The dreaded and banal question of many a cocktail mixer - "So, what do you do?" How would you respond? It could be a feeler of pecking order to evaluate if you're worth the person’s time, should they network with you. Or perhaps it’s something a little deeper wrapped up in dilettante cliché form that is inherently trying to ask, "Who are you as a person?" Maybe asking this directly isn’t comme-il-faut at your traditional parties, or maybe you just didn’t have enough of the sponsored cocktail to sink into deep rapport? Regardless, some sort of response is regurgitated and we hope it hits.
Let’s assume the intention is the latter. Sometimes this can be impossible to answer as your job title may not reflect any qualitative trait that is intrinsic to you. This is a personal observation of mine, but more often than not, people gravitate towards exhibiting things they have created or achieved by which to define themselves; something definitive that stands as a representation of who they are, a little mile-marker in history that can be cited and linked to one’s name. This is fine, but many of us haven’t reached the goals we have set for ourselves and fall into a weird limbo where even WE don’t quite know who we are.
I propose the following; embrace your aspirations as concretes. In laymen’s terms, fake it until you become it. Are you about to start developing your app? Then you are an entrepreneur. Are you about to submit your short story to a local publication? Sorry, but you are a writer. Auditioning for a pilot? Look at you, actor! The beauty lies in the self-sufficiency of believing in your goals, loving what you do, and using these opportunities to remind yourself of your purpose. One shouldn’t immediately feel judged when someone asks for a superficial label by which to call you - to steal from the stoics, "If you don’t feel harmed, then you haven’t been."
One of the reasons I believe strongly in embracing one’s aspirations is that the inverse of "I am this" is a poisonous and far more detrimental "I am not this". If someone were to ask me, at this very moment, who I am, I would say I’m a writer. Granted, I know I have a LOT of work to do before I can embrace this identity with the confidence of a novelist, still it’s the closest thing that describes present-day me. The inverse would be saying I’m not a writer by mechanism of thinking up of some other superfluous label. I could say actor, since I have enough legitimizing credits and can give a fairly decent monologue on command. (Seriously, ask me to do my Capote monologue, I will kill it for you!) But, did you notice the obstacle I created? By not acknowledging my current nature, I inadvertently denied my "writer" by saying "I am not this".
I don’t mean to say one should scream from the roof-tops that they are mayor of town when they haven’t passed their political science course at community college. But I would like to advise against the fear of embracing one’s goals and dreams. Be a constant reminder for yourself of your aspirations because no one else will. Far more difficult obstacles lie ahead. Don’t be one yourself.
I remember being at a small party once, and there were a lot of theatre and tv actors, many of notable success. One person I recall vividly because he was filled with an acrid indignation to his lot in life. He wasn’t as "successful" (whatever that means) as some of the surrounding folk. He tried to compensate by labeling himself by the means he supported himself.
"Hey, cool to meet you! A lot of interesting cats here! I’ll hit you with a classic - What do you do?" I was honestly interested because I felt like I was in a pool of people of many intriguing walks of life.
"I’m a waiter."
"Oh. So hospitality. Cool." At this point I started to feel uncomfortable. He was already starting to look at me with disdain. If I felt jovial sincerity in his words, I could have retorted with "Do we have a future Peter Luger in our company?", as I do know people with goals of opening up their own places, but now I had to soak in this person’s swamp of self-pity.
"Yep. Just a waiter. I did some theatre a few months ago, but now I just wait tables. What do you do?" He had the energy of a person who had completely given up on himself.
"I’m an actor." This was tough to say because I started to feel like an inveterate braggart even when I knew I shouldn’t have.
And that was my cue.
"I’m sorry man, my buddy just walked in and I need to say hi. I’ll catch you later…"
The more you tell yourself one thing, the further you bring it into reality. This individual told himself that he was a waiter, which isn’t a bad job by ANY means, in a way that denoted failure. He was essentially saying he was "nothing special". Feeding himself this inimical self-talk so frequently, he started to become the embodiment of defeat.
Damn, do anything BUT that. Call yourself a superhero if you have to. Just don’t kill that little spark, that beautiful little spark that you know is inside of you trying to make its way into the world!
This post has been slightly edited. For the original post click here!
Pasha is an avid learner with an entreprenuerial spirit whose life chapters have taken him around the world, sharpened his vision, and sensitized his heart.
Pasha is a blogger and founder of Lost Hopefully who works professionally as a photographer, actor, and model. You may have seen him in Comedy Central's Broad City or on the runway for Dolce & Gabbana. He composes songs on string instruments and can give a hell of a dramatic monologue.