Are you single? Awesome. Me too. But lately I’ve realized that I’m benching myself when it comes to the dating game. Somewhere along the way I developed an identity as the token single friend, and I couldn’t understand how that happened. That is, until I realized I was telling myself lies that, single or not, aren’t good for anybody.
Earlier today I was having a conversation with a new acquaintance about writing. He asked me, “Do you write?” A seemingly simple and straightforward question. But I found this to be interesting for what he didn’t ask…
He didn’t ask, “Are you a writer?” These two questions are different forms of the ubiquitous, “What do you do?” The first questions action, the second questions identity.
Somewhere along the way “What do you do?” became a question of identity rather than a question of action. We started responding, “I’m an actor,” “I’m a lawyer,” “I’m a data entry processor.” But none of these really capture our true selves, nor do they suggest anything more outside of vocation. We let ourselves be confined to one dimension.
What if “What do you do?” became a literal question. If it’s true that actions speak louder than words, then reflecting on this question might paint a more interesting and detailed image of ourselves. We are multidimensional creatures. We are more than our vocation. We are depth that cannot be captured in a single word or sentence.
“Are you a writer?” implies a confining definition, whereas “Do you write?” leaves room for a more intricate, multifaceted identity. “Are you a writer?” is a box to contain, and “Do you write?” is one part of a greater whole. When we identify ourselves as something, that’s usually where it ends. We’ve limited ourselves to that definition.
I had a college writing professor who encouraged us not to limit our identity to being writers, but place writing alongside other aspects of our whole selves. It involved placing less emphasis on what we do–or want to do–for a living, and more on what we do to live. “I’m a fisherman who practices law.” “I’m a coffee-enthusiast who teaches high school.” “I’m a father who writes poetry.” Being a writer (or anything else, for that matter) need not be a confining, limiting identity; it can be an additive one.
So when asked a broad question of identity such as,
“Are you a writer?” or “What do you do?”
I would challenge us to respond:
“I’m a ___ who ___.”
What do you see are the differences between “Do you write?” and “Are you a writer?”
How would you define yourself differently than you may have been defining yourself in the past?
How does changing the way we define ourselves to others change the way we see ourselves?
Sometimes I have these bad days.
Today was one of them. It wasn’t that everything seemed to go wrong, as is the case with most bad days. It was that I just started to feel so overwhelmed with my beige job, my lack of nearby and available friends, and my uncertainty about the future. Before I knew it, what started off as a beautiful October morning ended up with me in my car at lunch, tears dripping down my face in despair.
Let me explain.
I like to believe I was created with certain gifts and skills, a uniqueness that I’m supposed to use in order to leave this world a better place that when I started. I love to write, I love to read and engage intellectually, I love to be organized (though you wouldn’t know this if you saw my room right now), I love to find out what makes people tick, I love to sing and draw and dance and, basically, do anything creative. I feel alive when I’m doing these things.
At my job, I sit in a cubicle across the room from a window that looks out onto a highway. My desk is covered in various piles of papers, and I spend about 90% of my day staring at a computer screen and typing in names and numbers. The other 10% I spend on the phone, most of the time getting yelled at by someone. Today was different–maybe 70% data entry, 10% yelling telephone people, and 20% removing staples from another stack of paper and separating pages into like piles. I don’t have much of anything in common with any of my fellow employees (I am the youngest by approximately 10 years), so there are days I speak so infrequently that when I go to ask a question, my voice is hoarse from the lack of use.
Perhaps you can see the problem here. Simply put, I am doing absolutely nothing all day that excites, interests, or invigorates me. On these bad days, I am so miserably aware of how dull I’ve become. I become a shadow of myself, a mere shade of who I want to be.
So here’s the deal.
I can complain about this all I want, but it all boils down to what I am going to do about it. I’ve spent far too long wallowing in self-pity. One of the reasons I started this blog was as a form of accountability for what I say I’m going to do, so if I say I’m going to apply to grad school, I’ll actually have to do it because you all will be asking me about it. I really hope you will help me in this way.
Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Apply to grad schools. MFA Creative Writing programs. I have put this off for a long time now because I don’t want a repeat of two years ago (aka getting rejected nine times). But back then I think I applied because I didn’t know what else to do. Now I realize I really want it–no, more than that, I need it (see my previous entry on the importance of writing). This community college class just isn’t cutting it for me.
