Who Are you? What Are You?

Who are you? What are you?

Silly questions? Maybe not.

I know who my “dream self” is – and of course, what she does. And then there’s reality. So, when asked who you are or what you are, how do you answer? Is your response automatic and factual, based on your “here and now?” Does it come from a place of self-examination, or possibly – wishful thinking?

Vital statistics

If a stranger asks me who I am as I register at a conference, I provide vital statistics at a general level – my name and where I’m from, to situate me. If I’m speed dating, my answer is very different – still providing vital statistics (probably fudging a few), and adding some descriptive information that eases into the “what do you do” realm.

Often, we state who we are to provide context through relationship to someone else. I attended a school function last weekend and a woman said to me “Tell me who you are – you look familiar.” It turns out our kids had played together years ago. We then pointed to our teens and she quickly became “her mom” and I was “his mom.” From that context and relationship, our conversation grew.

What do you do?

These days, I’m busy writing, busy with my son, and money is tight. While I’m “working” (at writing, looking for work, and mothering), I’m not paid for these tasks though they consume 16 hours of each day of the week. So, going out and being asked what I do isn’t on the agenda, particularly since the assumption is “what do you do for a living.” At the moment, that’s an uncomfortable question. Still, when I do socialize, I have appropriate answers all of which are true, that I spin for the situation and audience.

The real challenge: issues of identity and self esteem that sit at the base of “who are you and what do you do.” They derive from how we spend our time, what is valued in our culture, and whether or not we’re paid for it. 

When asked what I do (or “what I am”) I say I’m a writer and a mother. Sometimes I just say I’m a writer; other times, it’s full-time mom. It depends on the situation. And both are true, whether I’m paid or not. But we live in a culture where pay equates to value, and I still struggle with the fact that two jobs I love – and pursue – are not valued in our culture. A whole other discussion, I know.

Identity, self awareness

The “who are you” and “what do you do” questions dovetail, but more often than not, they bleed into each other. It’s problematic. While you aren’t what you do is true for most, it’s not exactly the case for me. If asked who I am or what I do, my answer is the same, just edited or elaborated as needed.  

My identity and my life are both about learning and creating. Writing and mothering. So I am what I do. But I’m also more than that. I’m a woman, a giver, a friend, a lover of art, a marketer, a teacher, an introvert, an extrovert, a lover of language, an occasional source of entertainment (for my kids), and yes, it’s a partial list.

At the very least, I should include some French shoes. Now if only there were Louboutins in my closet as an illustration!

Dreams, introspection

Some of us look inward more than others. I admit, I do it on a regular basis. It helps me adapt to my changing world, and it’s my nature. I’ve always lived in my head, more than a little. And I like there!

When I periodically contemplate who I am, it’s generally because I sense I need to reassess, and change. It has to do with attitudes, behaviors, personality, belief systems – as well as circumstances external to my inner world that require a shift. Parenting teens requires this kind of shift, repeatedly. The more independent they become, the more we need to take a stance of loving distance.

So, I wander through the threads of self. I feel my way along those I want to tighten, patch, rip out, or replace altogether. These are discussions in my head – me, myself and I – so I may find a self I can live with. That self is a woman of dreams, of capacity, and competence – whatever my bank account may say to the contrary. She is also having to come to grips with getting a bit older, and what that means to the “who I am” and “what I do,” in all arenas.

Who are you? What are you?

And your own definitions as they seem solid and irrevocable? Your definitions as they change with time or circumstances that may surprise you? Your sense of identity based on how others perceive you, label you, and value you?

  • Are you defined as a “self” first, and what does it include?
  • Are you defined as someone’s spouse, child, or parent?
  • Do you feel apologetic or uncomfortable when asked what you do?
  • Are you introspective? Do you reassess from time to time, to shift who you are?

A last note on identity

Some of you know I’ve been working on migrating to a dot com, and for those who have so kindly assisted, I thank you. If you visit Daily Plate of Crazy you will see that almost everything is moved in (hooray). I have some tidying up to do here at WordPress (a redirect in the next day or two – fingers crossed). I hope for no noticeable interruption, and anticipate writing from the new address later this week.

If you stop by this address as usual, the redirect should pop you over to my new place. Otherwise, please plan on finding Big Little Wolf at Daily Plate of Crazy just with a new dot com address. As if I scooted all my belongings next door! If I’m in your blogroll (thank you), if you wouldn’t mind putting in the new address late this week, that would be delightful. (I’ll also drop an email – sort of like a change of address card.)

Meanwhile, thank you – for reading and discussing, and being part of who I am and what I do –  learning and creating.


© D A Wolf