This is just a title. We are much, much more.

So… What do you do (for a living)?

The go-to question for every new person we meet. The question for understanding someone new. The question for an answer that is telling of what a person ties his or her identity to.

Have we forgotten that we play multiple roles in our lives?

Which role is more important to you?

We go with the standard answer of ‘being’ our careers.

I wish we could decouple ourselves from our jobs.

It was a trying period of seven months not knowing how to succinctly answer the question, “What are you currently doing?”. While I love meeting people, this question threw me off often because I didn’t know which one to start with. On hindsight, I could have worked on a quirky unconventional reply. -shrugs-

When would it be finally acceptable to deviate from the standard question and jump right into the core of what we really want to know? Talking to someone new, we are trying to get a sense of who we are talking to, where they are from, what they are good at, how their mind works, all that juicy jazz.

I wonder if I’d still be able to make friends if I started new conversations with things like:

  1. What are your greatest fears in life?
  2. What are you actually thinking of right now?
  3. How would you want to spend your last days, if you knew you were going to die?
  4. What are you really good at?
  5. Who are you?

Man, I will need to work up some social courage to pull these questions off in real conversations. I fervently believe that we are more than just our jobs, and the singular identities we tend to compartmentalise ourselves into. It can materialise by being curious about the other dimensions of a person, right?

Another problem with singular identities is that if we grab hold to just one, dissolution of that identity can also be jarring to one’s psyche. When a job title is stripped from you, or when the person your role is tied to exits your life, what are you left with?

Possibly nothing much. Most of your life would have been centered on it.

Left alone in the wilderness, we will need tools for survival. These tools are the experiences drawn from multiple roles we play in our relationships with others. Grit of a student getting through tight project deadlines. Loving kindness of a passerby helping a stranger in need. Compassion of a friend supporting another through emotional hurdles. Sense of responsibility of an eldest sibling taking charge to care for the family.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

If we forget the parts that make up who we are, it would take time and effort to build up the fort again. To re-assemble the bricks needed for the fort to stand its ground in the harsh conditions of the wilderness.

Personally, it’s a lot like getting lost in a foreign place. Then, fumbling with unclear directions to the next destination.

From Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit: “For Woolf, getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are. This dissolution of identity is familiar to travelers in foreign places and remote fastnesses, but Woolf, with her acute perception of the nuances of consciousness, could find it in a stroll down the street, a moment’s solitude in an armchair.”

I found a dissolution of identity while in transition between full-time work. Placing myself out there, in the instances of self-introductions made to strangers, in the catch up sessions with friends, in the random encounters of acquaintances along the streets. Struggling to find an accurate representation of myself.

It was not the greatest feeling to become no one, and any one, Woolf.

It certainly feels more freeing if I had remembered that I’m more than just a title.

Written by Medium Blogger: Alana Goh