I used to hate it when people asked what I did for a living. I always felt like my answers were never good enough or a source of embarrassment. “I’m unemployed, but I used to be a copywriter.” “I’m waitressing, but still looking for a job.” “I’m a receptionist, but I also do a lot of writing for my company.”
Why did I always feel the need to qualify my answer with a “but;” why was I so ashamed of where I was in my life? And it’s not such a hard question to answer. Growing up as a well-off white kid in suburbia, we’re brought up to understand certain expectations society has of us. We’re taught, if not explicitly than implicitly, throughout our adolescent years to what kind of adult life we should aspire and what kind we should admonish.
And of course, as we all know, the rise of social media makes it increasingly harder to ever be satisfied with your job or your salary or even the vague and incomparable measure of your own happiness.
But, neither the matter of my employment status on Facebook nor the societal pressure to have a “good job” really got at the heart of the matter of why I hated this question so much. I didn’t realize it two years ago, when I was struggling with my employment issues and a pretty big pile of self-pity, but I know the answer now.
I hated this question – what do you do? – because I always felt as though people equated what I did with who I was. And by answering it, I felt as though I was giving the person with whom I was speaking an incomplete or just plain false impression of my true self. Like every other person I know, my job did not and does not define me.
So, what’s the most important question you’ll be asked in your 20s? It’s a question that no one ever asks, and if they did, I doubt many people would be able to answer it.
Who are you?
If asked, I believe most people’s gut reaction would be to say their name. But what if the questioner pushed further, “But who are you?” Would you even know what they meant?
I think about this question all the time, mostly from a yogi perspective, trying to gain a better understanding of who I am underneath all the layers that I’m not sure really matter. Yes, I’m a writer. I’m a sister, a daughter, a friend. I’m a yogi and a “foodie” (I guess). I’m someone who loves cooking, but without much skill to go along with it. I’m a scholar of anything I can get my hands on, and I love words.
But, as I made this list, and as you are probably starting to think of yours, I wonder if these names and titles really have anything to do with who I am or who you are. Or are they all just different hats we wear at different times and for different people?
I’m not sure anyone in their 20s really has any clue about who they are, but I think that’s ok.
We all have different beliefs about what the concept of someone’s “true self” means. Coming from a yogic background, I believe that my self, that part of me that’s untainted and unchangeable and beautiful, is the same wonderful and special entity that resides in everyone. It’s the closest thing to a higher power that I could ever wrap my head around, and it makes sense to me. I like to think that we’re all made of the same stuff, the same goodness that unites every living thing in this world. We’re one.
Butttttt, if all that Namaste stuff makes you roll your eyes or competes with your own view of a God or another kind of higher power, trying to figure out who you are is still a journey that everyone in their 20s should consider at least once.
The reason this is so important especially during our 20s is that we’re a group in flux. Driving full-steam ahead with such vigor and exuberance, we can go months or even years without stopping to figure out what we’ve been driving towards. Time seems to be moving faster than it ever has. We blink our eyes and it’s been 3 years since we put on our caps and gowns, and we wonder what we’ve really done since then, and if we’ve changed.
Good or bad, change is the definition of these 10 years of our lives. From college student, to recent grad, to potential wife or husband, throughout job transitions, promotions and firings, there’s just so much that can and will change. Which is why it’s so fiercely vital to remember to pause and consider who we are. It’s too easy to get swept up in the constant reverberations of everyday life and the big milestones we seem to hit every 6 months.
We have to remember that those changes and milestones do not define us. We are not our job title nor are we our relationship status or our address or our paycheck.
We are those simple moments of stillness, sitting alone in a car and relishing the warmth of the sun through the open window. We are the feeling of contented aloneness, not needing or wanting any company and knowing that’s ok. We are artists and creators and lovers, and it’s ok that we don’t have just one answer yet.
So, I hope at least once in your 20s, someone will ask you the most important question anyone could ask. I hope someone asks you who you are, and I hope you don’t answer with your job title or even your name. I hope you’re comfortable enough to say that you don’t know yet, but you’re working on figuring it out, and so far you think you’re pretty awesome.