Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Question: "What Do You Do For a Living?"

Today my blog post is related to something that Kristine wrote about being authentic (I hope to do several future posts on this) and something from Jane's blog. I've been thinking lately about online identity and authenticity and have so much to share about this, and will soon. But to start off, I want to write about Jane. She wrote:
Lately I feel so inadequate when we're out somewhere and someone will ask what I do for a living and all I can do is sit there wishing I was invisible.

I remember having many conversations about this matter with Chani. As confident and as secure as Chani was, she would feel exactly the same way as Jane and would hate this question. As many of you know, Chani lived on disability (after a long career) but would not want to discuss this with people, and yet felt uncomfortable telling people that she was "retired". She hated that people would even ask how she spent her time getting the money she lived on.

In our culture this is how we evaluate people and get to know people. It is an important cultural value that we define ourselves by how productive we are, how busy we are, and how much money we make--all three are tied together and define worth, often self-worth.

I remember years ago I was a systems analyst working for a prominent Christian ministry. I would proudly answer the question. I made a good salary and the Christian ministry was well-regarded in my town. The only thing--the only thing--I liked about this job was that I got to buy nice clothes and dress up and carry a briefcase and say I was a systems analyst. I envied bank tellers especially and other people who got to talk to people in their jobs. Or people who liked their jobs. I felt like I was in prison for eight hours a day.

Years later, ill (surprise!) with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, I was embarrassed about my lack of present career success (like Jane and Chani) and would try to think of something that "sounded good" to tell people. I was a "domestic engineer" or an "aspiring book indexer" or "consultant" (since I was occasionally able to pick up higher-level free-lance work). I still felt bad about the image I was projecting about my career success, reflecting (I thought) my worth.

A decade ago I married LoveHubbie, who has an extremely successful career. Suddenly it was okay with everyone that I was at home and the expectations to be successful in some career were lessened. As long as I volunteered or had some kind of socially-acceptable pastime like being a writer or an artist, I had acceptance with people. My husband took care of providing for us, so somehow that gave me more choices in who I could present myself as and still have approval. I liked saying that I was "a writer" or a "life coach" and it made things easier. (Although I am a writer and have been a life coach, I have not earned consequential money from either.)

Then I got involved in the online world and found like-minded people (you all wonderful ones) who I could just be myself with. This was life-changing for me. No one knew or cared how I paid my bills, or even if I paid my bills. It is a very edifying way to know people--apart from how they earn money. Even if I know about someone's career, it is just one part of who they are, not their entire identity.

I have found that this generalizes to my life offline. When people ask what I do, I tell them I'm a homemaker. I really like saying that, and I'm proud of it. If they still seem interested (usually they do not), I tell them I write reviews and have a blog, that I like to make art and enjoy encouraging people. I tell them that mostly I support my husband's career and really enjoy that.

I definitely do not enjoy most household management tasks (except laundry, which I love) but every job has aspects that are boring or mundane or distasteful. I cherish being in charge of my time, and being able to manage my time so that I can do things that I love. I can watch the weather each day and take walks in between the raindrops. I can look out on nature from my home and be inspired to write. I can read books that truly interest me. I can think and process and form opinions. I can nurture my spirituality and stay close to God. I can emotionally support my husband when he is spent at the end of the day, and then all he has to be concerned about is resting for the next day when he'll go out and conquer the world. What privileges these are!

If someone loses interest in me because I'm a homemaker, I'm kind of glad. I don't think we'd be a good match for friendship, or even good discussions. It sort of weeds out people easily, so that I can find the folks who look at who people are rather than what they do.

I feel incredibly blessed with this lifestyle, and if people don't understand I get it, but I feel like they are missing out.

My wish for each one of you (and for me, too) is that you find your place in the world doing what you love to do and that you are able to see the whole of who you are and to see others this way too--we are more than just our job, our sexuality, our spirituality, our political views, our roles--we are multi-dimensional beings. May you find the place where you can grow and blossom and thrive.

Life is so short; and how sad to have regrets at the end. I think that Chani did have many. My wish for you is to have no regrets.


patti said...

I stopped work years ago after an illness and hated it when people asked me what I did. I had no answer because I didn't want to talk about being ill and being 'just' a homemaker seemed lame and people lost interest.

Now I am an artist, but also proudly, still a homemaker. Stangely, it is a most important role that seems to be undervalued. And yet I love doing it! There are many jobs I have been paid well for, yet hated!

Like you O, I am available to my family at any time to offer love & support and I have created a healthy, happy, pleasant home. This does impact on society in a good way, as they go about in the world and when anyone is welcomed into our home. Homemaking takes skill and has its own rewards.

Thanks for a great post!!

Olivia said...

