“I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” – Maya Angelou
I know I have written a few blog posts on this channel about money, and careers, and passions. And I still stand by those posts because I do believe it’s important to have a job that you love and to be passionate about what you do, but I definitely don’t believe it’s all that matters in life. Yup, as always, Maya Angelou knows her shit.
“So what do you do?”
It’s one of the first questions anyone asks when making conversation with someone new, as if the answer to that question tells us everything there is to know about that person. And the really sad part is, depending on their answer, we make snap judgements about them based on how society categorizes certain jobs and industries. The fancy term for this is “occupational prestige”, and we are all guilty of falling into that mindset. But why does the job a person carries have to define who they are as a human being? Well, it doesn’t—and it definitely shouldn’t.
I am a 27 year old Marketing Specialist for a higher education institution in Boston, Massachusetts. But I am so much more than that. Sure, for 8 hours a day, five days a week, I am a Marketing Specialist. But for seven days a week, 24 hours a day, I am a daughter, and a sister, and a girlfriend and a best friend. I am a writer and a day dreamer, and I’m also a bad driver with a rotten potty mouth and terrible hand-eye coordination. My identity is made up of so many different things, and while my job is definitely included in the mix, it is only a small part in the scale of things.
Now some of you may be reading this and want to disagree with me, and that’s okay. But I would wager a guess that those of you in that group absolutely love what you do for a living. And I’ll tell you a secret: you are actually contributing to my overall point here (so thank you!). I truly believe our identity should be defined as what we love and value in our lives, not as what we do for a living. So if you are someone who, for example, loves kids and works with kids for a living, then what you do and what you love are one and the same, and that’s something special.
Call me crazy, but I don’t believe our life is deemed successful by having success in our careers. And sure, the notion may seem cliché or cheesy, but there are so many other factors to living a good life that—in my humble opinion—matter so much more. Like the relationship we have with our family, the depth of our friendships, our passion for philanthropy, our immersion into other cultures through travel, and, arguably the most important, the positive impact we leave on other people. Sure, the strangers we meet will ask us what we do, but once those strangers become acquaintances, all they will really remember about you is how you made them feel. That’s the difference between a first impression and a lasting impression.
So for any college kid out there who is overly stressed and preoccupied with what they want to do for a living, I say to focus more on how you want to live your life. And for all the working professionals who tend to get caught up in the day-to-day stressors of our jobs, let us always try to maintain our focus on what really matters. I am the first one to admit that it’s hard to not bring a bad day of work home with me, but if we do that, then the job becomes more than just a job…and I for one never want to give it that much power.
When all is said and done—and by this I mean (in less harsh terms) when we finally kick the bucket—someone we love will write our obituary. And while it’s true that this could go so many different ways, it’s more likely than not that the person closest to you in your life is not going to read off your resumé. Instead, they are going to write about the family who survived you, and the places you grew up, and the many wonderful qualities that made you, you. So c’mon people, if you’re gonna do anything, do it for the obituary.
4 thoughts on “Never let what you do define who you are.”
I wish I had this wisdom in my 20s. I was am a teacher, and I’ve allowed what I do to become such a huge part of who I am. It becomes all consuming and it’s something we all need to be better about.
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I think it’s okay to have your job be a big part of you, but you said it right when you describe it as “all consuming”, that’s when it’s a problem.
This is a great post. I spent so much time trying to study the hardest and trying to get so ahead in my career by doing lots of internships, and I don’t regret doing any of those things, but I valued that more than other aspects of life. I’m now realizing that there is more to life than a career.
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Very well said