Of course I have only grown to hate it once I no longer had the predictable, and socially acceptable, answer up my sleeve. You know, the-“I’m a doctor, engineer, hotelier, accountant”-type reply.
To be fair, I never really liked being defined by what I did in exchange for a salary. But it was easy enough cocktail conversation.
I was first confronted with the uncomfortable silence engendered by an arbitrary answer at a networking meeting a few months after I started university at age 37. Even in a room full of entrepreneurs and business owners, the proud response “I’m a student” was not something that people knew how to handle. The stillness was almost as deafening as when I would later say “I’m a stay at home mum”, though I have to admit I myself was never quite satisfied with that answer. But that’s another post…
I was reminded of all of this during a recent conversation with a friend. Because it’s not just mums who find it difficult to cough up the right retort, it’s just about anybody who has given up the traditional 9-5. I have seen it with women of all ages, exiting the workplace to start their own business, to travel, or to take a longed for sabbatical.
Sadly we still buy into the fallacy that having a job or title equals our identity and therefore equals our worthiness, and our self-worth.
The conflicting ideas around needing to be “something” begin in childhood: One the one hand, we very much want our children to be loved for simply being themselves, whilst on the other the popular question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” still abounds. The inevitable irony is of course that as adults, we then find it difficult to love ourselves, or even others, simply for who we are rather than for the elevator pitch we present to the world.
At the other end of the life spectrum, you never hear people in hospices regretting not spending more time with loved ones, not making human interaction count for enough.
In my own experience, going through the identify shift from a label or role to just allowing myself to be comfortable in my own skin is much like an addict learning to live without their favourite fix.
So what’s a better answer then?
I believe rather than needing a new mold, we actually need a lack of it.
I know a lot of people are boldly stepping out and sharing their light and gifts in new and exciting ways.
But still, rather than new answers, what we really need are new questions.
Instead of being asked what I “do”, I would much prefer to be asked about what I love, about my favourite people and passions.
What question(s) would YOU like to be asked so people can learn more about what makes you light up, about your true essence rather than simply what you do for a living?
(Although in an ideal world, there would be rather a lot of overlap in his area!)
I recently experimented by asking Lilly the question “Why do I love you?”
She looked up from her cereal bowl with a big smile, confidently stating “Because!”
That’s the kind of stuff I am talking about. I pray that she retains this knowing of being utterly loved for who, not what, she is forever. (It’s unlikely which is precisely why the situation requires divine support)
And if you ever want to combine the inevitable uncomfortable silence with an internal chuckle, you could always try one of these approaches:
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