stay at home mom or dad or heaven forbid even a real writer?
I sat at a coffee meeting with a new colleague on Monday. Catherine is a consultant for social media (something I’m doing more and more of these days) and self-employed too.
We talked about the frustrations of being in an office of one, doing helping work through writing and social media for non-profits (and folks not wanting to pay for our services, ugh!), and how easily our value in the society in which we live is tied to what we do.
In response, Catherine offered this nugget of wisdom that she’s known to share with groups during one of her training sessions: “Don’t worry about being something. This will get you nowhere. The someone who you think you are because of a job could change at any moment. The title you have on your business card will not be with you forever. Instead, put your energy into being someone. This is who you are that will never change.”
I was struck by the simplicity but depth of her words. I may not be the something that I once was, but I am a somebody.
My friend, Ken and I were talking about this very thing a couple of night before. I was bemoaning the fact that I often feel like a “nobody” since I left the church and don’t have an official title of “I pastor ____ church” to add to my name. And Ken pushed back. “You are a somebody. And you are doing important work. You just don’t see it like the rest of us do. . . . ”
And then came Catherine’s words about “being someone instead of something.”
Clearly I needed to hear such a message.
It’s a hard road and most certainly the path less traveled, I believe to find yourself outside of the confines of a role or a particular job. Ask someone has recently started a new business or who has retired early how they’re feeling about the transition, and you’ll know I’m speaking truth here.
You don’t win the “most impressive” award when you meet new people at a happy hour or a professional gathering with a non-traditional “what I do” response.
Instead, you have to brace yourself for the stares, the strange tones of folks reactions, and comments hurried your way like I recently got, “Do you like being a housewife?” (Ok, I almost died. No, I am NOT a housewife).
But, I am a someone. And so are you– in whatever you do.
Last night I was talking to my friends Tim and Debbie. In the course of the conversation about vocation and what it means to enjoy life at the fullness that life can really be, Tim chimed in to say, “I’ve always thought about life like this: who you really are is what you do when you aren’t at work.”
And while there are all different sorts of implications for vocation and paid work interlacing and certain people’s 9-5 “It pays the bills” sort of jobs having all different levels of meaning for us– I think Tim is right.
We have clues to the “someones” that we truly are if we notice what we are naturally drawn to in our free time.
And it is not that we become these things, such as, “I am a cook.” “I like to garden.” Or, “I am so happy when I get to keep my grandchildren” but that the character qualities that motivate us to do these things shine through. And we see more clearly our souls.
We are challengers (or not).
We are contemplative (or not).
We are relational (or not).
And these things do not change. We simply are.
We were created with value and purpose and uniqueness. We can be a someone no matter if our work is validated, paid for or even appreciated. We can find fulfillment in simply BE-ing.
I’m not there yet. I really like being a something better than someone. But, I’m on my way and I wonder if others of you out there are too?