A big thank you to Amma Marfo for reading my mind (and being awesome as always) for sharing “What You Do vs. Who You Are”. This article touches on an area of the work-life balance discussion that deserves further thought.
“How did work become so central to our lives? And it is very central. It’s the first thing you want to know when you meet a new person.”
Perhaps it is the nature of the events I often attend,but I get the ‘what do you do?’ question a lot. Most often, I’m searching for a short title or term that will encompass “I spend a lot of time thinking and learning about what student success means. I work with students who are following many different paths and have many different stories to tell. I work to create spaces and places where students feel like they can invite me to walk with them, whether through workshops, seminars, events or even 1:1 appointments. I study areas of leadership development, transition, and assessment to find new ways to support student development in all areas and to ensure that we are on the right track.” (‘I work in student life … in a university’ seems to be what comes out – which doesn’t feel authentic, or true, at all).
My foray into the world of career services also gave me a glimpse into this idea of professional identity consuming the whole identity. Even recently, I had a conversation with a student who expressed concern and considerable dissonance around the idea of not having an established career goal. In my own experience, I still vividly recall getting ready to cross the stage to celebrate the completion of my Master’s degree and still being asked ‘So, what are you doing now?’ Um, wearing a funny hat and celebrating the end of 2 year’s worth of writing?
“When we put so much emphasis on what we do, however, it can dim the light on who we are in addition to that.”
I often wonder if a job title or name of a career field has become the ‘easy way out’ in defining who we are. There are a number of weighty assumptions and ideas that are packaged with such a label. My friend cannot tell someone they are a doctor, or lawyer, or computer scientist without getting caught up in the assumptions people have about these professions and, by extension, the identity of the people who work in them. Your job and chosen career are meant to not only define your income, but your intelligence, skills, values and goals. ‘What do you do?’ is a question meant to seek an answer around who you are and what you stand for.
We have taken one’s occupation to be a fixed outward expression of a constantly evolving internal identity.
“Do you define yourself by what you do? If not, how do you define yourself outside of work?”
The article’s last question, while thoughtful, still implies a separation of work and self. What I do, what you do, is part of who you are and is not tied to the title written on your resume. I continually challenge my students and those I meet at networking events to tell me what they DO.
I don’t want to know your label or title. I want to know how you are writing story through your words and your actions.
What path do you walk, how do you walk it?
Where have you been and where are you going?
Where do you want to go and how can I help you get there?
Tell me your story.
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