Who are you?
No, not what do you do, but who are you?
Now, could you be this person without doing what you do?
How does this make you feel?
We spend a lot of time thinking about who we are.
Have you ever noticed that sometime during their early twenty’s most people will struggle to define themselves and articulate that definition in some semblance of existential identity. And identity is really what we are/were all after; we wanted to figure out what identified us as us.
Somewhere along the line we started realizing that what we did was not who we were. Or, at least we thought so. But there were other thoughts crowding out that one, because even if we listened to that thought, another was whispering,
“But if you don’t do anything, how can you be anything?”
In the middle of this neurological dialogue our feelings may have interrupted and asserted that they were the real source of identity; doing or saying anything oppositional to how we felt was false, because our feelings were the source of our identity. Of course, we intuited that this wasn’t quite right either, and then we began trying to understand what it meant to do something without being that something.
And here we came to the crux of the search for identity: the difference between doing and doing. See, if our being has nothing to do with our doing, then how do we know we exist if we never do anything to signify that existence? Being is not an object of understanding alone, but is also an object of substance, as who we are is displayed by our actions; “you can tell a tree by its fruit”-Jesus.
But doing an action is different than doing a job. And here we need to articulate the distinction between action and vocation. Much of what I feared in being defined by what I did was the obsession I nurtured with occupation, or a lack thereof. I did not want to be defined by what I did to earn a living. And in this sense, doing is different than being. But in the more important sense, what we do in terms of words, thoughts, actions, flows from and into who we are as humans.
We are not merely our doings, but we are not apart from them either.
This inseparability is not confined to the projected sense of being; our doing also forms our being. It creates us, makes us who we are. If you wanted to become a soccer player, you played soccer. You did the thing you wanted to be until you were good enough at doing it that you became it. The same concept holds true for other things as well, such as thankfulness, gentleness, patience, etc. We become these things by practicing them. And so in an important sense we become what we do.
This works negatively as well.
If we continually act in anger, arrogance, entitlement, pride, we will become those things- even if we did not start off being them! It is not inauthentic to practice patience even if you do not feel patient. It is transformative. The act of trying to be patient makes you more patient.
If you find yourself arguing with yourself about who you are vs what you do, remember that eventually you will become what you do.