“I just want to know how to put you into a neat little box.”
She said this as she mimed the sides of a cube in the air with her hands. She was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t have a concise answer to the question I get asked almost daily.
“What is it that you do again?”
Quite frankly, that question is near impossible for me to answer in the way that most people expect or do for themselves. So, lately I’ve just taken to say something to the effect of, whatever I want to do.
People ask this question as a way of gaining a sense of a person’s identity. Like my friend said that day, people tend to compartmentalize others so they can identify or classify them. Like a filing system. It’s how we sort. We have all kinds of classifications for natural elements all over this great earth. The humans we come in contact with are certainly not exempt from this.
We also do it to ourselves. We decide on an identity that we believe will gain us significance and happiness and we pursue it. We decide that fulfillment is found in the obtaining of the identity.
And just like that, we’ve destined ourselves to never achieve that fulfillment and fall into a rut, shrugging our shoulders wondering why things aren’t ending up as sunny as we saw it all going in our heads.
For most of my existence I pursued the identity, hoping to reap whatever peripheral benefits arrived from being that thing. Notice I’m not talking about being a particular kind of person. It was about becoming a thing, a title.
As a child I wanted to be Batman (still kinda do).
As a teen I wanted to be a sports star.
In my early 20’s it was Craftsman.
In my late 20’s it was Artist.
In my early 30’s it was Entrepreneur.
Obtain the title or position and gain (take your pick) acceptance, relevance, significance, respect, riches, love, happiness, fulfillment, or anything else I thought might come as a perk to being a particular thing rather than a consciously developed human being.
This isn’t a “don’t define yourself by your work” kind of message. What you do is a natural extension of yourself, your values, your beliefs, your vision. So by default you’re actively defining the current version of yourself at that moment by what you’re choosing to do or not do with every minute of your day, not just your work. This piece is simply about identity and the endless pursuits that result from focusing on wrong endings.
By pursuing so many identities I denied myself opportunities to show up honestly every day to do and/or participate in work that mattered to me and impacted others for good. Work that would be natural extensions of the fulfillment and happiness I would have obtained in simply doing it and cultivating the person I truly wanted to be.
Ah, but there’s the key. Long story short, I pursued all of these identities out of a simple lack of awareness of who I wanted to be. I still had not answered the question from my core of what kind of man I wanted to be in the world. So, by default I chased the images of identities that appeared to bring with them the types of fulfillment and happiness I thought I’d like to have.
Ironically, all that I was after literally began to arrive once I made a simple decision to be fulfilled and happy and never settle for less than that. Making that choice kickstarted the process that peeled away the layers to reveal what kind of man I wanted to be (knowing this vision will indeed change as I actively engage in activities that mature all aspects of self) while the simplicity of doing work that supports that vision also revealed itself.
To relinquish my pursuit of identity does present a problem for people who attempt to sort or compartmentalize upon meeting me. Honestly, knowing what I know now, I’m happy to frustrate them a little by not being able to be filed away readily.
Ok, stopping to think about it, I suppose if you absolutely had to tuck me away into a manila folder for future reference, go ahead and toss me into the file marked “Happy.”
Hopefully you have that category.