What Defines You?

The other week while out to lunch with an Aunt, my mom who was visiting from out of town, and a friend of my Aunt whom I had never met I got the dreaded question.

Do you work?

Sigh…No matter what answer I give it never feels right. And that’s because there is no answer- there are many answers and yet not one single word or phrase that will make sense to the asker of the question. Nothing to tie up my life’s work in a pretty bow so that the response elicited from them is Oh, how lovely instead of the usual Oh, you must have children or the even bigger jab (and the next question asked always following my response indicating that I have no children)

So what do you do?

I find it so awkward and uncomfortable to sit floundering around as I try to pull together an answer that is suitable to the person asking the question. I don’t want to get into my personal business with each and every single person I meet and have that be the thing that defines me right off the bat. I have enough self-respect to know that how I spend my time is perfectly fine with my husband and myself, so why should other people have a problem with it?

I’ve answered the Do you work question before with yes and of course it’s only natural for the asker to want to know what it is exactly that I do. I’m an aspiring writer is how I answer, and it’s usually received with a chuckle or grin like it’s some sort of fake career or job, or because I haven’t made much money at it yet it doesn’t qualify as a job and therefore I should have answered the question with a no instead of a yes.

I should be one of those people who don’t care what others think about them. But I’m not, and I never will be. I want to have friends but I’m not willing to compromise who I am in order to be friends with someone. I’m not going to change myself for other people but that doesn’t mean that it’s not hurtful when I find out that someone doesn’t like me. Especially when it’s over something trite like a job or the lack thereof. And I find it incredibly silly that we define ourselves by our work, especially considering that the majority of people I’ve met don’t enjoy their job. Why in the world would you define yourself with something that you dislike?

Jab # 2 is always Oh, that must be nice to be able to stay at home and do whatever you want. No, it’s actually not. I still have to do the laundry, sort through bills and endless piles of junk mail, and clean, and buy groceries, and cook (even though I enjoy it some days it’s a real chore), and answer the door for the endless numbers of won’t-take-no-for-an-answer magazine-peddling scholarship-seeking students, and answer the telephone umpteen times a week only to find that it’s Comcast on the line peddling their triple play deal to me yet again. (Perhaps I should let my hatred of Comcast define me? The next time someone asks me to tell them about myself I’m going to utter comcastisrunbycommunisttyrantsandtheirphoneservicesucks. How about that for making friends?)

Until further notice I still don’t consider my writing a job. It’s something I do for fun and just happen to get paid for sometimes. If I sell a book, that will obviously change. No, I don’t sit around all day doing nothing. The proverbial grass may look greener over where I’m standing (or sitting around doing nothing on) but it still needs to be mowed, it dies if it doesn’t get enough water, and it’s full of bugs. Not to mention it’s my grass and I can do whatever I want with it.

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jen said,

    Great post! I think sometimes it’s just jealousy coming from people when they act like that, but it appears to us in a different form. You are not the problem, but you may represent to them their unachieved dreams, and/or their lives spent toiling in a line of work they never enjoyed. They think ‘the nerve of someone thinking she gets to chase her dreams,’ while all the while, it’s eating them up that they had kids too early or worked a crap job or whatever; as they waited to touch their aspirations.

    Good for you, esp. in today’s expensive society (which basically forces us to take jobs we dislike just to survive, for 50 years or so, only to then be spit out at the end clinging to a bit of retirement – sad though it is.)

    So give yourself a pat on the back just for not being in the rat race, and keep on chasing those dreams. I believe it’s what we were all meant to do. We waste so much of our lives in the working world, punching numbers, behind desks, or running machines. We were born to live, or so I once thought.

  2. 2

    Jen said,

    Last note… I think it is so sad that in this modern society people will ask a common stranger what they do for work and then prejudge them based on that. As I understand, this is more of an American thing. In Europe, Asia and other areas of the world this is considered much more impolite than it is here in the U.S.

  3. 3

    Adina said,

    I am in a similar situation as you and I hate that line of questioning as well. I also hate it when my friends with typical “jobs” happen to have a day off for whatever reason and so they call me “just to chat”, like I have the time for that…like I just sit around the house all day waiting for someone to call me. It REALLY irks me.

    I agree with Jen that asking people what they do for a living is very American. There are (or at least, I believe there should be) so many other qualities to people and their lives. I’m more interested in what books you’ve been reading or what your favorite flower is than what you do to earn a paycheck.


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