“What do you do?”, the tall man asks me, his eyes piercing into mine as I attempt to dart his stare, while thinking of some coherent and accurate answer to supposedly the most straightforward question anyone could ask.
“Um… well, I do a lot of different things.”, I mumble, “I don’t really have just one job, I do writing and a bit of photography, I work with outdoor brands, I do social media, I work in a store…”
I am vague and he looks at me confusedly, so I quickly ask “what do you do?” in return. “I work in advertising.” he says, and then I half-listen, nodding, as he tells me about the projects he’s worked on and the brands he’s worked with. I still don’t feel like I know much about this person, except for what he does to pay the bills. Though for some reason he seems pleased with his answer, so I change the subject.
What a strange way to first get to know someone, I think to myself.
“What do you do?” is a question I have grown to despise in the last couple of years, since I graduated from uni - when I could no longer simply say “I’m a language student” anymore. I hate the fact anyway that the response is expected to be your career - when why should what you do for money define what you do as a person? If I were to answer as I want to, I would say something like “I hike, cycle, climb, explore, write, photograph, share, travel and love everything about it all”. It’s a much simpler answer in my eyes; it’s an honest and passionate one. But it’s the wrong answer. There are too many things. You can’t be all of those things. It doesn’t fit onto one line on LinkedIn or your Instagram bio or Tinder tagline. It’s too confusing. you can only be one thing, society says so; “oh that’s Dave, he’s a mechanic”, “Rachel is a terrific teacher!”, “Stephen is a banker in London.”
But I am not just one thing, and neither are you, and neither is anybody.
You can’t be defined by just that thing that you do for money, or just any one thing at all. We humans are a complex concoction of thoughts, emotions, intelligence, likes and dislikes; a melting pot with different ingredients thrown in as the days and years go by, as we try new things and meet new people. Sometimes the taste isn’t too pleasant and other times it is sweet as can be. The older we get, the more things are added to the pot until we are a rich brew of flavours and colours. This is who we are.
I hope you are still following my little ramble about identity. You see, it is something that I think about a lot, as a whatever-it-is-I-do and whoever-it-is-I-am at the age of 25 years young; still naive and uncertain, but growing ever-wiser to things that used to scare or intimidate me in the past. When I was a teenager, I used to ask myself ‘who am I’ far too much. I used to question it fiercely, searching my mind and body for the answer, adamant that I must find a response in order to ‘find myself’. ‘Identity crises’ were a common occurrence, so much so that my sisters would come to laugh at me about it, “oh Athena’s having another identity crisis again!”. They can still laugh now, as I haven't quite escaped the grasps of those questions about identity.
These questions have reappeared more recently, as I ‘build myself’ more on social media and write a blog that I hope some people enjoy reading. I wonder if I have to be one particular type of person in the online world. I dwell on that thought a lot. When I begun using social media, I was a cyclist, then a solo-hiker, now I enjoy climbing, I hike less alone and hope to spend more time in the mountains in coming years. What will happen if I change some more? I love to take a photograph, but am I a photographer? I write deep and thoughtful things like this one, so am I a writer? I go on adventures, big and small, so am I an adventurer? I am all of those things, but so often I feel like I have to define myself as just one thing to be consistent, to be understood.
And then, I have to push all of those thoughts away. Because if I attempted to define myself as just one thing, then I would stop doing all of the exciting things that I want to; I would stop trying things that scare me, pushing my limits, redefining my boundaries. I would never tell somebody else not to buy that top ‘because it’s just not you’; to stop trying new things because ‘you don’t normally do that’ - don’t dismiss a part of yourself because it’s new, different and misunderstood.
Be your messy, unique self and people will respect you more for it.
So, I have come to believe that you don’t have to have the answer to the question, ‘what do you do?’, anymore so than you can answer ‘who am I?’. You don’t need to know the answer, you never need to know the answer; because the more things you try in life, the more people you meet and adventures you embark on, the more rich and flavoursome your melting pot will become.
You should be as rich, diverse, confusing and unique as you want to be.
So maybe when someone next asks you, ‘what do you do?’, you should surprise them with a long list of all those little pieces of yourself that you love or hate; all those things that have made you your own special person, and maybe they’ll give you just as long a list in return.
Here’s my little, long list…
I read classical novels
I’m a little bit scared of heights
I love my dog
I ride a blue bike
I write a blog about the outdoors
I run a travel/culture magazine
I speak Spanish and Italian
I am a positive person
I am a negative person
I write personal things online
I’m quite reserved in real life
I have a lovely boyfriend
I wish people said what they really thought more
I’m scared to hear what people really think
I love my life
I smile at strangers
I laugh at myself
I am happy
I am human.