I’m leaving my job in a month. Today, the listing for that position went up.
I know that, intellectually, I am more than my job title. But ever since I moved to New York as an undergrad, the first question I’ve been asked by strangers is, “What do you do?” And it seemed to imply that my occupation defined me. I suppose it isn’t a wholly new concept. People were known by their profession far before New York came along. But you could be a blacksmith or a cobbler for life, and take pride in it. I am a data visualization specialist; that title will only belong to me for a few more weeks.
After that, I don’t know how I’m going to respond when someone asks, “What do you do?” I supposed there are a few ways to answer:
1. My situation — the story of why I don’t have a title now.
2. My former jobs — the list of things I used to do
3. An answer that begs for more questions, like, “I’m a storyteller.”
But when someone asks “What do you do?” they might as well be asking “Who are you?” The things we do in our lives logically define who we are, so perhaps that’s why those two questions are synonymous with each other. But, thing is, I don’t always think I do what I am. I do what I need to.
So I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to define myself. I envied people who could make business cards for themselves and proudly put under their name “Artist” or “Designer” or “Entrepreneur.” I even envied people who could shamelessly put in that spot “Person.” So I thought about the kind of people I enjoyed being around — the people in my Hall of Fame of People. And I did a quick analysis of the list.
Many of them work menial jobs. Many of them work to serve others. They define who they are in their interaction with people. And when you ask them what they do, they answer quite clearly that they wait tables or sew clothing or whatever, but then they ask about you. They ask how you are. They ask if there’s anything they can do for you. They don’t hold grudges. They make you feel like the world is a fair place.
I’m not sure what this means, and it bothers me that I have no conclusion. I think this is a good thing, though. The worst stories are the ones without uncertainty.