Who am I and what do I do?


These two questions are simple and commonly asked but behind their harmless facade lies an expansive area of identity and status definition, comparison and anchoring.

When you first meet someone, one of the questions is likely to be, ‘What do you do?.’ Behind this simple question lies a minefield of complexity and many of us (myself included) would tend to fall back on using our day job/profession/vocation as an answer, ‘I’m a Director at BigBucks Company ‘, ‘I’m a Writer’, ‘I’m a Chef’…Nothing wrong with these answers but is your job/vocation YOU? Is how you define yourself also what you are PASSIONATE about? If your answers to the above two questions is ‘Yes’ -that’s fantastic! But alas, it’s not the case for many of us- including myself a couple of years ago.

When I embarked on my simplicity journey, some of the questions I asked myself was ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who do I want to become/stand for?’ and ‘What am I passionate about?.’ I knew the answers to all the above questions would not include my title and my job description in the corporate firm I worked for. These questions helped me to really think about who I am and wanted to be, and in the process clarified my passions and priorities and instilled a deeper sense  of meaning and self worth to my life. After this exercise in self-introspection, when asked ‘Who I am’ or ‘What do I do’, I tend to answer ‘I’m an Inspired Idler’ (more of that in another post) or ‘I’m a passionate entrepreneur’ or ‘I’m a bookseller’. These answers feel so much more meaningful and authentic because they describe who I think I really am and what I’m passionate about. We are so much more than our day jobs.

I gave these answers not only at social occasions but frequently at work too. The answers tend to throw many people aback initially as they were not expecting such a response but then it tended to turn the conversation around and I’ll get responses like ‘I’m a happy Dad’ or ‘I’m a Gaming Geek’ – and they are so much more truthful and interesting! Having said that, obviously there were many occasions at company meetings where I actually had to declare what I do: ‘I’m so and so (job title) and this is why I’m here (i.e. why I’m important).’ Thank God they tend to be few and far between.

Apart from the fact that our job (especially one we dislike and which we are merely doing for the paycheck) does not define who we really are, what we stand for and aspire to, it also tends to become a status anchor. Think about it this way, when you tell someone you’re a Director of BigBucks Company, the other person would be forming an impression of who you are, your qualifications and experience, how much you earn etc. immediately. We tend to become addicted to the status and perceptions that come with the job title and  if we were to lose our job one day, we not only suffer in the financially, but also an identity and confidence  crisis: I’m no longer a Director…so who am I? A nobody?. That’s why so many people hang on to jobs they dislike, not only because of the money but because of the identity and worth it bestows upon them.

So when I left the corporate world, I wasn’t so much affected as liberated. I am still who I am as an inspired idler, entrepreneur and bookseller- nothing’s changed. The job and title? They were not who I am nor was I passionate about the work- so nothing’s been lost. In this case, detachment really means freedom.

I was inspired to write this post by different ideas, events, articles etc. and one of these events was the recent review of the British Class System (you know, in the UK we are quite obsessed about the class we fall into). Anyway, someone up there thought the current class system (upper, middle, lower/working class) was quite outdated and needed a revamp to take into consideration factors like social contacts, mobility, new professions etc. So the New British Class System was born. Obviously for a system to work and to make sense, some of us has to be up there, most of us in the middle and many down at the bottom- or it wouldn’t be a class system would it? It would be communism (in the pure form it was originally intended to be). Unfortunately where you fall under is still largely determined by what you own, how rich you are, what you do and who you know. I did the test and fell under the new and rather elite (read ‘small’) Technical Middle Class. Interested? You take the British Class Test here. They even have a section on what the Americans think- fascinating!

So who are you?



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  1. When someone asks me the question of what do I do, I chuckle then reply that it would be easier to answer the question of what I don’t do
    . That usually takes the person a few seconds to process but after that a great conversation usually follows

    1. I guess if you like the job and it defines who you are, then by all means identify with it. If not, you”re certainly right to want to change it. What would you like to define yourself as? Whatever it is- all the best!

  2. Hm I certainly like this way of thinking 🙂 I am wondering right now how I’d describe myself – I guess as a book and literature lover and knitting artist, which defines me way better than ‘postal worker with a webshop’ – which is how I (try to) get money, but not really who I am.