Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is What I Do Who I Am?

What defines us as human persons? This is something I have been pondering quite a bit since this weekend when I sat at both dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday with a mixed group of young men (seminarians, because my Gradual School is a School of Theology/Seminary) whom I had never previously met. To a man each one of them after politely asking my name and inquiring my connection to the school, asked what was it that I now do!

It got me to thinking; is this a male trait, or has this become a trait of this American Culture in which we live that we are now defined by how we make our living? Is the only good use of my Masters Degree for me to be working somewhere, in some parish ministry or some other pursuit? When I gave them my new favorite response; that I am happily unemployed, a look of puzzlement came over their faces as if I were suddenly speaking in some foreign tongue. They could not imagine that anyone would graduate from a Masters program and not go out and find a job using the skills gained immediately.

In my head I was thinking gee I am a wife and mother with a daughter who is still in elementary school; I have a mother residing in a nursing home for whom I am responsible as Power of Attorney; I do volunteer work one day a week at my daughter's school; I drive my two middle daughters to their college classes two days a week because neither of them drive; I write freelance essays on occasion (not much pay in that yet) ; I volunteer with the RCIA program at the Newman Center Parish in town; I knit; I am an intern in the Spiritual Direction Formation program one day a week and have tons of homework for that; I can barely keep up with the housework in my home (just ask mrangelmeg who is helping take up the slack and I love him for that); yet to these young men I am defined by what I do for pay only.

My Spiritual Director said it is a guy thing. He says men find it hard to imagine not working, so it is easier to define a person by what they do. When I think about it in those terms, I can see some truth to that. Mrangelmeg is an engineer. I have always said that engineer are a species all to themselves. In fact I have talked to other women married to engineers and they will back me up on this, engineers think in a very different way than other men. Maybe they are defined by what they do. I had a wonderful Theology professor in Gradual School and after the first hour of his class I went up and asked him if he had ever wanted to be an engineer because he reminded me so much of mrangelmeg in many ways. He told me that his undergrad degree was in engineering. We laughed about that, because I told him that you can take an engineer out of the discipline, but you can't take engineering out of the man.

I suppose in a similar way, priests are defined by their vocation, and well they should be. I have met some who took their vocation as a job and not as a way of life, and the difference is staggering.

I don't know if I have a point here, except to say I have no idea how to define who I am. I am a Catholic-woman-spiritual-wife-mother-daughter-knitting-student-writer-friend- volunteer-child-of-God. Only that is a little hard to fit on a business card.



zymurgyathome said...

I have never defined myself by my job. I love my job and it is a part of my life but it's not "who I am". When I was younger, I had the opportunity to be unemployed by choice for the better part of a year. I had a wonderful time and never once felt undefined because I wasn't working. My advice is to keep with your response and take the looks of puzzlement as a compliment.

On another note, since you brought up the engineer phenotype, I thought I'd chime in with this:

Adoro te Devote said...

This is typical of America; we tend to define ourselves professionally.

I learned this back in 1994 when preparing for a semester in Mexico, for there, they are looking for a definition of a person for who they are, not what they do. They "work to live" wherase we here in the US "live to work". And that's why we're so unhappy; we weren't created to be driven to work unto itself. Our humanity is not gained through our labors, but through our Vocations.

Basically, somewhere in the past Americans got a warped vision of themselves and it just keeps getting worse.