Define me

definemePIN IT

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?

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  • April 11, 2014 - 6:56 am

    cath - Love the post Sash… I had a friend who refused to ask the question “what do you do?” while she was travelling through Europe for the same reasons… she hated her job and what it made her seem like, and so she didn’t want to be defined by it. I’m similar – I hate to be defined as *just* a teacher, *just* a girl… but it does influence how I behave, sadly.
    Yet another reason why I love reading your blog – you inspire me, lady!ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 8:34 pm

      Sash - And you me, old friend. One of these days we will come across each other again… and it’ll be lovely xReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 7:30 am

    Michelle - Love this post! Brilliant!! I love to tell people that I do it all and that gets them curious to find out more about who I really am. Because I do do it all. I’m not just a solo mum (I don’t like using the word single because I have no plans on chaging to unsingle!), I work part time while I am launching two businesses and I also run multiple blogs. How can you fit that into a bucket and say this is what I do?

    I love what you said about being defined by sexuality, relationship status, job description and weight. It’s these tags that society put on us so they know how to relate to us but if people take the time to dig a little deeper they will find out more. For example, they don’t know the reason why I am a solo mum so saying that would only create a sterotype of who I am. And as for weight, its something I have battled with in my own mind because of people’s perceptions of what I should be but I have suddenly realised that I am happy as I am so why should I be something that others want or expect me to be?

    Love your work Sash, can’t wait to read more 🙂ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 8:34 pm

      Sash - Thanks so much Michelle! You sound fabulously busy with wonderful things! xx Thank you for bringing so much positivity into this space. xReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 8:28 am

    miranda - A while ago now I had a realisation that the question “what do you do?” was very limiting and (paid)work-focused, so I started to ask people “what do you like to do with your time?”. This question can open up a whole different conversation 🙂ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 8:32 pm

      Sash - That’s a lovely and simple change from the normal question… 🙂 I might try it myself next time! Thank you xReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 10:33 am

    Holly Evans - I tend to disagree about that question ‘defining me’ because most times when that question is asked it’s because that person doesn’t know you very well and is likely to be starting conversation or getting to know you better. I often come away from reading your posts feeling sorry for you and the way you live your life. You seek to be different in every single area of your life which is great but by doing so you actually come across as angry and unhappy.

    If people want to ask ‘what you do?’ that’s fine let them hear your answer and judge as they want, that’s their issue if they feel the need to judge or ‘define you’ but really is it your problem? In life, isn’t it better to just go along worrying about yourself but instead you are now looking at those people the very way you hate them looking at you.

    You are doing a great job of encouraging many people (no doubt) to make great changes in their lives, I love it when your posts are positive and not having a go at other peoples issues.ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 12:26 pm

      Sash - wow. you absolutely have the right to read what I write in whatever way you choose… but I’m in no way angry nor am I unhappy. It’s unfortunate you read these posts this way as it’s in no way having “a go” at anyone but instead offering a conversation and a different point of view. I can’t say I “hate” anyone and I’m saddened that you read it this way, but that is your perogative, of course… perhaps if you feel this way then this isn’t the best place for you.ReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 12:25 pm

    Dan - I also hate overhearing people say “I’m ‘just’ a stay at home mum’ as if it’s not worthy enough and they need to be apologetic!ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 1:27 pm

      Sash - me too! it’s that word *just* isn’t it?! Being a stay at home mum is a bloody hard gig, being a working mum is a bloody hard gig… no apologies necessary!ReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 1:08 pm

    abeer - True to its very core!!ReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 5:09 pm

    emma - Soo true yet again a beautiful post. This is something that bugs the hell out of me. Both my husband and i have always worked and travelled between New Zealand and the uk. We have two awesome boys but my eldest got dangerously ill whilst in egypt we nearly lost him. This was about five years ago and changed our lives forever, i am a stay at home mum artist and part time student my husband is currently out of work due to health reasons.
    But boy the judgement from friends and even family because of this has been a real heart wretching anger eye opening, its really changed how i feel towards people i love and it hurts alot.
    Thanks EmmaReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 8:31 pm

      Sash - I’ll never understand the judgement Emma, but it’s certainly there. It’s all over the place. I’m sorry your husband is out of work for health reasons and not because of a choice you have made – but I hope that you are all enjoying lots of wonderful time together, it’s something that money just cannot buy and something that is so easily the most important thing in the world – yet it’s something that is so easily forgotten.