- Get out of this life-sucking job and into a life-giving job. Even if I just get a job at Starbucks, I will at least have some human interaction. I really want to work somewhere that inspires me and that taps into at least one of the skills I list above.
- Cultivate relationships by…
- Keeping in touch with old friends. My friend Christine and I just established a weekly phone call night because we’re so bad at keeping in touch with each other. She is also a great listener and will do a lot to ground me. Hopefully I will have some sort of positive impact on her too.
- Getting more involved at church. I realize I may be alienating some readers by dropping the c-word, but the church I just grew up in just relaunched their 20-somethings ministry. They’re really big on the whole concept of “belonging” right now, and that sounds pretty good to me.
So today was a bad day. That sucks. What are you going to do about it?
Well the weather is beginning to turn. I’m sitting on my balcony wrapped in a nubby blanket, and the leaves on the tree near me are yellowing. I really enjoy autumn, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be here quite yet. Autumn is a reminder that time moves on. Leaves fall, the sun is around less and less, and before we know it, summer will be buried under the ice and snow that we adore so much here in Chicago. Lately it’s been reminding me, at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, that time is speeding up, and I need to figure out who I am before I run out of it.
I graduated from college with an English degree a little over a year ago. Post-graduation, I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where I had a job working for an internationally-known sculptor. For a hectic seven weeks, I wrote press releases, newsletters, and grant requests, edited photos and filmed installations, and traveled across the country taking down exhibitions and meeting with potential buyers and heads of museums. Seven weeks in, I got laid off. I didn’t know anyone in the area except my roommate, a college friend of mine who was working as a waitress at the local dive bar. I spent months unemployed because I found that in Chatt, if you aren’t related to someone, you’re an outsider. And as a result, no one wanted to hire me. I was working as an intern for a publishing company, but it was unpaid. By October, I decided I needed to go home to Chicago. On Halloween I packed up all of my stuff, drove 12 hours, and moved back in with my parents.
I remember in high school the media started calling people my age the “boomerang generation” because of the way they went off to college and then, after graduation, moved back in with the ‘rents. I promised myself that I would be independent, make my own way in the world, and not rely on my parents for everything…and yet here I was, post-college, living in my parent’s guest room.
I spent a long time looking for jobs, finally landing a temp job doing data entry for a financial firm. That ended after a couple of months and I was back on the job search. One of my mom’s friends found me the job I have now doing data entry for a payroll company. I’ve been at this job for 7 months now.
My story is like so many other recent graduates out there these days. Recently, a friend told me she just feels lost. Like she doesn’t know who she is anymore since she graduated from college. That is how I have described myself quite frequently since donning my mortarboard. May 2009 was so beautiful and full of hope. I was so excited to “begin” my life. I am baffled by how I got to where I am today.
I’m blogging about this because I feel like it is a pretty common sentiment among my peers and those going through transition during this awful economic time. My story is one of thousands out there–maybe even tens of thousands…or more. I’m looking to answer these questions:
What is my identity now that I’m not a student anymore? I spent 17 years of my life in the education system. And I was good at it! Now I have to develop a completely new skill set, new goals, new outlook on life. How do I even begin going about that?
Who am I when I’m unemployed? Or, more applicable to my situation, who am I when I’m unhappy in my job? Our society places so much of our identity on our occupations. As a result, it has begun to color my outlook on meeting new people or seeing old friends because I know the inevitable question, “What do you do?” or “What are you doing these days?” is going to come up. I have difficulty finding the energy for it.
What can I do to make my life more fulfilling? I assumed (naively) that post-graduation I would find a job that had some aspect I enjoyed. I had this grand image of living in an exotic place, making interesting, creative friends, having stimulating conversations. It’s not that my life doesn’t have its happy moments, but most of the time, I feel as if I’m just marking time until I become that person I envisioned. A blog entry I read recently by Michael Hyatt stated that you should be moving towards something, not away from something else. Right now I am stagnant. What can I be moving toward?
I want to hear from all of you out there in similar situations as well. How are you coping? What are you doing to make your lives more interesting? What kind of person to you envision yourself being, and how are you doing making that a reality?