Patti, Thanks for commenting and thanks for the encouragement. I am trying to go deeper in my posts to write about things closer to my heart.

Isn't it funny that with a 50% divorce rate, broken families, and all kinds of societal troubles, that being "just" a homemaker is so undervalued? I agree with you wholeheartedly!

I agree that being a homemaker, when done well, does take skill and has its own rewards.

I'm glad to know that you too are a cultural 'rebel" Patti, doing something that others may not understand but that does contribute in a vital way.

Peace, blessings, much love, O

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Olivia. Even though I've been in a career that is pretty easy to talk about when people ask, I hate the question because it defines people in such a narrow way. What I do professionally falls so short of who I AM. And I have so many friends like you who are interesting, well-rounded, and creative, but don't have business cards that define them in a way that suits the kind of people who ask that question.

Olivia said...

Thanks, Heather. it was interesting that you posted about this question today as well. I think that old models are falling away, and perhaps new ways of looking at things, at each other, will prevail. Peace and love, O

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating post. There is so much food for thought here. The discussion reminds me a lot of when I was married to a man who was incarcerated. When I met him he was and when I married him he still was. He still is locked up today. People would ask what my husband did for a living and I would answer, "time." Some were intrigued, some were shocked speechless, some pitied me, etc. What I found through trial and error was that my attitude when I shared the information completely set the tone for how they reacted to it and treated me. They say we teach others how to treat us, but in those years I learned that we also teach people how to SEE us. And those whose vision I could not widen via my attitude were not worth keeping on my radar.

Olivia said...

I'm glad you liked it, Kelly. If you have further reflections, I'd love to hear them.

Your comment I also find fascinating. That it is how we perceive who we are and what we do that affects so greatly how others perceive us, which makes complete sense. What a great example, too, in your husband...this is something that almost everyone would have some kind of reaction to since it is so unconventional.

We teach people how to SEE us--it resonates as true with me! I would love to play with this and experiment with it and see how I could convey my vision of my lifestyle more positively to others. I do indeed expect them to react negatively, and of course they do. What if I tried to teach them to SEE it as a wonderful lifestyle, and incredible blessing, an amazing opportunity!

Bravo, Kelly. I am proud of you for your example too. You absolutely win the prize for the most interesting life of anyone I've ever met. What wisdom you have to share with all of us!

Peace and love, O

Kate said...

Great Post Olivia and one I deal with often. Lately I say I am an Artist, I used to say I was a weaver which I still am. I hate the labels too. When someone tells me where they work it really tells me nothing about who they really are.

instead of saying where do you work or what do you do I'd love to hear people ask What makes your heart sing?

I'd have a lot to say in response to that!


Olivia said...

What a great question, Kate! AMEN to that. Peace and blessings, O

Anonymous said...

I am also reminded of Elspeth's post called "What do you do?" You can read it here.

Olivia said...

Oh, yes, Kelly, that is perfect! Very nice! xoO

CrystalChick said...

Because I was married very young, only about 5 months after I graduated high school, and had my daughter young too, only 19, I never really had the opportunity to go to college. Even after she got to school age and I had more time, the money to do it wasn't there. I sold a few crafts occasionally, worked a couple short term part-time jobs but it was alway hubby who took care of our bills. We learned to live within our means. We rented apartments for 9 years before getting a house. And the house we have now is a bungalow.

When my son was born, about a year and a half after we got our home, he had a birth defect and needed some surgeries. I was soooo happy to be able to be at home with him.
He's 17 now and a senior in high school but I still like that he needs me. And I take him to school every day! My daughter is grown and has children of her own now but she doesn't drive so I am her ride for assorted things.

Even though there are days I think I've made my peace with the life I chose, other times I feel overwhelmed. If I had only managed to take college classes. If I had only kept one of those part-time jobs it might have led to something better. If only... ack!

Just the other day, I had to go for an outpatient procedure and while the nurse was putting my IV in, she asked me... so what do you do? I said....
I'm a Mom. And I'm a Grandmom. And so she said, OH you look so young to be a grandmom! Then I told her that aside from those things I have a small craft business and I showed her a bracelet I made, which she liked. So that took the edge off. But oh how I dread that question like you, Jane, and Chani.
My Mom was a homemaker and her leaving her nursing job to stay home with her children is something I will always remember fondly about her. But today, lots of women have children, and lots of them have grandchildren and they still manage to have full-time careers, and are involved with other things as well. My sister-in-law is a great example. She's done modeling, coached cheerleading, taught Sunday school, helped her husband with his business, had 3 children (all of which excel at everything!) and managed to work as a nursing supervisor. All of that, to me, sounds exhausting. I wouldn't trade lives with her for anything.
Now, she and I, while we don't see each other often, get along just fine when we do. But apparently, my mother-in-law has had many years to compare us. And when we had words a couple of years ago, she told me what she thought of my not working and a few other things. It's hard to not think of that some days. And I've had comments from others too. It's hurtful.