      I hope you’ve got lots of people around you who support your family for who you are despite the situation you have found yourselves in… even if they aren’t the people you once expected.


      • April 11, 2014 - 11:23 pm

        emma - thankyou :o×ReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 7:53 pm

    Rachel - I had a time a few years ago when someone asked me and my husband what we do and when I answered “I’m a teacher and he’s a lawyer” I felt like I had my soul sucked right out of me. It made me feel so boring, so conventional.
    I equally dislike being defined as a mom. Obviously that is a huge part of who I am, but the idea that the word mom is supposed to encompass all sorts of different women who mother in a thousand different ways feels limiting.
    I am also saddened that people read thoughtful as angry. It’s certainly not how I read your words.ReplyCancel

    • April 11, 2014 - 8:28 pm

      Sash - I agree Rachel, I don’t like being defined as a “mum” either – even though it’s absolutely what I am for most of my day… it’s not who I am. And as for people reading thoughtful for angry – I think often we read what we feel, and sometimes that has absolutely nothing to do with the words at all. xReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2014 - 11:16 pm

    Tina - This post is so wonderful. I feel like being a single mom makes me a damn super hero but society leaves me feeling constantly judged and looked down on in many aspects. I work part time on the weekends at night (her grandparents watch her) so I can stay at home with my daughter during the week. I get so often people asking me how I can afford to do that, as if it’s any of their business. It’s literally the rudest question I’ve ever been asked in my life. They ask me when I’ll go to college… ugh I already HAVE a degree! I have no idea why society expects SO MUCH of single parents. We are doing what we can! When I run into old friends or classmates and they ask me where I’m working, I feel embarrassed to say what I’m doing but it shouldn’t be that way and I fucking hate explaining myself to people!!!!!!!! Haha sorry, I went on a rant. Anyway, you you worded all of that so beautifully and you have such a great point. I will end this by saying I never ask people where they work because I really just don’t care at all.ReplyCancel

    • April 12, 2014 - 7:47 pm

      Aina - Your comment made me laugh so hard!! ;)))
      (I totally agree wih you!)ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2014 - 2:31 am

    milli wolfe - i love this piece of writing. i hate being asked that question, it always used to make me feel so uncomfortable, like i was ashamed because i don’t have a job to give as my answer. then i just started answering with ”i usually do whatever i like, sometimes i have to do stuff that i don’t especially want to do but hey ho.” The conversation then is usually either ”oh right, so you don’t have a job?” or ”great! what do you like doing?” , and then i get to talk about my son and our allotment and riding my bike and drawing and just chuffing about really. Wahoo!ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2014 - 11:13 am

    Debs - I couldn’t agree more although this doesn’t affect me the same way as I do what needs to be done and that is stay home with my kids as I don’t have any other viable options I feel the same way about the are you renting or is it your house question! That one bugs me.ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2014 - 6:06 pm

    Erin - It really is hard the question “what do you do?”

    I’m 22, I’m still at my first job and don’t have an official job title or description. I’m kind of a jack of all trades at my work. But when I think about who I am where I go to work doesn’t have much of a bearing on who I am. I really wish people would try to ask deeper questions, ask me what I’m thinking or feeling instead of asking what I ‘do’. I’m an analyser, an observer, a thinker, a creator, not a doer.

