Who Are You? What Do You Do?

CramondA couple of weeks ago I met a friend for coffee and a catch up. After a while, we got to talking about meeting new people (she’d been to a wedding as a +1 the day before) and how, when you’re an adult, the first things people ask when they are introduced to you are “how do you know the host?” and “where do you work?” When we were teenagers it was about the music we listened to, at university it was the course we studied. Both were vague indicators of personality or taste. Our jobs? Not so much.

Most of my friends fall into two categories. Those who knew what they wanted to be when they were starting their careers and are now doing it (the doctor, the primary school teacher, the musician). The rest of us have fallen into our jobs with varying degrees of satisfaction. I suspect, if we are really honest, a lot of us just don’t know what we want to be when we grow up. Some folk are ok with that, some are not.

For the friend I met for coffee, talking about her job is a source of frustration. It’s what she does – but it’s not who she is, and while she is unhappy at work, she’s enjoying so many other ways of spending her time. She volunteers. She runs. She’s doing an evening class. But those things rarely come up in conversation.

It led me to thinking about how I’d answer “how do you spend your spare time?” if I was asked that, instead of about work. I swim. I read. I cook. I lift weights. I go to art galleries and museums. I practice my photography. Except, as I realised while talking to my friend, I’ve not been so good at doing those things lately. When I’m busy with work and tired at the weekends I find myself putting hobbies on a back burner. I end up putting off who I “am” in favour of what I “do” to pay the bills.

With that in mind, I dragged myself to Cramond with my camera on Sunday and went for a walk along the beach. The light was awful with clouds rolling in over the Forth, it started to snow, and the wind was howling. I only took one, maybe two decent pictures, but it was so nice to be out in the fresh air, reminding myself of how I enjoy spending my spare time and forcing myself to switch off and relax.

12 thoughts on “Who Are You? What Do You Do?

  1. Lucy in the Clouds says:

    I love this. The only time I ever felt good about answering that question was when I could say “teacher” yet that was easily the worst job I’ve ever had. I’ve just never known what I wanted to do and have always felt a little bit inadequate about it! I’m guilty of asking people’s jobs to make small talk … I hereby resolve to start asking about their spare time instead!

    • Gwen says:

      I’m with you Lucy – I’ve never known what I wanted to do either, and in some ways it really bothers me – I’m not sure why though!

  2. Sarah Rooftops says:

    I love this. I’ve always hated being defined by my career but not known how else to have an adult conversation with a stranger; it’s even worse now when all I know about the other grown ups I speak to is what their baby’s called – conversations seriously go, “And who’s this? HELLO MATILDA! This is [Baby’s Name]. So… are you going back to work?”

    • Gwen says:

      Ah that’s interesting, in a way I would have thought meeting other parents would mean a step away from conversations about work rather than questioning whether people are going back!

  3. Janet says:

    I agree with Lucy, the only times I haven’t minded that question is when I was a teacher. First, because it’s the kind of job you don’t have to explain – everyone knows (or thinks they know!) what a teacher does. But also because, at least in the circles I move in, it has a kind of cachet, even if it’s only people wincing and saying they couldn’t do it but they admire people who do. Now I sort of dread being asked because the response is necessarily long-winded and at the end of it, people still don’t really understand my job. Yet my job now – summed up as books and social media – says far more about me than most peoples’.

    • Gwen says:

      I see what you mean about the cachet, I think that’s what is so frustrating if you’re not enjoying your job and it’s in a low-paid or less respected field. I suppose jobs are a marker of ‘social status’ whether the judgement is made subconsciously or not!

  4. Elise says:

    I suppose if I asked someone what they do, I’d be fine if they answered with hobbies rather than a job, although I guess I’d be expecting a job answer! It’s funny that it’s the first question we all ask as grown ups yet it’s really not a great indicator as to what we’re like as people. Although, saying that, I’ve always chosen jobs based on my prevalent interests (visual merchandiser, projectionist, film archivist) so those kind of roles tend to open up a wider conversation (cause everyone in the world thought being a protectionist meant watching lots of films – I wish!)

    • Gwen says:

      I am always very envious of people who have managed to work out how to combine what they enjoy doing for work and as a leisure activity – sounds like you have perfected it!

  5. Smidge says:

    I blog. It gets me out of the house, walking, taking photos, exploring, meeting new people. Otherwise I’d spend my whole time on my phone in front of the TV or wallowing in this week’s self pity. Although I’d never describe myself as a blogger (kinda embarrassing still I think) but god help me if i mention I’m a town planner. It’s usually something along the lines of… Yes it is just like Sim City and no I have nothing to do with the trams.

    • Gwen says:

      I agree, it’s very easy to while away time in front of the telly, especially if you’re under the weather or have other things going on. I started this blog for all the reasons you’ve mentioned – just need to kickstart my motivation!

  6. Chiara says:

    You’re right, there’s such an emphasis on what we do rather than who we are. And I find I regularly neglect the things I want to do and that make me me when what I do invariably gets in the way. You make a lot of valid points here Gwen, great post x

    • Gwen says:

      Thanks! It’s easy to neglect those things isn’t it? Especially when we’re busy or tired… I’m glad it’s not just me who finds themselves doing that.

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