I see the question coming before I hear it. I look around for an escape route, frantic for avoidance of the inevitable. But there is only me, the shiny, plastic smile that stands before me, and her oncoming question. It bounces from her tongue to her red-stained lips and lands in the pit of my stomach.
“So dear, what do you do for a living?”
The detestable question. My answer is mumbled. I’m a writer, I say, aware of the string of questions that will proceed my answer. Her face brightens. Oh, what do you write, she asks. Um, some blogs. Her face shows confusion. I realise she doesn’t even know what blogs are. Articles, I say, and she asks if I have any published. Only online, I answer. This means nothing to her, so I stammer out my justification of my so-called career. I am writing a book though, and hope to have that finished by the end of the year and published. Oh, have you written any other books that have been published, she asks. No, I reply, this will be my first. She tells me it was nice to meet me and walks away, eyes scanning the room for the important people. I am not one of them.
I can hardly blame her. My living earned me fifty dollars last financial year. Not because I didn’t work my arse off submitting my work, and not because most of it wasn’t accepted and published, but because mostly, writers are paid in exposure, not dollars. It’s hard to label ourselves as serious writers when we are not taken seriously by the industry. As for the writing of my book, you will never see the fruits of my labour unless my book is published. Which means you may never see the hours upon hours each day I spend planning, researching, brainstorming and journaling. You will never see the speed of which my fingers fly over keys as I bleed words, one thousand, two thousand, hours of work poured into something that at this stage, is nothing more than a dream that may never be breathed into existence.
And so when I am asked what I do for a living, I fumble not to explain what I do, but to justify what I do. Because somehow our society has come to place more value on what we do, than on who we are. If I had been asked the question: So dear, don’t tell me what you do, tell me who you are? The answer would have poured, uncontained, from within me.
Me? I’d have said. I’m a dreamer, a creator, a writer, a fighter for all that is beautiful and good, an advocate for the underdog, a truth-teller, a passionate soul, a fiery heart and a wicked brain. I’m a wife, a mother, a lover of land and ocean, a gentle spirit and a sensitive soul who bruises easily but heals quickly, a survivor of the worst of humanity that I may seek to bring forth the best.
But when asked what I do, I struggle to show the same sense of significance, the connotation implying my value and worth are wrapped up in this one answer. In this one aspect of my life. And yet I know they’re not. They’re just not.
We cannot allow ourselves to believe that what we do defines who we are. If our worth is tied up in how much money we bring home, how high up the corporate ladder we climb, how prestigious our title or how many books we have had published, we are left with much to lose when we face inevitable crisis – redundancy, unemployment, demotion, rejection. We must come to understand and believe that we are not worthy and valuable because of our careers, income, successes, but in spite of them. That even if all of our achievements and accolades were taken from us, we would still carry the same weight of worth upon our shoulders.
Our worth exists because we exist. Our worth lies in who we are, in what we believe, in how we live our lives, in how we love. What we do or don’t do for a living bears no consequence to this. We could spend our lives hustling for our worthiness. We could exhaust ourselves with performance, perfection, pleasing. We could remain miserable in our comparison of ourselves to others, always striving to prove we have what it takes and falling desperately short.
But in doing so, we will never know contentment. We will never know peace. We will never know the beauty of our existence, of being fully alive and free in who we are.
And so next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I will stand tall and I will tell them. I am a writer. No, I have no published books. No, my writing brings no income. No, I’m not known in any important writer circles. And when they look away, awkward, I will smile. Their opinion does not define me.
I am not worthy because I write. I write because I am worthy.
We are not worthy because of what we do, we are worthy because of who we are.
And only when we understand the difference can we let go of our need to justify how we make a living and instead experience the joy and freedom of life.