Humans are intrinsic creatures. We want to belong, be part of a community and pigeonhole ourselves into categories of things that define us. “What do you do?” is one of the most asked questions at any dinner party or social setting. We are so wired in these days that our automatic answer is to explain what it is we do for a living. How we make money. How we pay the bills and keep our lives ticking along. We describe ourselves as doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists. In doing so however, we are quick to shut off everything else in our lives that it is important to us and promote only that which brings in the coin. Why?
The amount of time people now spend at work naturally means that vocation is an all-consuming element in life. People now spend more time at the office than they do with their families, or reading books, or cooking meals. While this is a sad reflection of society (and, presumably of economic times where we need to work more in order to survive), it has now reached a sickening level whereby our work is defining us. People are proud to wear their employment status like a badge of honour. This needs to change.
When you strip beneath the layers of tertiary education, professional life and everyday work stress, you are left with the core of your inner self. This is the real you – not your MBA or your law degree. What defines you now? So much happiness can be gleaned from developing interests and having purpose outside of your employment pursuits. Are you a frustrated foodie underneath that heavy suit and tie? Let it out on the weekend and tell people about it. Even better, do something about it.
Work does not (and should not) define us. What you do to make money is an absurd way to describe yourself to people. It is the deeper you that matters. What do you think about when you are alone in the car? Where does your mind wander? What are the causes that are most close to your heart? Do you love animals? Are you compassionate about third world countries? Do you love learning about new cultures or new languages? Show this side of you to the world and let these passions be the building blocks of your life, not your career.
Next time you find yourself introducing yourself to new people, steer the conversation away from vocation and on to passions and interests. Not only is this conversation so much more fulfilling, you are guaranteed to find out more about people than the usual boring humdrum of their resume and their annoying boss. These are the things that matter in life. These are the things that define us.