“Who I Am” is More Important than “What I Do”
What makes us who we are? How do you describe yourself in 160 characters? What unique characteristics, personality traits, descriptors come together and form you into the person you are? What sets you apart from others?
Many people choose to describe themselves first as a spouse or a parent. Maybe they identify their religion, or that they love dogs. Most of the time, they answer the question: What do you do?
And that one’s a challenge for me, too. I can easily say what my job is, but is that truly what I do? Is it the fullness of who I am?
For a long time growing up, my identity (who I am) and my calling (what I do) were hard to separate in my mind. At first, because I was a religious kid, I wanted to be a missionary. And then a scientist. Then a genetic counselor, then a politician, then a campus minister, and so on. That would be what I would do, and by default, I imagined that these roles would also define who I was.
But things got trickier, quickly. First, I changed my mind several times about what I wanted my career path to be. As I moved from career path to career path, I started to lose myself. With my identity caught up in my vocation, and my vocation reduced to a job, who was I when those things were constantly changing?
And in addition to making it hard to figure out who I was every time I decided anew, once again, what I wanted to do with my life, it became increasingly more challenging to find that perfect fit in a job. After all, there was a lot riding on that choice and that position. It had to be the thing that completed me, fulfilled my hopes and dreams for myself, and encapsulated the fullness of my identity.
After several career changes, it became clear that this approach wasn’t going to cut it. I decided campus ministry and politics weren’t for me, but discovered a love for sharing stories and writing. I knew I’d have a lot of options with this new focus, but I also knew that my career identity would never be simple to explain. My job title doesn’t neatly define what I do, and what I’m doing is going to change a lot as the world changes. So even if I wanted to, I can’t stake my identity in that.
Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t want to stake my identity in what I do, anyway. Not that I don’t love what I do — it’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m so happy to have found a career that I love.
But who I am is so much more than a job title, a career trajectory, or what I do during the day for work. For that matter, who I am is a lot more than what I do at all. I can make a list of how I spend my days, what I choose to focus on — and that certainly matters, because my actions form me into who I am. But to reduce my identity to what I do leaves out an essential component.
If I really, in my bones, believe that I am made in the image and likeness of God, then I’ve discovered a foundation for my identity that is rock-solid.
That is my identity. That’s my vocation. I am a beloved child of God, called to bring Christ to the world by sharing sacrificial love. And when I remind myself of that, everything else sort of fades away. My job, my hobbies, what I do matter to the extent that they are the ways in which I live out my calling, but the details are just that: details. When I change my job, when I move, when I decide to get really into photography, it’s still a big step but it doesn’t change who I am.
So my Twitter bio might say that I’m a social media specialist; that I’m a freelancer; that I’m Catholic; and that I love dogs. But what can never be expressed there — and what I’ve got to remind myself and the world every day — is who I am: a human being created and loved by God.