“So, what do you do?”
It’s a seemingly harmless question, right? For years I had an easy answer: “I’m a teacher.” To that, most people were either flabbergasted at my life choice or in awe of my monumental patience and then inevitably wanted to share stories of their own favorite (or least favorite) teachers. Easy peasy.
But now, it’s not so easy. Recently I’ve noticed that when I meet someone new and they ask this question my response is “I used to be a teacher, but now I’m just finishing my Master’s degree.” I heard myself say these exact words today to an acquaintance and then immediately felt like shit. After questioning myself on my drive home, I figured out where I went wrong.
First, I’m relying on my past to give me some measure of “worthiness” in the present. Saying that I “used to” have a legitimate and respectable career in some way feels safer than stating that I’m not currently working full-time. My fear of judgement of this new stage of life keeps me grasping for the safety net of my old career, my old life.
Second, I take issue with my use of the word “just.” Oh, I’m JUST a graduate student. As if getting a Master’s degree were a quick and easy craft project I thought I’d just whip up for fun one weekend. Why do I diminish my own efforts?
Furthermore, in that answer, I don’t give myself any credit for what I actually do—I write. The thesis for my MFA in Poetry involves writing a manuscript (an entire book of poetry), which I’m currently working on. I also do freelance writing and editing. I’m a writer. Why does that not factor into my answer at all? Why do I feel like a fraud for even thinking it?
It may be because the manuscript isn’t finished and publishing is a ways off. But every published author was at one point unpublished and writing a manuscript. Why can’t I apply that logic to myself?
My reason for sharing this is that I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who’s experienced this brand of self-sabotage, and I think it’s about time we start paying more attention to how much credit we give ourselves.
How many times do we play-down who we are and what we do? When someone has asked you what you do, have you ever felt like you had to justify being “just” something?
Just a student.
Just an artist.
Just a photographer.
Just a wife.
Just a mother.
Just a waitress.
Just starting a business.
Enough. Women have historically belittled themselves and their efforts to avoid ruffling feathers and to make society more comfortable. But that’s not necessary anymore. That’s not who we are anymore.
Whether you’re a creative, an entrepreneur, or a salaried employee, it’s time to recognize and be strong in our sense of self and career because the more we act like we’re not doing much of anything, the more we start to believe it ourselves. And that is the real danger. It doesn’t matter if other people think less of our life choices or roll their eyes at our career ambitions.
What matters is what we think of ourselves, how we stand in our truth and own it.