Is What You Do Who You Are?
Nothing annoys me more than that typical introductory question. No, not “What is your name?” That’s important. Not “Where are you from?” You might be interested in pursuing a friendship if I am local. But the question that I have grown to despise is: “What do you do?”
After graduating with a Masters two years ago, and still not finding suitable employment, the constant career-related conversations that force their way into my everyday life are that serious, at least to me. I barely want to talk to my family and friends about that aspect of my life. So when it comes to speaking on it to complete strangers, I am often overcome with anxiety. From this anxiety has stemmed lies, embarrassment, and sometimes unprovoked rudeness towards well-intentioned acquaintances who are just attempting to make small talk.
My truth is that I am unsure — some days I have no idea — what I want to do with my career. Over the past couple of years, I have been blessed to intern and work in a couple of my dream fields. Upon working in them, I realized that was no longer my dream. So now I’m trying to determine what my new dreams are. I am paying more attention to my passions like serving others, writing, creating, and planning. Having no responsibilities outside of myself, I feel that now is the perfect time to figure this all out. However, society does not see it this way. I am reminded of that daily.
“I’m not working right now.” is my usual reply. This answer always seems to provoke more questions. “Well, what is it that you want to do?” or “Why is that?” At this point, I try to appease my friendly-but- nosy interrogator by giving them a summary of my cover letter. Even though I don’t want to, I talk about my degrees and pick a career path that I may be interested in and pretend that I have a plan to be successful in that. Then one of us makes a comment about the state of the economy, and we both pity my situation and I am given a few words of encouragement, which makes me feel horrible about being in career limbo and lying in an attempt to make others feel comfortable.
Then there are the days when I simply say, “I don’t work, and I’m not sure what I want to do.” Those are the days that I speak my truth, and also the very days I am looked at with disgust. However, an old dating partner told me exactly why I received this response: “Men like women with ambition. Things going for themselves.” This, he insinuated, was also the reason why we could never work out. How does me not having a clear cut career plan, unable to find suitable full-time work make me not ambitious? Every day I am writing cover letters and doctoring my resume in hopes of grabbing a recruiter’s attention. I am constantly interning, providing free services, and assisting others in various fields in an attempt to gain experience and build my resume. My inbox is full of “Thanks for applying, but…” messages. Every now and again, I get an interview that leaves me hopeful, only to receive a letter a week later telling me how impressive my credentials are, but they decided to move forward with another candidate. So to say that I lack ambition or to look down on me because I don’t have a grand statement on my career plans even as I’m trying to figure this adult life thing out hurts and infuriates me.
This experience has made me realize just how much society bases our identity on our job titles. Oh, you work with celebrities? You must be cool, and now everyone loves you. You work at the McDonald’s drive-thru? You must be stupid, and you’re unworthy of conversation. Meeting some of the dumbest people in college and some of the smartest and hardest working in “the hood,” I know that job titles do not determine who you are. But that’s hard to explain to family members who want to dote on you to their friends. Or to old friends who didn’t go to college and can’t grasp why you’re in the same boat as they are. Or to strangers who hope to make a “beneficial” friend. And mainly to yourself when getting rejected has become “What you do.”
Caressa Sanford is a pop culture, wellness, and African-American lifestyle enthusiast with a lifelong passion for writing. Her goal is to use her writing to empower and uplift others.