Who You Say You Are Matters

In my mid-twenties I worked at a sushi restaurant.  It was a great (and demanding) job, with a family of co-workers and exquisite food.  For some reason I regularly mention to strangers that I used to be a waitress even though it’s been half a decade.  Every once in a while I will say that I used to wait tables.  Though I rarely think about it, there’s a big distinction I haven’t been paying attention to: I am versus I do.

I think about this juxtaposition these days when it comes to writing.  I’ll say, I was a waitress without hesitation, as if it were my identity.  But I am a writer?  You’d have better luck asking me to sing karaoke stone-cold sober.  I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with how much I want it.  It reminds me of what Steven Pressfield says: “Self-doubt…reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it…The real [innovator] is scared to death.”  (See The War of Art, 2002.)  I am scared to call myself a writer, even though I have devoted countless hours and resources to the task.  I’m scared that I don’t really have anything to show for it but a massive document on my desktop (am I really a writer if I’ve never been paid for it?).  And I am scared that I am not offering a real service to anyone else because it’s such a selfish pursuit (i.e., I enjoy it so much).  On my good days I remember a beautiful saying by St. Irenaeus: The glory of God is man fully alive.

On my not-so-good days I realize I feel comfortable saying I was a waitress because I got paid to do it, as if this fact alone determines who I am and what is worthwhile about me.  I know that many of you get paid to do something, but it doesn’t define you.  Perhaps in your spare time you refurbish antiques or throw pots or coach baseball, and that is what really gets you moving and out of bed in the morning.  This makes me wonder what kind of world we would live in if we said not, “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a social worker,” but, “I’m a potter/coach/refinisher.”  Because even though it’s an important thing to be engaged in the economy, and engaged in the world in other ways, it’s essential to do the thing that you’ve always wanted to do, that you love, that your heart beats for, even if no one ever sees it.

There are some lucky you-know-whats out there whose dreams and paychecks align.  But as for me, I am a writer because I write and because I can’t not write.  I hope I can offer something worthwhile to the world, but I am learning that it’s okay to just do, even if it’s only for me, for now and maybe forever.

Because, after all, I am a writer.  I am.  

And I can’t help but wonder: who are you?

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15 thoughts on “Who You Say You Are Matters”

    1. Thank you Step. I appreciate that. A lot. Thank you for reading. I love this part of blogging, where you ‘get to know’ others, and support them in their work and life.

  1. Thanks Penny, I have struggled with this a lot. Sometimes I feel like since my degree, job, and passions don’t always line up, I’m a failure. Thanks for reminding me that my worth is not dependent on my job. I am a write-artist-musician, and more importantly I follow Jesus. You are an awesome writer and I appreciate your writing a lot. I LOVE this post, thanks again!

  2. Just discovered your blog minutes ago, Penny. You are a writer; you connect emotionally with your readers–not just with those who can relate to the painful struggle of mental illness, but with the everyday musings, ponderings, and fears we all share. I’ve only read about 5 minutes on here, and already I sense a spiritual, emotional, experiential, and even occupational connection with who you are.

    I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard of Arnold Fruchtenbaum with Ariel Ministries (http://www.ariel.org/amau.htm ) — great Bible studies…

    Also, Marty Goetz–a favorite singer/songwriter/pianist, whose blog is named after one of his best songs, “Jew Born Anew”: http://www.jewbornanew.blogspot.com/

    1. Thank you Pat! I haven’t heard of either of these folks that you mentioned, but I love that you shared them and I look forward to seeing what they’re about. As for your blog – I want it to work again! I’d love to see what you’re up to, as well.

      1. Thanks, Penny! I’ve proven to be a sporadic and uncommitted blogger at best, and I finally abandoned it when my website got put together. But hopefully when we become empty-nesters this fall I’ll have more time to get back to some fun writing.

  3. I found your blog through Don’s blog (loved your guest post there, by the way!) and this post esp. connected with me. I’ve been calling myself a ‘wroter’ because I wrote a book in the past, but have no current project. Maybe I’m still a writer. Even if no one sees the words but me. Thanks for the hope I found here!

    1. I/m so glad Anita. It’s so hard to take something we love seriously – I often ask myself, how could it possibly be a job when I like it so much? I’m glad you are writing and you found some encouragement. Because we need to do that for each other!

  4. I struggle with this constantly. My first job out of college was at my super small hometown newspaper. But I was an editor. I loved being an editor. I loved telling people I was an editor. When I had to take another job out of economic necessity and the desire to see my soon-to-be husband more, and work normal people hours, I had such a difficult time. I didn’t love to tell people that I was a Career Resource Area Specialist. How lame. (Though, I did love having health insurance and being able to pay the rent.)

    This tension has been continual in the several years since then.

    I am a lot of things. And it shouldn’t matter whether I get paid for them. Even more importantly, I need to check myself constantly to make sure I’m deriving my identity from the only One who made me, knows me, and writes my story.

  5. I also struggle with this concept. I am the custodian, and I swear when people look at me, they see a mop (or worse, a johnny mop!) I don’t think the uniform helps at all.
    But it is up to us to us to listen to God, even when He puts something (like writing) in our heart, that we don’t (or can’t) understand.
    I love your blog Penny, You are a Writer, a great writer, and even if you are only writing for us. I know we all appreciate it!

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