So I have my craft business, and sometimes wish it would grow, but I am terrible at marketing it so it's always been very small. And I have completed Reiki I and II and am able to be a Practitioner if I want to but have been unable to take the steps I have to so that it might become a part-time job.
Fear gets me alot (and a few difficult physical ailments too) and also, maybe because I have been at home for so long I can't really see myself out in the world like that.

Very thought provoking post, Olivia. I, too, hope that I can find how to blossom and have no regrets! Work in progress. :)

Olivia said...


Thank you for sharing about your life. I do think that the hardest thing is when someone is judging us for our chosen lifestyle, in this area or whatever it is. Especially when that person is someone that we have an ongoing relationship with (like your mother-in-law). I am thinking that this judgment can only get to us to the extent that WE feel badly about what we do. Otherwise it would be perhaps annoying, but it wouldn't GET to us in a deep way.

I am wondering what you would LIKE to do, Mary? Are you comfortable being at home, if everyone would just let you be? Do you want to be out in the world? Do you want to have a larger craft business? Or be a Reiki practitioner? Or with all of these things, do you just think you "should"? What would make YOU happiest? What do you think that you are here to do?

I love how you take delight in your job as a mother and grandmother. You love to do it and it's right for you. Are any of the other things you mentioned like this? Or something else altogether?

Thank you for being so open and sharing here. It makes me think and reflect about this discussion even more.

Peace, love, and blessings,


CrystalChick said...

Wow, rereading my comment, I did unload alot here. LOL I must have needed to, I guess? I'm thankful for this safe place! :)

I absolutely do love being at home but the cost of living is getting more expensive so I am considering how best to help my husband a little financially if he should need me to in the future.

Yes, I would be happy if my craft business got a little busier. I enjoy handmaking the cards and the jewelry. It feels good to create those things. I do have some repeat customers but with many thousands of people involved in crafts these days it's a tough field to make consistent money in.

As for Reiki, I do not want to be a full-time practitioner but I would definitely take a couple of local clients if I could find them. I'd probably need to purchase insurance to see people privately though, and I have not taken that step.
To help with getting more practice and experience being out in the public, I had looked into a couple volunteer programs at hospitals in my area. One removed Reiki from their program because the Catholic Bishops ruled against the practice and another didn't have the need for Reiki work specifically.
So it may be that I have some basic ideas and then feel defeated if they don't work out. And then I get distracted by something else I'm doing and some of my goals or hopes get moved aside?? Not sure. Have to think more on all that.

I do feel that there is another purpose I'm not fulfilling. Maybe it's not meant to happen now, maybe I'm not paying enough attention to reveal it. Maybe it's something I'm already involved with that needs some tweaking.
It's all very curious!

Olivia said...

Mary, I'm glad that you shared what you did here, and I do want this to be a safe place. I learn so much from you and from everyone who shares their story here.

I hope that you persist with whatever you decide you want to do. This weekend I learned so much about how we write our stories, and how if we persist when it's hard, we can have so much more than we even expect.

It will be interesting to see where this goes, and I think that your attitude of curiosity is a good one. Not forcing anything, not pushing or striving, but waiting yet keeping energy in reserve for direction once you see what it is!

Peace and blessing,


Jane said...


How did I miss this post?! Awesome words here my friend! I still struggle with the job thing as you know. But some days are better than others. For me it's more than just having a "career", it's about finding what it is that makes my heart and soul sing. When I take care of everyone in the house, make dinner and do 8 loads of laundry, I know I am of value around here. I love that my children come home to a house where their mother is home and not using their house key. Life is good and it's all how we choose to see ourselves and celebrate all that we are :))

Olivia said...

Jane, I'm glad you didn't miss it after all :) YAY!

I think that it is important to look for unconventional things, things not necessarily with a NAME on them (oh I wish you'd been at the conference!) but that are what we DO and what we love doing. Life is what we do in the moments and the seconds and in the ordinary days...being present, being ourselves, giving to others.

Raising your children is a work unto itself, all while you are being a wife, taking care of a home, and being creative. What if that was "all" it was?

Sometimes it helps me to get perspective to ask myself, "If I knew for a fact I only had a year to live, would I do this next thing?" I vary the time period, and really search.

It's nice to see you here Jane; I have missed you!


a life artist said...

i wish i was a homemaker
i would love to say it
i think a homemaker rocks!
dear Oli:
write me an email i can seem to find yours at all
cajita21 at yahoo dot com