Should My Job Define Me? NO!

I work as a teacher, but this does not define me.

You’ve been to parties, so you know how this conversation goes. You meet someone. You’re holding a drink, they are holding one as well. Someone has created a playlist of eclectic music which is buzzing in the background, providing ambience and an ambivalent sense of “cool” to the party. They introduce themselves, and you tell them your name. In 80% of the cases (unless this person is hitting on you), the next question is either “where are you from?” (and we TCKs hate that question), or “what do you do?”. That second question sort of defines a lot of things about you. It defines your status in society, how much you make, your educational level, and to many in society, it defines who you are. As a matter of fact, your job can become your label, to the point that in western society many have last names based on their ancestor’s jobs. Surnames like Farmer, Brewer, Mason, Grover, Smith (from blacksmith) in English, or Schumacher (shoemaker) in German give you a sense of what a certain person’s ancestors did. As if your job didn’t already eat up way too much of your life, now your very name is in its grasp!

I’ve come to a point where I deeply resent this question. Up until recently my Facebook profile (yes, even Facebook plays the game) listed at the top of my profile that I am a “Social Studies Teacher” at such-and-such school (perhaps I was listing this on Facebook and Zuckerberg should only get half the blame?).

And while it is true that  I’ve been teaching for over a decade-and-a-half, does being a teacher really define who I am? Is my identity wrapped around being a teacher? Do I have a job, a career, or a calling? How much does this demand of me, and am I willing to give this my life (if it defines me, then does it now own me as well?).

So one day I decided to get rid of the job title on my Facebook profile. Within a week, a professional organization I belong to booted me from their roster. When I emailed to ask, I was told that as they were auditing Facebook profiles, they did not see mine listing me as a teacher of a certain sort. So perhaps it isn’t just our jobs that define us, but also our Facebook profiles.

The American rock band Kansas may have sung about how all we are is “dust in the wind”, but sometimes I wonder if we are much less than that (at least dust gets to fly around and see new places). Perhaps all we are are hamsters on a wheel. Nope, even then the hamster is getting good exercise and avoiding heart disease and diabetes. Our situation is far, far worse than this!

Slowly I’ve come to a point where I have decided not to let my career, or even my job, define who I am. Which led to another excellent question: am I a career man? Do I have a… career? Or would I rather just have a job. Excellent then, I have no career to define myself by. So now I have a job to define me and who I am. Crap! I’m back to square one. What if I had a “calling”? Complications…

You remember that old saying about how if you love what you do, it is no longer work? What a load of crap that adage is! You are still working. There are still days when you will hate doing it. I love to write, I love to be in shape. But there are days when I hate writing, and there are many, many days when I hate walking toward the gym. Yes, I enjoy the results, but I am not always fond of the process.

A few weeks ago I was literally on the hamster wheel (we humans call it a treadmill, I guess) and I was listening to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) on their podcast, and Millburn starts talking about how to answer the “what do you do?” question by changing the parameters and saying, “I am passionate about…”. It was quite a moment of revelation.

This begged the immediate question: what am I really passionate about? So I started to write it down basically in brain-storm mode. I have distilled it into a few short bullet points. This is, after all, a list that helps to define who I am. So here goes:

  • I am passionate about being a dad (papí en castellano) to my daughters.
  • I am passionate about traveling and exploring what I’ve never experienced before.
  • I am passionate about writing, reading, and speaking about these with others.
  • I passionately desire to be around friends and family, and share experiences with them.
  • I am passionate about history (which is why I teach it but, again, I AM NOT MY JOB!)
  • I am passionate about helping people (again, another reason why I am currently working as a teacher).
  • I am passionate about football (the one with the round ball).

Yes, I do currently work as a teacher. It suits my passions in many ways:

  1. Gives me time off to spend with my daughters (13 weeks’ vacation)
  2. Allows me to travel.
  3. Inspires me to read.
  4. Allows me to live in the world of history.
  5. Gives me an opportunity to help others.
  6. Allows me to meet other like-minded people who share many of my values and interests.

But this does not define who I am. Tomorrow I could be a barista at a Starbucks or wash dishes at a restaurant in Porto, Portugal, and I would still be the same person. I have to earn enough to cover my (very few) bills, and put food on the table, so no, I am not quitting work anytime soon. But the route I take in gathering resources could change at any moment.

And thus this is the beginning of a new exploration into who I am. I will be 45 in a couple of weeks, and it has taken me this long to figure things out that I wish I had two decades ago, but then again, the past is the past and all I have is the present and perhaps tomorrow, thus I am happy to be where I am.


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