This post is a year in the making. Something that has been stirring in my heart for a while.
A question I get often and every single time I meet someone new, which has happened a lot this year as I’ve moved to a new place surrounded by new people. I was even asked it last night. Surrounded by a group of new faces. Sitting around in silence waiting for the answer, asking because they didn’t know.
“What do you do?”
A simple question.
They ask me curiously, probably out of habit as a part of the introduction, but it stirs up so much more for me. It stirs up so much more than the quick answer they may expect back. The elevator pitch I don’t have prepared.
This question has become a part of our daily conversations and greeting when we introduce ourselves and for a long time I stumbled over answering it.
I remember when I first moved to Greenville, without a job it’s almost like every single Uber driver I rode with knew as they asked me about my career before I had even finished buckling my seatbelt. The question that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and felt like I had to answer it since I was in their backseat. I would close my eyes and cringe each time I heard the words from someone I didn’t know. For a while I tried to think of the one “thing” I did and what I was and how it would define me. Even before I moved here. Even when I had a job and food blog and all the things that made good answers to this question. So as I rode in the back seat because uneasiness was sitting in the passenger side I tried to get my elevator pitch across in my 4 minute car ride with a driver I may never see again. Why did I care so much what a stranger thought of me? Why do we care so much what strangers think of us?
One week specifically I remember I answered differently each time I was asked, to see what felt right and would eventually become my thing. For a woman who at the time didn’t have a job and had experienced a major life change I wasn’t giving myself much grace and was spending a lot of time trying to come across to people I don’t know like I was OK and doing something great. But guess what? I was OK and I was doing something great. I was living my truth and on my own journey even if it couldn’t be easily explained in a title and short explanation.
Then I started answering differently.
I stopped trying to define myself. The first time it happened I ran into my nice neighbor from my apartment building at a food event downtown. We didn’t know each other very well and had only met a couple of times with short hellos accompanying our run ins. He was with his wife that day and since we had a few more minutes together than usual when I went to go say hello he waved back at me and asked “So, Sarah, what do you do?”
And just as quickly as he asked it I answered. I told him why I didn’t resonate with that question and instead I was going to tell them what I was currently passionate about even if it wasn’t a job. I could tell at first he wasn’t expecting my response and I was worried I had upset him for not answering the question he had asked. My face was a little red from the rush of adrenaline I felt. From saying what had been bubbling up inside. For saying what I felt. Justice for all the people feeling what I was feeling, or just justice for myself. I initially wanted to apologize after I spoke from my unemployed creative dreamer’s soap box, but didn’t. For going against the grain. I still didn’t. I owned that uncomfortable moment where I didn’t answer to just answer, box myself in and continue on. I wanted them to know what I was excited about and working on even if I wasn’t working full time. So I told them.
After that interaction the conversation started to change about this topic for me because I started changing the conversation I was
having about it.
We’re more than our jobs. So I started telling people what I was doing other than what my job was. Or lack of job, depending on which month this year I was asked the question.
How many of you have a full time job with a passion project on the side that you pour yourself into when the work day is done no matter how tired you are?
How many of you have a side hustle that brings you more joy than money it generates?
How many of you have a part time job so living life to the fullest can be your priority?
How many of you feel pressure to have the next step figured out?
How many of you have a full time career but you wish you had more time to pursue things that made you happy?
How many of you are unemployed for a circumstance that brings you stress to think about it?
How many of you are choosing to not work right now to press pause and reevaluate?
How many of you don’t know what you want to do next?
In certain seasons in my life I’ve been able to raise my hand to ALL of the above and the one thing I know for sure is the answer doesn’t get easier depending on the scenario I’m in.
Even when I had a career, a full time paycheck and health insurance it was hard to answer that question. I wasn’t always happy with my title. My job. My career path. There was a time I felt bad because of that. For having an opportunity a lot of people wanted and not being fulfilled by it. For having a passion project that brought me passion and wanting to spend more time doing it than the job I went to college for. For having a side hustle that brought no money but brought me joy. A job I was fired from brought me such shame when I was let go because they never told me why. When I decided to leave a steady income to go without one because I was seeking pause and perspective and the pursuit. When my passion project changed and so did my path. When I took two part time jobs at places I love to pay the bills so that living a full and healthy life I love could become my priority.
Sound familiar? Maybe a few or a lot of the above speak to you. Maybe contentment fills your heart with where you currently are. But no matter where we are on that path that question can sometimes can bring up all the things that we feel we aren’t instead of all of things we really are. We are so much more.
I was recently on a job interview and one of the men interviewing me joked about the dreaded “where do you see yourself in 5 years question” and said he wasn’t going to be asking me that but then proceeded to ask one very close to it.
He asked “What are your ultimate career goals?”
He then mentioned passions I had previously discussed earlier in the interview like writing, yoga and health and wellness. He then asked if that is where I wanted to end up. Maybe one of those would be my ultimate career goal?
My internal monologue started racing in the silence. I thought to myself - I don’t know why acting like I know where I’m going to end up has any impact on where I currently am. I also don’t want to just “end up” somewhere. I want to dance there, run there, glide there and float there. Twirling along the way. Laughing hopefully. But not just end up there.
There are lots of goals I have for myself so why did I have to pick just one? What if it changes? I hope it does change and I accomplish lots of them. Even ones I haven’t spoken about yet. It sounded so final. I don’t know what the future holds. So I paused some more when he asked it because I didn’t know. I wanted to do all the things I loved but not be defined by them. I paused when he asked it because I actually did know. I knew it was OK to not have the answer but I think the comfortable silence for me, uncomfortable silence for him signaled doubt. Could he read my mind? He then quickly filled the quiet and followed up with “... or are you still just figuring it all out?”
You know what happened next.
“Aren’t we all?” I responded back. I was serious, but he laughed.
I didn’t take the job.
I had a wonderful reminder on thoughtful question asking with a woman named Barbara the other day. She sat with her outspoken husband next to me at my favorite coffee shop. I was writing in my journal which is where you can usually find me on my days off. We were both from the same town in Pennsylvania. How random and amazing is that. Or not random at all. Small world filled with big reminders. I knew I liked her and that my story would be safe with her.
She asked me about myself -not what I did but who I was and I told her. About my path to Greenville from NYC and my health and wellness journey. How I work part at both my favorite coffee shop (where we were currently sitting) and also at my favorite taco shop. How in my free time I love to do yoga and ride my bike and write.
How I’m figuring it all out but love that I am.
That I’m grateful.
“My my,” she responded, “that’s a full life.”
I sat in silence and my eyes welled up with tears. I grasped my pen tighter, sipping my coffee as I responded, “it is.”
In a world moving so fast pushing us to climb the ladder and get that next title, promotion, raise, and prestigious award, please, go at whatever pace you need to. Your own pace. Even if you need to pause some days and crawl the other days. You’re on your way. It’s OK to go at your own speed and not run after others just because they’re running.
In a world where we need to always seem like we have to have it figured out it’s OK not to. I have a secret: no one really does fully we all just act like we do. Especially on social media.
In a world telling us we should be making more money, doing a job because it makes you happy and brings you joy and where you feel like you’re making a difference is rewarding too and brings in a different kind of abundance even if it’s not in our bank account.
In a world always trying to make us be someone better and more successful than we already are, be yourself.
There’s only one you. There’s only one me. That’s our power.
That’s our gift.
The more I share my story and my words and respond to this question how I want to instead of how I think I should I realize that the journey I’m on is bigger than an elevator pitch and that living my life just as I am is better than anything I could ever put on my resume.