How does a dream start? Where does a dream come from? How do you figure out what your dream is (or dreams are)? How do you know what you are meant to do in life? We are defined by our jobs and our families and sometimes what we believe in, but what really are those labels? Like I keep saying, just an identifier that puts you into neat boxes. Teacher, lawyer, doctor, trash hauler, carpenter, secretary. Conservative, liberal, independent, libertarian. Boy, girl, non-binary. Adult, teen, child, elder.
But what if there were no boxes? Or the boxes were things like funny, nice, boring, conversationalist, hates small talk, timely, always late, morning person, night owl. Sometimes I don’t fit into any of those boxes and sometimes I fit into all of them at the same time. My guess is that most people fit and don’t fit in the same way.
So if those labels are in constant flux, why do we lean so heavily on what we do as our main describer? My dad is a retired teacher. It will take a stranger probably 3-5 sentences into a conversation before he will announce that he is a retired teacher. He hasn’t been in a classroom in over 11 years, but damn it, he was a teacher. He was also the department chair and a union representative. My mom is more of a mystery because she worked as a secretary, data entry type person even after she got her degree. She did not want to be defined by what she did and when she was working, most people shunned her and stopped speaking to her. Like she was below them. It was hard for her.
I was IN the military as an officer. I am not a military officer. I don’t fit any stereotype most people have about military officers. Yes, I met all the basic standards upon entry like having a college degree, height/weight standards, high level of physical fitness (until the end when I was hurt more often than not), and I was dedicated to my job. But in my mind, I am contrary, I can’t just accept something as truth if it sounds weird to me, I need to ask for clarification. It is impossible for me to do something dumb that will not work and I am blessed with the ability to know right from the start that something will not work. I don’t waste time on crap that won’t work. And that is the military way. Try this and see. But independent thinker is not a trait that is valued in the military. It was frequently rejected, actually.
I would definite myself as unconventional, zany, curious, intense, intellectual, funny, spontaneous, anxious, sometimes focused, distractable, and pretty good at writing. I’m not even sure I could pick one of those as the single best word to describe me. But I am not what I do. I really like writing and I hope to be a writer, but I am so much more than just a writer. Youth soccer coach? Yeah, I really like that, but it’s only 16 weeks out of the year at this point and I don’t think I want to do anymore than that. So no, that’s not who I am? Cat owner? That’s not a great descriptor now, is it? The only thing that all cat owners have in common is that they have cats!! So how can anyone be defined by what kind of pets they have? Dog people and cat people are just people who love animals, really.
I think it’s scary to take that look inside and say to yourself “Sometimes I am an asshole. Sometimes I am really kind and caring but driving makes me ragey and I am the ugliest version of myself on the road. I cut people off on the road when I get mad at one person, ruining everyone else’s day. I tip poorly and think people in minimum wage jobs are lazy. I have no tolerance for other people. I’m rude to customer service on the phone.”
I am a couple of those. I can be a real jerk if I decide I don’t like someone. I have hurt people because I was hurting or angry too. I’ve been ugly to strangers. I am a sometimes asshole who really wants to be caring and loving but sometimes can’t. I get tired around people in crowds easily and that makes me roll my eyes when I get frustrated. It’s not usually a specific person that annoyed me, but it can feel like that if you are the person I unload on. I try to tip well, especially for good service. I think minimum wage workers are working just as hard as anyone else, probably harder and deserve a living wage.
So maybe we need to stop defining ourselves by what we do and more about who we are, even if it’s the things that can be transient about us. Are we good or trying to be good? Are we generally mean? Are we hurting a lot and can’t deal with it and that forces us to hurt others? I think if we focused on this more than what we do for work or play, we would be a way better society. We would identify the problems that we have inside ourselves. We wouldn’t try to be the best doctor or lawyer or secretary or teacher. We would be just ourselves, trying to be our best as a person. And that person can do the best job as a teacher, lawyer, doctor, secretary.