Living in the U.S., I am often confronted with ‘What do you do?’, which seems to have become synonymous with ‘Who are you?’. I am never quite sure how to answer this question. I understand they are inquiring specifically about what I do for a living, but I am not my job. I have never had a job title that gave a good overview of what truly occupied me at the time. So, easy, you say. Just answer with what you do besides your job.
But that’s the tricky part. What I do besides my job changes very often. (Actually, my job changes very often too. My résumé looks like it belongs to more than one person.)
That doesn’t mean nothing comes up. I am interested in many things. I love to read and learn, to fix and invent things, to design projects and start businesses, to improve processes and to discover the unknown. For about a couple of weeks, I am completely absorbed by something.
→ see my post My ode to curiosity here
I immerse myself so deeply in a project that others think it’s a permanent life choice. But it is not, and I know very well that the feeling of having found the most interesting thing in the world will pass. Even though I have surrendered to this ongoing personal roller coaster ride a long time ago, I still feel weird calling myself after what I currently do, because the standard is to stick with things for life.
When I’m fascinated by something, I wish that studying that subject was my job. But I know better than wholeheartedly replying with ‘researching quantum physics’, only because I recently got a pile of books on that topic from the library. So what do I say?
My most satisfying solution used to be answering that I’m a student. Whether my current project had anything to do with my curriculum or not, it surely involved studying. It was easy, definite, and no-one asked questions. But since I’m currently about 4635 miles away from my university in Amsterdam, that does no longer not hold up. Also, I graduated a year ago.
Being interested in many things is not just a problem for answering the ‘What do you do’-question. I lack a feeling of identity that many people get from their career. And sometimes the identities I do derive from my passions are straight up conflicting. It’s confusing to associate yourself with Buddhist values, and at the same time see yourself as a money-focused entrepreneur. Which, depending on the book I’m currently reading, I both do.
This makes me very hesitant about outing my opinion in any way more permanently lasting than speech, because I know very well that my opinions will change due to what I read. The more I learn, the more reluctant I am with forming any strong opinions at all.
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle
Research has shown that those who read are capable of more empathy and ‘theory of mind’, which is the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests other than their own.1 Books show you the world through frames of reference you otherwise didn’t have access to. In other words, reading molds you, and adds to your personality.2 Research has also shown that it makes you less needy for ‘cognitive closure’, meaning you are more comfortable with ambiguity, thus making you more open-minded.3
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R. R. Martin
And this is exactly the beauty of it. The lack of one set identity is the foundation of open-mindedness. Following my curiosity makes me all possible answers to ‘What do you do’. Because of what I choose to read and undertake, I am both laborer and scholar. Entrepreneur and volunteer. Introvert and extrovert. Committed and impulsive. Nature-lover and indoors-person. Health-freak and cookie-monster. Settled down and traveler. I am reader, learner, writer, innovator, teacher, student – all in one.
Where do you derive most of you identity from? Do you feel like you’re more than just your job? Leave a comment below to let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
1. Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., dela Paz, J., & Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds.Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), 694-712.
2. Mar, R., Djikic, M., & Oatley, K. (2008). Effects of reading on knowledge, social abilities, and selﬂiood. Directions in empirical literary studies: In honor of Willie van Peer, 5, 127.
3. Djikic, M., Oatley, K., & Moldoveanu, M. C. (2013). Opening the closed mind: The effect of exposure to literature on the need for closure. Creativity research journal, 25(2), 149-154.