What Do You Do?

It’s one of the first questions anyone asks when getting to know someone. What’s your name? Where are you from? And…what do you do?

For me, the answer to this question used to be simple. I was a teacher, specifically a French and Spanish teacher. This role gave me my identity in the world, a simple way to articulate who I was to others.

These days, it’s not so simple. When people ask what I do, it’s like being asked to list every food I’ve ever eaten. The menu is so vast, so varied, I can’t possibly confine it to one thing.

My primary job is as a freelance writer where I write about, well, almost everything. Yesterday I had to write articles about creativity in teens, how to start your own clothing line, Medicare coverage of Zephyr valves, and a comparison of Hubspot and Pipedrive. One day recently, for reasons that are unclear, a number of my clients all wanted articles about feet. So that’s what I spent the whole day writing about.

Besides writing, I also work part-time as a bookkeeper at my church, fill in occasionally as a substitute teacher at my daughter’s school, and give virtual French lessons to two 13-year-old friends who are being homeschooled.

This lifestyle affords me a dizzying amount of freedom compared to the teaching job I had for 15 years. I work a lot (because I have to) but I set my own hours. This makes it easy to go to appointments or to do the grocery shopping when the stores are less crowded. If I’m suffering from anxiety and don’t feel like leaving the house or talking to people, I don’t have to. (Ironically, the fact that I have a choice makes me feel less anxious and gives me more desire to interact with others.) But most of all, I don’t have a full-time boss. Or more specifically, my boss is God alone.

I really can’t complain about the human bosses I’ve had. They have (for the most part) been supportive, even during times when it was difficult to do so. But as mere mortals, bosses are subject to all the whims, temptations, and pressures that humans experience. At normal jobs, where you are defined by your work, you are solely dependent on the good humor of your boss for survival. It just feels like too much power over my life to leave in human hands, and this has never felt quite right to me.

I often wonder, how did we get to the place where we define people’s identity based on their work? When did we BECOME our jobs? How did we all buy into this belief that we have to earn the right to be alive, or that we need a title to prove we’re worthy of existence?

Numbers tell the story most vividly. Most people spend 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, doing their job. Assuming they sleep for 8 hours (most people don’t), this leaves them just a few hours a day to prepare meals, go to appointments, clean the house, shop, spend time with loved ones, socialize with friends, enjoy a hobby, do volunteer work, exercise, meditate, journal, and all the other activities of living. The majority of our day belongs to someone else.

Of course, it is not practical for everyone to quit their full-time jobs and patch together a hodge-podge of gigs. And maybe not everyone would be happy doing that. But I can’t help but wish we could restructure our societal and economic expectations in some way to give individuals more freedom. I’m not sure how that would work, or what that would look like. All I know is that an economy that depends on humans belonging to other humans feels deeply wrong, on every level.

It appears that people in the early church were mostly defined by their jobs, too. The characters in Jesus’ story were introduced by their occupations: fisherman, carpenter, tax collector, lawyer, scribe. But when Jesus called His disciples to leave their work and follow Him, they did so without hesitation. They were ready to leave behind the clearly defined roles they had in the world and declare God as their boss instead. As that old bumper sticker from the 1980s says, their boss was a Jewish carpenter.

Maybe this is the place to start. Maybe we each need to be ready to give up the job that defines us and accept God’s leadership instead. Perhaps He would tell us that we are serving Him already in the role that we have. Or maybe He would tell us to do something completely radical, as He did with the disciples, with His assurance that we will be OK. The thought is scary, but freeing.

Maybe the place to start is not by changing our political and economic systems. Maybe the place to start is within ourselves.

Let’s all try it and see what happens. Maybe there is a lot to lose.

But just imagine all that we could gain.

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