I Know What You Do, but Do I Know Who You Are?

I have been unemployed for several months, and I recently saw an acquaintance who asked me what I have been doing with myself.  I listed some typical pastimes like reading, writing, playing sports, etc.  She informed me that she had just lost her temp job and said she was going stir crazy.  She also said that she didn’t know how I hadn’t gone stir crazy with my long hiatus.  I felt an onset of shame, and I began to assure her that I had been looking for work diligently.  This was not the first time I have dealt with a like scenario since becoming unemployed.  This moment of deja vu felt really weird afterward, like I was ashamed for feeling shame to begin with.  I think it says something about our culture that our jobs define us to such an extent: that pursuing our own interests is seen as a waste of time but pursuing those of others is seen as validating one as a person.  I know, sometimes one’s interests and one’s work are closely aligned, but often that is not the case.  And even in the cases where people loathe their work, they seemed to be largely defined by it to those outside their close circle of friends and family and at least in some measure by those dear to them.  Not in my entire adult life has the question “What do you like?” preceded the implied job question “What do you do?”.  If I wasn’t such a hermit most of the time, I might try starting a new trend.

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