Your Identity Doesn't Have To Be a Two-World Job Title
It’s one of the most frequent and difficult questions you’ll get asked in your adult life:
“So, what do you do?”
Simple, yet tricky to answer. Do you have it down yet? Have you perfected the wording so it’s concise and clear? It’s not your elevator pitch, but rather the summation of your life’s efforts and practices, easily sharable in roughly five seconds.
You have yours down to science, right?
When someone at a bar or a party asks me this, my first instinct is to say my title and industry, or my major and school. Read: the species and Genus of the public’s perception of Me. There comes a point when I spout my self-blurb so often that I begin to confuse it with the whole picture. When you stop and think about, that’s pretty gross.
We put ourselves in a lot of boxes in order to self-identify. Within these boxes, we can better conceptualize our individuality. We show people the different boxes of us over time, and we’ll step out of the old to build new ones as we grow. But no matter how you look at it, these boxes are inherently barriers, and they limit the capacity and complexity of what we can be.
Even though I have a job I like in an industry I worked hard to get into, I’m not just my job, right? Even if I dedicate most of my waking hours to it, it’s not me, right? We’re more than our 40-hour work weeks.
Well, let’s bring back the boxes for a second. In order to communicate with others, boxes make sense. It’s how we organize information, and there’s a lot of information (people) to absorb in a given day. We generalize, and while that’s not ideal, we’re all human. I get it. Put me in box, if you must.
But damn, when we are exclusively consider ourselves synonymous with our careers, boxes aren't always healthy. Instead of organizing our unique identities, they clutter our hearts and minds, weighing us down. Eventually, we start placing more and more emphasis into a single box, usually the one we reside in the most: our workplace.
When we cut down our career to a few words, we aren’t actually answering the question “What do you do?” We’ve morphed it into “What are you called?” The only worse question I can think of is “What do you want to be?” We should consider our careers as more than titles and promotions, but rather as predecessors to the successfully-met aspirations that lie ahead.
This is pretty scary because it means we must let go of the foot-holds that ground our identities. But this way, all the bullshit gets put aside, and we get to focus on what we want to actually do: what we want to build, the stories we want to share, the impact we want to make.