Don’t let the ‘what do you do?’ question define you

morning sun through window

 

I’m going to be really honest, and really vulnerable in this post. Why? Because when I see something in black and white staring back at me on the computer screen it:

a) gets it out of my head,

b) draws my attention to it

c) makes it clearer

and

d) makes me accountable.

So here goes… (And yes, this is going to be long! Apologies for that!)

I’ve spent the last ten years of my life defining myself by the question everyone asks, “What do you do?”

It’s a simple question, often an ice-breaker or conversation starter. It’s meant with no harm intended. But for me, I’ve let it evolve into something that scares the life out of me.

You see, I’ve always been a motivated and hard-working person. At school I was the one who always listened in class and did my homework, at netball I was the one who loved training harder than everyone else, at work I am the one determined to get the job done as quickly and accurately as possible. Over-achiever? Probably, but I thrive on recognition. Internal and external. I love knowing that I did the best I could. And I also love knowing that other people thought I did too.

But, over the past ten years, I’ve struggled to find my place in life.

Like many, motherhood changed me. How could it not? Obviously in amazing ways such as experiencing unconditional love that is both beautiful and fiercely protective. But, on the down side, motherhood almost broke me.

It was a shock that motherhood didn’t come naturally. I was thrown in the deep end with no guidance, little outside help and little time to adjust. Looking back, I suffered undiagnosed post-natal depression. It also didn’t help that motherhood for me, came at a time where I was adjusting to and still discovering who I was.

I’d walked away from a childhood sweetheart marriage, and as unplanned as it was quick, into a relationship of the strongest bond and love that I’ve ever known. All at once I became a step-mum, and then a couple of years later a mother.

It was such a whirlwind of a time, that I didn’t have time to process what was happening. And for an over-thinking-philosophizing-type like me, that’s a big thing.

I went from having a career that I loved, to being a mum. But finding what sort of mum I was, was difficult. I became a stay-at-home-mum, a work-at-home-mum and then a business mum. The whole adventure wasn’t planned, it evolved over time. But it evolved as I was trying to piece together who I was, and who the new-post-motherhood me was.

I felt I had something to prove.

To prove I could do it all. That I was Woman; I could have it all. And damn-ye, I would have it all; a career, a family, a business, a big house, a flash car.

I know now it was a process which I had to encounter.

For years, I’d wanted to write. But it seemed so self-indulgent. It didn’t contribute to the family and to our lifestyle, so I buried it. I continued on the road toward what I saw as success: being a 21st century woman having it all.

Blogging was starting to become a thing back then, so I thought it was a wonderful way to incorporate writing into my life. I started blogging, began another business and self-published a book. Still on that road.

From the outside, it did look like I had it all. From the inside, I was horribly unfulfilled. Despite the impression I gave. And if I’m being honest, the lies I told.

I continued to look for myself. Who I was. What I wanted. Questioning. I decided to start from within rather then outwardly, which I’d become used to doing. I removed the mask and admitted to myself that writing was what I had to do. That it was what made me feel more like me than anything else.

You would think that was the end of the story, or at least the beginning of a happy-ever-after tale, but no.

I blogged more than ever, I knuckled down and wrote two manuscripts, began a freelance writing career, moved to copywriting and there were times where I felt on top of the world. Those times I was writing were the the most fulfilling. And I felt justified that my writing career; features and copywriting, were contributing to our family. I felt confident in answering the ‘What do you do’ question, and proud of running. Running a writing business, running my husband’s business, running the household, running the children here and there and running a tight, unsinkable ship. But I was the Titanic. I’d hit an iceberg without knowing.

Slowly, I began to realise the dialogue in my head was wrong. People can see I have my shit together. Look at what I do. Look at what I’m capable of. I am of value. I am someone. I am woman!

It was wrong because my self-worth relied on others’ perceptions of me.

At the same time I began to struggle with privilege. Another beast I had to wrestle with along the way, I guess. Another lesson to learn to be okay with who I am and how I got here.

Still, the discomfort and unfulfillment swam around in my head gasping for air.

Digging deep isn’t easy. It brings up things you don’t want to face, or to acknowledge. Especially things that you thought you fought so hard to avoid.

For years now, the war between stay at home mothers, work at home mothers and working mothers has waged. Each one trying to justify their own paths. Without knowing, I found myself a casualty in the war.

There’s such a huge stigma about being a stay-at-home mum and I didn’t want to be judged as one. I wanted to be judged as a working mum, a business mum, – someone striving for success. Someone motivated. Someone successful. I wanted to be one of those mums who were high-fiving their success. The bloggers. The writers. The business owners. The high flying entrepreneurs. The innovators. The inspiring ones. The ones we all seemed to look up to because they had it all covered.

It’s only now I realise why I wanted that.

I wanted to answer the ‘What do you do question’ with a satisfactory answer. I wanted acceptance, acknowledgment and approval from others. I didn’t want to be seen as the privileged stay-at-home mum who flits the day away writing. I wanted to be the motivated, do-it-all business mum, winning at life. The one to be envied.

Something else I’ve learned about myself along the way, is that I’m prone to breakdown. To personal bouts of well-hidden depression and internal combustion. It would even come as a surprise to those closest to me, that’s how well I hide it. I really should have been an actress.

But, this time, I’m putting on the brakes before I get to that point.

This time I’m putting my vulnerability out there and stepping up to the plate with honesty as my bat.

For me. And for anyone else, who feels ashamed, embarrassed, anxious or craves acceptance for the wrong reason. Anyone who dreads being asked ‘What do you do.’

There’s no need for shame or yearning after what you think everyone envies. All that matters is your own approval and acceptance, but you do have to find your own way to that realisation.

It’s been a stressful few months. We’ve bought and sold, moved house, dealt with major health issues with one of our girls (hopefully sorted now), our eldest crashed her car (she’s fine thankfully, the car not so much), and dealt with other sensitive family issues. All in the space of about three months.

It brought what’s important to me to a head, and I didn’t have time to care about what others perceptions were.

And suddenly, just like the old light-bulb-moment cliche, it all made sense.

 

I’m taking a step back from being motivated by external perceptions. From being defined by ‘what I do’.

I don’t need to be a writer, a copywriter, a business owner, an administration assistant, a mother, a wife, and all the other labels I used to give myself to prove my worth, or show how Pinterest Perfect I am.

 

I’m just a stay at home mum, who helps run the family business and who also happens to be a writer.

 

That’s all.

 

I am here for my family.

I am here for me.

And I don’t need external validation, social approval or acknowledgment to feel worthy or successful.

 

Am I still hardworking and motivated? Hell yes.

Do I still want to feel success of being a writer? Absolutely.

But not at all costs. And not at the cost of me.

 

You’ve heard the phrase less is more, and for me, stepping back and being less, is so much more.

I’m following the minimalist principles not only in terms of material possessions but  in every aspect of my life. It’s not complicated, or long-winded and I don’t need a list of titles after my name to envy or prove I’ve got life covered.

Again, I’m just a stay at home mum, who helps run the family business and who also happens to be a writer.

That’s what I do. And that is enough.