Sometimes I think life would be so much easier if I could answer the question “what do you do” with one simple answer.
“What do you do?”
“I am a ________.”
I can’t do that though, because there are so many different versions of me. Each one of them takes priority in different situations, and there isn’t really one that I can say I value the most. I value them all as facets of what makes my life rich, complicated, and very, very confusing.
Recently, the talented and hilarious writer/Mom/social media expert extraordinaire Sarah Cottrell (Housewife Plus) connected me with (in her words) :
“A spirited group of clever ladies who sometimes drink and swear, always laugh, and – most importantly – need a place to vent, share, and hide while eating all the chocolate!”
As I started “meeting” these women, I began to think about the things that we had in common (or the things that make us different). Most of us are mothers (it seems), many of us write in some form or other, some of us have other jobs as well . . . all of us have many aspects to our lives which we will never understand unless we spend time getting to know each other.
I asked this group how they answer the question “What do you do?” and got some fabulous responses:
“I don’t have a good answer to that insane question buuuuut, I read an article recently that said that when you are at a party and introduce someone to a group, rather than say, “this is Christine, she’s a kick ass writer and nurse on the side”, you should introduce the person with something personal about them “this is Christine and she’s the funniest mom I know.” It takes the focus off people’s jobs being who they are. Since then, I’ve done it a few times and it’s worked really well!” (Christine McDevitt Burke, Keeper of the Fruit Loops)
“My tactic is to shift focus as well. I loath the ‘what do you do’ question.” (Beth Teliho, Writer B is Me)
“I keep kids alive. That’s what I do.” (Harmony Hobbs, Modern Mommy Madness)
“Assassin. Just to see their eyes get big.” (Alexa Haddock Bigwarfe, No Holding Back)
So how do I answer the question? I stumble and mumble and come up with something that makes sense in the situation, but my answers may or may not include:
- I am a mother. I list this one first because–in some version of someone else’s reality–this is supposed to be the “job” I value the most. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my daughter and am very proud of the person she is turning into. But is this something I do or is this something I am? I mean, really, half the time I don’t know that I make conscious mothering choices. The other half I just pray that I’m not being an idiot who is destroying my daughter’s life. Sometimes I think that I am just a prop in someone else’s life, as she grows toward something and I fade into midlife. Sometimes she is the center of the universe, and sometimes I want to run away and find a place of my own. Perfect mother I am not . . . nor am I the perfect wife.
- I am an educator. This one is even more complicated. While the majority of my income comes from adjunct faculty work, in a broken system the “adjunct” makes me seem lesser than tenured or tenure track faculty. I’m not though. I work as hard( or harder) than some faculty for and with my students, I just attend fewer meetings. At one point in my life I was aiming for that traditional tenured position, but the reality is that is not where I want to be. While I love teaching and mentoring some students, I don’t love the politics and the games of academia. I no longer enjoy working with students who don’t want to learn. I don’t want to write the things I need to write in a “publish or perish” world. Sure, I can write an academic tome, but I would much rather work on the things that inspire me at the moment. Someday I will write an academic opus, but because I choose to, not because I am trying to jump through the hoops of tenure. Meanwhile, I can focus on being the best teacher I want to be. I also teach in other situations as well–courses and workshops for people of all ages. I don’t, however, have the actual title that lends gravitas to my identity (unless you count the fact that I am, actually, Dr. Kramer).
- I am a theatre artist. This is one of the identities I struggle with, even though I have been doing it all my life. I am a director–but I am not always seen as a professional because I often work with young people. I am the co-Founder of a theatre company that focuses on using theatre as a tool for community building rather than creating stars, and is still stumbling to build into something bigger. Because I have both an MFA and a PhD I am labeled as an academic, when I’ve always wanted to be an artist–so I have lost my way in this field. I still love it to some degree, but I don’t know if I call this home.
- I am a writer. This is the title I most yearn to claim, but the one I stumble over the most as well. The more I find myself involved in communities of writers–people who have actually been published more than a few times, people who make a living writing and teaching about writing, people whose names are recognized in writing circles–the more I feel like an imposter of words. Of course, I write all the time. At one point I was blogging daily, but I had to get back to focus on other projects. I have published a book. I have written a dissertation. I have published articles. Yet, I still struggle defining myself with these terms. What will it take?
I think the answer to that question lies in the title of this post, “the power of community.” As much as I hate the fact that I still look for outside validation sometimes, I believe that in many ways the community of people you surround yourself with helps define you. I may often still feel like an imposter in the middle of incredible people, but being included in the conversation helps me say I am a wife, mother, writer, theatre artist, director, educator, business woman, advocate . . . complicated human being with a lot to offer the world. Finding communities which support the chaotic reality of life–the reality that we are not just one thing but many–is one of the most wonderful gifts.
Thank you to all the wonderful people who interact with me in my various communities. You make my life a richer place.
What communities do you belong to? Do they help define you?
Discover how the power of a community can change the world for better, even in a fictional place–get your copy of P.O.W.ER today.
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