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Who are you (when nobody’s around to tell you otherwise)?

February 22, 2010

I was at my favourite bed & breakfast in Toronto. I’ve stayed there nearly a dozen times. It’s my “Cheers” – the kind of place “where everbody knows your name” – and I love, love LOVE it! I even made it onto their Christmas card list this year.

James, the manager, wasn’t there. He had a few days off and David (the weekend guy) was filling in for him. I’d never met David before, but James had briefed him.

“James told me about you. You’re a writer, right?”

Hmmm…. how do I answer that question? My first instinct was to say, “well, I’m not really a writer. I make my living as a communications director in a non-profit organization and when I have some time, I do some freelance writing.” But I didn’t. At that moment, I wanted to simply be the writer that James said I was.

“Yes… yes I am,” I said simply. And then I found out that David was (very happily) an accountant when he’s not working at the B&B.

It’s something we all do, don’t we? We let ourselves believe that the only true way to define ourselves is through our professions – that which pays the bills and puts food on the table.

But is that the truth about who we are?

It’s not that I don’t like my professions – most days I like it very much.  But that’s not the full picture.

As I’ve said before, writer is and always will be part of my truest essence. I could add other definitions to that – photographer, artist, speaker, fumbler, workshop facilitator, blogger, wanderer, mother, wife, seamstress, cyclist – but the truth is, you’ll rarely hear me use those words to define myself, at least not in the “elevator pitch” you’ll get in the first 30 seconds. To be honest, that’s partly because I feel like I am so many things that I’ll lose your attention span before I get to the list, but it’s mostly because we’re used to hearing people defined in a certain frame.

What about you? How would you define yourself if you didn’t have to connect it to “what you do for a living”? Perhaps you’d be different things for different people?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 9:04 pm

    tough question to answer; that one.
    am I an underdeveloped nearly middle aged woman? (usually don’t feel caught up to my age “category” ever. No matter what my age)

    I think I am a multi tasker.
    How would that go over in an elevater?

  2. February 22, 2010 10:37 pm

    You know, whenever I think about this, all I come back with is, “I am Michele.” Haven’t figured anything else yet.

  3. February 23, 2010 8:51 am

    At times I feel that my existence is for the simple reason that knowing me, anyone else would be compelled to suddenly feel really good about themselves.

    It’s a hard job. But someone has to do it.

  4. Dovelily permalink
    February 23, 2010 8:59 am

    I love this post! I think it’s so true that we tend to define ourselves by our professions and that we limit ourselves by doing so. I think it’s great that you chose to embrace the writer in you and answer in the affirmative to James’ question. I personally have a really hard time defining myself outside of my profession, but if I did I’d feel like I had so many more possibilities and opportunities, and not trapped in a role I no longer want to be in. These days I am feeling less and less suited for my current profession, although at one time I really believe it was exactly where I needed to be. I long to tell people what I consider myself at heart to be, which reads a lot like your list, Heather. I’m a writer, artist, photographer, shy singer, wannabe dancer, occasional sage (sometimes, not so much,) teacher, fumbler, “scanner ,” and an independent and complex woman (and a handful, depending on whom you talk to.) 😉 Great post!

  5. February 23, 2010 9:13 am

    In a lot of cultures, of course, asking what you do and meaning “for money” (like North Americans mean) is considered a rude question.

    I love that.

    The better question, as you write here, Heather, is “who are you?” But this question might (gasp!) lead to depth in our relationships, and really, the “what do you do” question is meant to shortcut through people by placing them in immediate boxes. We assume so much based on the answer.

    In the German language, you don’t say “I am A writer/student/dancer…etc.” You say, “I am Writer.”

    What do you think of that? 🙂

    I am Dancer.

  6. February 23, 2010 9:32 am

    Love your comment Blisschick – filing it all away for future use!

    I just wrote an elevator speech for my blog, but I have to say it’s very close to describing who I am (although my husband’s vote is: “Too many books, too little time” for my epitaph). The truth of the matter is that after so many years struggling with depression I have come to the conclusion that it is just NOT worth it to waste anything on something that isn’t true to me. I’m blessed enough to not NEED to pay the bills so I can afford to be selfish… The last seven or eight months have been me purging anything that isn’t true to me and increasing all the things that are.

    If I had to make a 30 second elevator speech though (or Bliss’s “I am”) it would definitely have a list:

    I AM Teacher, Beautiful, Courageous, Warrior, Priestess, Muse, Friend, Guide, Writer, Artist, Inspiration!

    Hey, I think I like that (plus, it takes less than 30 seconds to say!).


  7. February 23, 2010 12:54 pm

    I often struggle with this question myself. There have been times when my profession defined who I thought I was and times when I did not. I’m primarily a caregiver now & for the last 4+ yrs to my grandmother, but I don’t particularly like being defined by that, although taking care of ones grandmother 24/7 is an honorary purpose I don’t ultimately relate to it. I’m here because of love, not because of passion. I’d rather be known as the job I will go back to: a hairstylist. That tells more about me I think. But I see the negative in that too. Ultimately I’d like to be known as an artist. I spend most days creating in some way whether scrapping or art journaling or taking pictures or painting quirky little gifts yet I don’t feel like an artist because I don’t support myself with that job, yet it’s my passion. I’d like to be known as a reader for I love a great book but hte books I love reading aren’t the types of books “Well Read” people read. But I am an artist, a caregiver, a reader, a very amatuer photographer, an art journaler, a hairstylist, a would-be world traveler, an explorer of life. An Explorer of life kind of sums it all up for me.

  8. February 27, 2010 11:10 am

    Although I am retired, I guess I define myself, at least partly, as a teacher. It’s not just because it was my job, but even now, when I do or learn things, I often think about how I might teach that.

  9. March 13, 2010 7:38 pm

    hmmmmm…. jane of all trades,fortunately…. master of none. Unfortunately.

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