identify yourself.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with a case of identity. It’s hard to know who I am, certainly, but understanding what the hell that question means is even harder.

Working at a grocery store, I have befriended lots of regulars. These relationships are (sort of) important to me, consisting of pleasantries and surface questions (baby pictures, the Rangers), and are way better than being hated.
About half are moms. I like them a lot, they always ask about Eli and offer gentle, Whole Foodsy advice on how to properly blend beets and convince our pediatrician to delay shots. They gave me presents when Eli was born and think I’m exceptional because I remember that they like almond milk. Just so we’re clear, they ALL like almond milk.

The males talk to me about baseball, assume I’m politically conservative, and vaguely invite me to houses of adult entertainment. They aren’t as interested in almond milk. Eventually, though, I know that they will ask me, with varying degrees of subtlety, just what the hell a hard-working, college educated young man such as myself is doing unloading palettes of coffee/cheese at a grocery store. It’s well intentioned and as fair a question as any, I suppose, and I have a variety of answers.

I graduated in May 2009, just a few months after the economy tanked, so this is all I could find.
I needed a job with insurance after my wife became pregnant, so I had to put my freelance writing career on hold.
I always intended to change the world, but got fired from a non-profit job and became disenfranchised with everything related to professionally helping people.
I want to be a poet, so this is just to pay the bills until I can get a publisher interested.
I’m researching a novel.

All of these are true, to varying degrees. But they’re also mostly lies.

I don’t know who I will be, or what I will eventually do for money. Right now, I am a good father and husband. That’s all I know.

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2 thoughts on “identify yourself.

  1. Our livelihood is a part of who we are, but it has been elevated to THE source of identity of the western male. And hence the issue when we (western males) sense we are not living up to expectations (internal and external) in fulfilling a “successful” career. Could it be that our occupations are reflections of our whole identity? If our identity is centered in our character, our values, our world view, and our persona, then the means we choose to earn a livelihood is no longer the measure of our identity but more of a reflection of it. So continue to serve well, engage well, and work well in your current means of employment and your identity will be evident to you and those who really observe you.

  2. There was a day in which I was feeling grey. “What is your non-Whole-Foods identity?” I pondered, also asking a coworker. She asked what I meant. She asked what mine was. I considered it, musing that sometimes the only reason we ask someone else a question is to have a moment to allow ourselves to form our own answer. “I think I’m an artist,” I began, “But I haven’t touched my pens in months. I say that I’m a Crossfitter, a weightlifter, but I haven’t done either since before summer.” I have a long list. I wouldn’t dream of being sedentary, yet my life is spent in a car. I’m a Japanese speaker, but I haven’t been able to study Japanese for nearly two years, not to any measurable degree. I thought I was a hiker and a camper, but I don’t have time to do either of those. I’m a cyclist who owns a foliage swallowed bicycle with two flat tires and one empty seat. I’m a traveller who doesn’t go anywhere. I’m a surfer who can’t even stand on a board. I’m a…

    I was a…

    filmmaker.

    I’m a tired person who works to much. That much is true. But what does it mean? Does that mean that I’m working and making the money to fund the identity that I claim to be my own? Do those things quality as things I am or things I (supposedly) do?

    My coworker, she looked sad. She thought about her answer and said, “I’m a mom, I guess.” She shook her head. “But I’m here more than I see my child,” and then to break my heart and put my woes into perspective, “So maybe I can’t claim to be a mom.”

    No! These things we do and these things we are must stand completely separate from the other things that we do solely to make money. I mean, I guess that doesn’t push my point through, but what I mean is, like Mark Weier above me mentioned, in our society our wages have become our identity. It simply isn’t true. To answer the commonly asked question of “What do you do?” I believe I’m going to start with “I breathe,” and move on from there. There are a myriad of things that I do. I do all kinds of things, every chance I get, and when times are hard those things have trouble shining but they are dormant and not absent. And then they will say that they mean ‘to make money,’ and nonchalantly I can add my job-at-Whole-Foods to the list of things I do and that yeah, I’m proud, but no, it isn’t my only me.

    Maybe our identity is this thing that is far from the verb-based lifestyle in which I found myself above. Those things contribute to your identity, but more importantly it may have to boil down to how-you-are-in-the-world, your relationships with people, and what-matters-to-you. Steven, you are not hateful. You are good. You are easygoing, you are assertive, and in your eyes I have seen a gently breathing creativity. Those things are part of how-you-are-in-the-world and therefore part of your identity. You are easy to get along with and you seem to genuinely care about others. That is part of your relationships with people. And next, I think you’ve found the things that matter so much to you: To be a father and a husband, and a good one on both accounts. Three points, vague as a drizzly-sky, converge to snap all lightening-like into who you ARE.

    So I told her, “You are totally, absolutely a mom. No one else would spend their time working to raise a child. You have put all of yourself into her well-being and you are here for her,” and she is. And we are. And everything we do at work– it brings us together. OK? Maybe I’m not camping and building things out of lumber or working on a car or drawing, and I’m certainly not a well-known cinematographer with the world in her lens. Maybe you aren’t getting paid to dazzle crowds at book-signings while Oprah admiringly reviews your sweet personal life on television. Maybe my coworker isn’t brushing her baby’s hair at 2:15 after snacktime.

    But we are making our way in the world without asking for much and without bringing people down. I’m editing this little project, you are giving part of yourself to your church on Christmas, and our coworker is making birthday cakes and hearing new giggles every day.

    Steven: You’re a good man. That is what matters.

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