    Here’s hoping if we ask people better questions they’ll do the same and not see us as the thing we ‘do’.ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2014 - 7:41 pm

    Aina - This is powerfull! Loved reading and more so loved how I started thinking and “redefining” who I am. I am not sure if I could describe it as guilt, but somehow, sometimes I don`t feel Good enough. I don`t have children and I get many many questions about why, and when. I can see their questionable looks when explaining that It is just not what we want in our lives. Suddenly you don`t live the life you are suppose to live. Like it is suddenly not worthy. But why should I have the need to explain when I never question their life?

    if just everyone could live as they preferred, without interference..ReplyCancel

  • April 13, 2014 - 1:21 am

    Cydney (@CydneyHelsdown) - thank you so much for writing this post, i feel like everything you’ve said here is something i constantly battle with, not just with myself, but to other people. i know i shouldn’t care what other people think of what i do or who i am, or if they think being a mother isn’t worthy enough, but they do ask and they do judge and i feel there is a constant struggle for women to always be more. i absolutely admire you for doing it all alone as i have a loving partner, but in some ways that adds more pressure to be more and do more. you can never get a perfect balance between them and i’d like to see someone who does juggle all those things, equally, without foundering.


  • April 13, 2014 - 6:58 am

    erin - dear sash,
    i have read forever but never commented but had to after this one, because i love the post so much. i hate the question, i hate the way i answer, i hate the way i feel afterward. i love your take on it, and next time it comes up, i will try to say what it is that I DO (a million things that mean everything to me) instead of apologizing for what i don’t do (full time work at an office or whatever).
    thank you!
    ps: i got a food dehydrator for my birthday based on your posts and it is making me and my kids insanely happy. thanks for that, too.ReplyCancel

  • April 13, 2014 - 10:25 am

    Luana - I think sometimes the job defines who the person is (when the person works whit some kind of activity very close to her/his psychological characteristics), sometimes don´t and sometimes the people ask this question only to break the ice and start a conversation and sometimes this question is asked to define (by the inquisitor eyes) the “value” of the person asked, which is a pathetic thing. When I notice that somebody is asking me this question trying to measure the money or the social position I may have, I feel ashemed for the person and realize that is somebody that sees life in a way very different than me. Had I made myself understandable??? Soo sorry about my English! XOX LuanaReplyCancel

  • April 14, 2014 - 8:23 pm

    Nadya - This article is amazing.. I wanted to write exactly the same one. I live in the other end of the world, far from you, in Bulgaria and believe or not, people here have the same opinions. My kid goes to kindergarten since 1 month and they started asking me from the first day: did you find a job already? what are you going to do now? As my life ends and I will die if I dont find a job immediately! I can’t believe it and I go mad when I hear these senseles questions.. I think there are thousends of other important and meaningful questions as you say. It’s not their business or we have to answer: I lie on the bed all day and watch TV with popcorn bowl in front of me.
    Ok, social life or job is important part of life, but my philosophy is that people define themselves through their mind and senses. As a human, I define myself as a mother and this is the most categorical imperative answer. Every other definition is secondary and not so important. Being a mother is my career and profession. Nowadays people lost their human features. They act as machines and it is so pity.. They ask questions machinary. Where did the deep philosophy questions go??? Questions about faith, love, hope, dreams? I don’t expect that Aristotelis is standing in front of me asking me something, but I do expect that someone has ever heard about him and his believes for example. Time’s changed… people’ve changed.. And the ugly truth is that this changes lead to the lost of self definition. Congrats on the article, so good and exact written! Love your blog!ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    Julie - I tend to agree with Luana. Just my two cents, but I think it can be a fairly innocent question, especially if asked in a friendly way. Of course, if it seems that people are asking in order to decide whether you are worthy of their acquaintance that is a bit off-putting 🙂ReplyCancel

  • July 31, 2014 - 11:32 pm

    kate - I’m late to the party here, but I recently discovered your beautiful blog.

    For the past three years, I’ve been regularly holding down two-three jobs, while searching for something better. When people asked me, “What do you do?” I always replied,

    “Well, I do lots of things.” I would then tell them about all of my jobs and then I’d also mention that in addition to three jobs, I also had hobbies like knitting. I never wanted people to think that I was this tragic case; I simply did what I had to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t also do what I wanted to sometimes, and that’s just as important. I try to make sure people know that when they meet me. I finally did get a better job so I won’t have to juggle three anymore, but I’m already thinking about all the *other* things it’ll allow me to do outside the job.ReplyCancel

    • August 1, 2014 - 7:26 am

      Sash - we are all so much more than just what we do for a crust… 🙂 what we do for our communities, for our families, for our friends – is so much more important (and telling) xReplyCancel

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