never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
My five-year-old asked me this morning at breakfast, “What do you do?” For a second I didn’t understand the question.
“As my job?” I asked Keegan.
“Yes.” He was looking at me thoughtfully from behind his cinnamon toast.
Before I could answer, Adeline said, “She creates things.”
Keegan began to giggle. “Like us!”
Adeline went on to elaborate on some of my other projects, classes, etc., but all morning I’ve been thinking about it… I create things. I like the simplicity of it. Isn’t that what we all do? Create things. It looks different for everyone, but at a soul level, I imagine we’re all in the process of creating something right now. If it doesn’t always earn us a paycheck or come with a 40+ hour work week, does it still count as “what we do?”
I suppose much of our culture is more interested in what a person can do than they are interested in who a person really is. When it comes to the work world, skills are in fact required. But when it comes to the social world, you’d think that what one does for a living would be less significant. There seems a blurred edge between these distinctly different areas of a person’s life. We’ve all sat down with strangers before, been given a hand to shake, a name to exchange, and then promptly been asked, “So what do you do?” There’s no shame in it. And yet, it’s peculiar. You could just as easily ask, “Are you close to your family?” or “Where would you most like to travel?” And in many cases you’d likely learn more about the person by asking those questions then you would from learning how they earn a living.
Developing a strong work ethic was central in my upbringing. My parents and my parents’ parents tried to raise us kids on pillars of fortitude such as, work hard, play hard, be humble, and keep a door open. It didn’t matter what we wanted to try, only that we really tried it. We could work for a family business, on a passion project, or in corporate America, just as long as we worked hard and with a good attitude. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, living in Los Angeles, that I began to see how a person’s job can become their identity (hard work aside).
LA is the land of the multi hyphenates. I love meeting someone and hearing them explain, I’m a family photographer-spiritual intuitive-hair stylist. If you can identify with that many parts of yourself and incorporate them into what you do, that’s fantastic. But I long for a more simplistic approach to self-identification. Am I to walk around saying, “I’m a mother-author-teacher-party planner-personal chef-house CEO-queen of carpool?” Or is that what my twitter handle is for? My Instagram photos? When did what we do become our social identification? The lines between doing and being seem to be fading away.
I remember going over to my great aunt Lucia’s home as a child and being mesmerized by her library, her baking, her piano, her garden. But if ever you were to have asked her what she did for a living, she would have told you, “I worked with books once a long time ago.” That was it. The rest, while beautiful, was inconsequential. It just was. I imagine that if a person where to have asked her who she was, she might have proudly said her family name. Or shyly declared that she was a gardener. (And she was, quietly growing love in her yard and in her life.)
Over the course of the last ten years, both what I do and who I am have greatly evolved. And much of that is because of a community who never asked me, “What do you do?” When you’re walking your dog, buying your groceries or dropping your kids off at school, you encounter people who don’t need you to define yourself. When you’re on the little league field, at your place of worship or your place of workout, you connect with people over life experiences. You find you have an identity without having to reveal the resume. Beautiful, isn’t it? I’ve lived in the South Bay of Los Angeles for the last ten years and I’m still learning things about my girlfriends here. Details trickle out during moments of bonding, leaving me further amazed by what these exception individuals have done. At one point or another I’ve had to ask, with a dumfounded expression: You were a professional figure skater? You ran a fortune 500 company? You own a food market? You wrote a novel? I suppose these aren’t leading conversations, because in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t what really matters. It isn’t what these ladies do that makes them important to me. They have brought happiness into my life because of who they are. They give me permission to be a human being instead of a human doing. We will always be busy with life, but thanks to my friends, I know that being a powerful woman has nothing to do with the resume. It’s about being able to bring a spark of life into another person’s day.
If traditional pillars of success such as work hard, play hard, be humble and keep a door open guide us towards a strong work ethic, then perhaps there is room for a being ethic? Spring marks a time of renewal; new things created, older creations rekindled. I’m going to kick off spring by trying my hand at a renewed rubric by which I might live my daily life.
Live with heart:
Take ownership of your life. Let your heart be your engine. Imagine what is possible and give your heart to its actualization. You will end up working hard, but with joy. Your skills and circumstances will develop, and you’ll connect with others everywhere you go.
Play without end:
Be present to the gifts of each moment and celebrate them. You’ll never have this day again. Let go of what dampens your spirit and bring with you the good stuff. There is always something to revel in with joy. And there is always room for imagination!
Believe that your life is meaningful and beautifully orchestrated. It is no accident that you have specific talents, passions and characteristics. You are perfectly imperfect. Listen to yourself. Believe that who you are is of more importance than anything you will ever do.
Make room for a bigger party:
Don’t just keep a door open, invite everyone in. All those wonderful people you have collected into your heart have something to teach you, and perhaps you have something to teach them. We all need each other. Live with gratitude and celebration.
With spring on its way, flowers blooming, I am taking Adeline’s words to heart and trying to further “create things” in my life. I will try to identify with myself beyond the scope of what it is that I do, and instead with who I am. I may be a mother and a writer and a carpool queen, but as I reflected on in From Three Feet Off the Ground, my role has just as much to do with the fact that I am a healer of booboos, a leg to lean on, a great force behind a swing, a giggle from behind a bowl of cookie dough, a true friend, and a dreamer of possibility. In the same way that my great aunt Lucia was, in the most archetypical sense, a gardener, perhaps I might come to think of myself as a weaver. I have never sat at a loom in my life, but I need to recognize how I weave ideas and lovely details into an ordinary day. I allow for mystery in the great patterns of my life while weaving dreams into reality, while weaving together the colorful fibers that connect those in my family into one.
We are all creating things. So the next time someone asks you “What do you do?” I challenge you to give them the more profound answer. The one beyond the resume that speaks to who you are. What will yours be?