The question everyone asks when meeting someone for the first time. Usually our answers just roll off the tongue, without any thought.
“I’m a nurse.”
“I’m an accountant.”
“I work in construction.”
“I’m an Investment Manager.”
“I’m a stay at home mom.”
We say these things, because it gives the person asking a way to wedge us into a nice little box in their mind. It’s a way to make quick inferences about someone. “Oh, you’re a stay at home mom? How old are your kids?” or “I’ve been needing to meet with someone about my taxes.”
But often what we DO isn’t really who we are. The title I held for several years as “Director of Insurance Underwriting” at an Investment firm, didn’t really capture ME. In fact, if you were going to stereotype what the person who held that title would be like, I’m pretty sure it would be exactly opposite of me. Not that I didn’t like it, it just didn’t define my personality.
A while ago I read this book called “Bringing up BeBe,” by Pamela Druckerman (you can see my review here) about an American journalist who moves to France right as she becomes a mother. She writes this book of her observations on the differences between the American and Parisian parenting culture. The book was fascinating to me because I had simply never been exposed to many of the ideas. One of the concepts emphasized in the Parisian culture is having a clear identity as a woman- apart from being a wife, a mother, a friend etc- first and foremost you are YOU. Druckerman says that in France, women actively chase this freedom of having their own identity, and don’t apologize for the time it takes. On the contrary, they believe having time to pursue your own interests, makes you a better mother and wife etc.
As I became more aware of this concept, I started noticing that when my husband and I were introduced to new people, they often asked him about his job, but stopped asking me questions after learning I was a mom. This was interesting to me, and I started testing it out on the playground when I’d meet new women. You wouldn’t believe the looks I’d get when I asked them about their interests. Blank, glazed over faces. And not once did anyone reciprocate and ask me about my interests.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am the luckiest person in the world to be my son’s mommy. Raising him is the most important thing I will do in my life, EVER. Period. And I understand why parents answer the question the way they do. Having kids can be incredibly demanding, and often we have to put our own interests on the back burner for a while. I know its been challenging for me to balance my writing time, and I end up writing really late at night, or during my son’s naps. So, I get it, and I’m not in any way invalidating anyone’s parental focus. But I also believe it’s important to have something- even if its just one thing- that is your own, to keep a healthy balance.
Last night I went grocery shopping after a long day, and was just trying to hurry and get home in time to put my son down before we crossed into I’m-so-tired-I-can’t-control-myself-anymore territory (As a quick aside, why are there so many lanes in grocery stores… and so few checkers?? Just throwing that out there, in a way that’s not a complaint, just an observation). Anyway, I finally found the shortest line, while having a funny conversation to entertain my son. As I was chatting with him, and playing Tetris with my food items on the small conveyer belt, the unusually happy checker snagged my attention by saying, “So, what’s your story?”
I have to admit, I sort of did a double-take, because it wasn’t the usual question, so I didn’t have a rote response. “Um, my story?”
I had just turned into the mommies at the playground.
I love that she asked me that question. It really made me think. So, I told her that I’m “this little guy’s mommy,” and then he was his normal adorable self, which always draws attention. Then I told her that I also just finished writing a book, and I’m working on getting it published. We spent the rest of the time chatting about my book, and I asked her about about “her story.” It was so refreshing. At the end she said, “Well I hope you come back soon, and if you do, I hope you’ll come to my line.”
And you know what? I will. Even if her line is the longest one. She wasn’t only a grocery store checker- she was an artist who moved here last May, and is saving up to open her own shop. She was a lovely woman.
Maybe “what you do” or “your story” has nothing to do with your job at all. Maybe you love to travel, or golf, or collect old furniture and refurbish it. Maybe you have an insane shoe collection, or you love racing fast cars, or you are the single biggest Red Sox fan on the planet, or you make a mean tiramisu.
And, maybe who you are, really IS what you do. If that’s the case, bravo!
My challenge for you today is: the next time someone asks you the question, “What do you do?” put a different spin on it. You can still tell them what your job is, but share something IN ADDITION, that means something to you. Tell them something you’re passionate about. And if you can’t come up with something, maybe you’re so used to your daily routine, that it’s time to shake things up a bit. Carve out some time for yourself. It’s so important to be in the pursuit of something that engages your mind, and matters to you!
As a bonus, next time you meet someone new, phrase it like my artist friend, and say, “So, what’s your story?”
I’d love to hear how people respond, or how coming up with a new answer worked out for you. Let me know!!
Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! Summer’s here!!