Longtime WAD commenter Faded observed recently on my post about feeling all “meh” about work that I had been defining myself through my work, and without a major project to do I needed to figure out what really defines me. As he put it, “What is it that’s mine now?” Faded poses a good question to all of us.
On the one hand, we are not what we do to earn our bread. We are not our paychecks. We are not even our interests or hobbies or race or gender or religious affiliation. According to yogic philosophy, we are not even this earthly shell we inhabit nor are we the full collection and sum of the things we are and traits we have. It doesn’t matter if I have no major projects at work; they are not me and I am not them. This too shall pass—the economy is down, then it’s up, we have no work, then we have plenty of work and I’ll be very busy. If I am terrible at karaoke or mediocre at sketching or stand-up or decent at public speaking, it is neither here nor there. I am not my failures or my successes; I am much larger than these things.
And yet…how can I not have a great deal of my identity wrapped up in something I’ve been pursuing, something that has possessed the vast majority of my waking hours since I was eighteen? How does anyone not have at least part of their identity defined by what they do for a third of their lives? Now, by that definition, I could be defined as “lazy” because I also spend about a third of my life asleep, but you have to sleep sometime. You have thousands of choices of what to do with your time, however, and that’s how we often define ourselves.
But even that line of reasoning reminds me of a really off-color joke:
In a small tropical village, a tourist came upon a man weeping by the side of the road. The tourist inquired what was the matter, and the man wiped his eyes and gestured towards the harbor that the road overlooked, full of boats of every size.
The man introduced himself as Pedro, and he began, “Do you see that harbor, full of beautiful boats, for fishing and for fun? I made more than half those boats over the past twenty years, but do you think anyone calls me Pedro the Boat Maker? No!”
Pedro paused and then said, “Over there on that hillside, do you see those beautiful little houses? People live in those houses, raise families in them, and rent them to visitors like yourself, and they’re all well-built and have survived two hurricanes. I built almost every house on that hillside over the course of thirty years, but does anyone call me Pedro the House Builder? No!”
Pedro wiped his eyes. “But you screw one goat….”
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. How what we do does or doesn’t define us.
Even though I haven’t done comedy in like seven years, there are people in my life, both work and home, who think of me as funny and as “Pixie the architect and comedian”. At least I hope the word “architect” gets in there somewhere, or that’s a very different OAC meeting. And while that identity defines me as someone who is generally funny, it implies that I am always funny and can be funny on command. Every now and then, someone will invite me to hang out with them and their friends from another circle, and I can tell that they’re waiting for me to jump into the conversation with some clever repartee or to take the discussion to some hilarious level, and there’s just nothing there to work with and no reason to be funny. When I’m the odd person out in a group, I observe and ask a few questions because I’m not familiar with the dynamics of this group of people. Inevitably, the person who threw me into this group is a little disappointed that I failed to live up to their hype. And I end up being of two minds about it: 1) damn, I wasn’t very funny, was I?; and 2) it’s not my job to be Laugh-A-Minute Pixie; I get to be Pixie, whoever that is that I feel like being at the time.
Having said all that, I’ve ended up using this professional sorta-crisis as an opportunity to explore other aspects of my identity, or non-identity, or…whatever/however the Buddhists see it. I’ve started channeling some of my energy into some writing projects that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, and with the lack of activity at work that can positively channel my energy it’s helped. But it’s still touch-and-go with feeling at peace about all this. I guess it’s sorta like being a kid at school, when you mark time in school all day because you know when the last bell rings that you’re heading home to do something fun and that actually truly interests you, like build your fort or supersonic death ray or draw your comic book or act out a play or movie or music video. Using that concept, that means that I’m doing whatever work I have as best as I can for eight hours a day so I can go home and write, though most days here lately I only have the energy to go home and catch up on all the periodicals I wasn’t able to get through during November and December. Some days, I can only flip through a catalog—can’t even muster the brainpower to read an actual magazine. And at work, sometimes my focus is fine, and other times I have a severe case of Shiny Object Syndrome and it takes me two hours to model a wall-mounted sphygmomanometer in Revit. Perhaps one day I’ll be called Pixie the Revit Sphygmomanometer Builder.