What you do isn’t who you are

“When people say to me: “How do you do so many things?” I often answer them, without meaning to be cruel: “How do you do so little?” It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.” ~ Phillip Adams

I spent the better part of my weekend at a music conference and I can say without a doubt, the most common question when meeting someone new is “Are you a musician/songwriter?”. I haven’t been writing many songs lately, but sure, I’m a songwriter. I’m also a bookkeeper, a camp leader, a yoga instructor, a reiki healer, a photographer, an arts administrator…I do a lot of things. There is just so much that excites and intrigues me, but I am not my job.

Who are you?

I wouldn’t be surprised if I was to be a fly on the wall on a bunch of first dates or parties, that the first question after we’ve established names is “So, what do you do?” It’s small talk, it’s easy, everyone does something. Other than it being a socially acceptable first question, why is what we do so important? Career choice can  seemingly say a lot about people. It can indicate stability, how much money they have, level of commitment, risk taking ability and probably many more things. But does it really say so much about a person?

Take for example Mr X and and Mr Y. Both are in their late 30s and have dazzling smiles and charming personalities.

Mr X has worked at the same company as a marketing exec for over a decade, he’s now in a middle management job, has a chance at a promotion.

Mr Y is a freelance photographer who has been in the industry for over 15 years. He occasionally takes a shift at the local bar.

There we have it, everything I need to know. Right? What assumptions can I make?

Mr X is probably stable, maybe owns a condo downtown, might be married and maybe have kids. He probably drives a nice car and, with disposable income, possibly travels quite a bit.

Mr Y is probably renting. He’s not very stable and maybe can’t decide what he wants to do. He might have a family but the life of an artist and occasional bar shifts make it difficult.

Now what if I told you this is the reality…

Mr X lives in his parents’ basement after a messy divorce 4 years ago in which his ex-wife won everything, including custody of his 5 year old son. He cheated on her repeatedly and often came home drunk. His favourite pastimes include skydiving, race car driving and hanging out at strip clubs. He used to work out almost every day but now barely gets a run in. He’s been on and off antidepressants for years, is overweight, hasn’t been able to maintain a romantic relationship and spends a lot of time talking about what he wants to do with his life, rather than doing any of it.

Mr Y lives in a 2 bedroom house with his wife of 10 years and their 2 kids. The bar he occasionally works at is one his parents started when he was a teenager, and he helps them out when they are short staffed. His photography has been seen on billboards, in magazines and has won numerous awards. His job allows him to spend more time with his kids while living out his passion. Occasionally he will travel for work but usually takes his family along on trips that are over a week. He is training for his 2nd triathlon.

What do you think now? How important is that job to who these fictional men really are?

I want to be clear that I’m not judging either lifestyle and I wholly understand that life is difficult and work pressures can have quite an effect on people. I wanted to paint a clear picture to show how society has ingrained in us the importance of a career, how easy it is to assume things based on that career, and how easy it is to be wrong.

People are often amazed at how much I do. Maybe I’m unfocused and a bit scatterbrained. Maybe I’m not a perfect cookie cutter lady. Maybe that doesn’t make me a desirable mate to some. I’m ok with that. I spent nearly a decade doing what I was “supposed to do” – getting an education, working towards a steady career while having a few hobbies on the side. I tried to pursue a music career but couldn’t take the risk to do it full time (and it’s an all or nothing job)…and honestly I don’t think I have a dinosaur skin thick enough to survive the cut-throat music industry. A year ago something in me switched. I didn’t want to spend 35-50 hours a week in an office, while playing gigs at night, constantly exhausted and still feeling like I never had enough money. Though it was nice to leave work behind and have a somewhat steady schedule, it wasn’t fulfilling. It wasn’t serving my soul’s purpose (I’m still not entirely sure what that is by the way, but I feel I’m a hell lot closer to figuring it out than I was a year ago).

So you ask me what I do? I do a lot of things. I do my best, I stumble, I fail and I keep going. I take chances, I have mini panic attacks, I embrace change and all it’s scary ways, I am a woman, I am a child, I am a lover and a friend. I may even be an enemy. I am far from perfect and I’m not happy some of the time. I worry more than I *should*, I check my phone more often than necessary, I don’t give up on those I care about. I believe my soulmate isn’t just one person I’m supposed to marry but many wonderful souls.  I love with all my heart, even when it hurts. I love people, I love life, I love the sunshine, rainstorms and brisk walks in a snowglobe wonderland. I love the woman I’m becoming, even when I want to scream, cry and run away, even when I’m not at my happiest. I believe there is a higher purpose and I will find it.

Epitaphs don’t read “Mr so and so. Born 1950, died 2021. CEO of large marketing company”. Humans are capable of so much, we lead interesting lives outside of that thing that makes us money. Maybe you’re lucky enough to make money doing what you love, this includes you Mr CEO, and you live a fulfilled, happy life. That’s awesome. Keep doing it. Share that life with others. I’d love to live in a world where a career as a construction worker is as impressive as that of a CEO. I have no facts to back this up, but there are cases where a CEO is handed the job and a construction worker actually has years of trades training. And yet, the CEO is revered while the construction worker looked down on. Both are human, both might work their a$$ off and lead perfectly happy, amazing, fulfilling lives.

Here’s a challenge: start asking “So, tell me a bit about yourself?” rather than “What do you do?” when first meeting someone. Of course people won’t generally reveal all the information in a first conversation. So you might still not learn everything about Mr X or Mr Y but maybe you’ll learn a bit more than “I’m a marketing exec”.