One of the first questions I am asked whenever I meet someone is, ‘what do you do (as a profession)?’ It’s an obsession that we have in our culture, as if what we do somehow defines who we truly are. We don’t ask each other, ‘what do you believe in,’ or ‘what are your greatest fears,’ or perhaps the most telling of all, ‘who are you?’ What we do (or don’t do) for a job does nothing to define us. Who we are as a person is everything…
Imagine if we asked, ‘what do you do,’ and instead of listing a profession we opened up a discussion about the important (big and little) things that we do for our world, or our community, or our family. Imagine how much faster we would truly get to know each other. Compatibility in friendships and relationships has little to do with the way we make money and everything to do with the values that define us.
We are, at our essence, defined by many things, in many different moments… and while our job may stay the same over many years, who we are as a person evolves and changes and grows.
For a woman this experience is a battle within a society that now expects us to do it all. Because we can. We can keep a house and raise children and have career and be great lovers and wonderful cooks and tend beautiful gardens and care about the planet and build sustainable futures… But just because we are intelligent, capable, strong women who strive for equality, does that mean we should actually have to shoulder the responsibility of it all? Can we not work without regret? Can we not parent without guilt? Can we not create a family or a village which supports us so we don’t actually have to do it all (or die trying). For a mother it is a constant push to be more, to do more, to achieve more… without a whole lot of support. We expect women to do it all now, we expect it of them, and it’s desperately unfair. There are lots of women out there who have supporting, loving, hands on partners… but there are just as many women out there who don’t and doing it all is too big a job for any one person.
When I tell people I am a stay at home single mother, I often get asked, ‘but do you work?‘ As if being a mother is not enough. As if that role in itself is not grander and more rife with stress and responsibility and reward than any other job in the world.
It is enough. It’s more than enough.
But it alone does not define who I am.
It is part of me, but it is not who I am.
I am a freelance writer and an administrator and a social researcher when I go to work, but none of those things define who I am as a person. I am an academic but I am also a labourer. I am a mother, but I am also a woman, and a dreamer, and an activist. I am weak and I am strong in equal parts. I am vulnerable and I am powerful. I am a teacher and a student. I am a performer and a recluse. I am many things that contradict and question each other and some days I am all of those things and some days I am but one. One word cannot define me. One word is not enough for me.
It’s not enough for you either.
I refuse to be defined by my sexuality or my relationship status or my job description or my weight. Why should any of those things matter to anyone? They don’t define who I am. They are parts of me, fluid, changeable, beautiful parts of who I am on any given day – that I can choose and lose like articles of clothing – but who I am is something that cannot be removed from me. I will not be put into a little box, tucked away, organised and labelled into my place in this detached society.
I will not be defined by what I do for work, instead I invite the world to define me by my actions, by my heart, by my words.
Do you define yourself through your job? Your relationship? Your education?
What do you think about this obsession with definition?