Doing Versus Being–Defining Myself

Am I “me” because of what I do?  Or is there a “me” that just is?  Most of the time, when meeting someone new, the first question asked is “What do you do?”  And now that I’m quickly (1 month from today, in fact) approaching my 65th birthday, I’ve reached a “respectable” age for retirement, so the question changes to the past tense.  For most of my life I’ve defined myself by what I did/do.  I was a mother (well still am but that’s another story for another day), or I am a tutor, or I am a quilter, etc.  Having defined myself in such a fashion, it follows that I need to keep doing whatever it is that has defined me so that I still have a meaning or purpose in life.


For most of my life I’ve been very self-sufficient and I have kept incredibly busy (well, I thought it was incredibly busy until I read about a few others, such as my son and his family) doing whatever I felt I had to be doing.  This busy-ness also enabled me to ignore my inner life.  Doing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  As with everything (as my therapist keeps telling me), the key is the motivation.  Why am I doing?  Is it because I’m truly enjoying what I’m doing or is it because I’m afraid not to be doing?  In my case, most of my life has been governed by fear and in our fear-driven culture I know I’m not alone.


A prime example is my method for coping with the holidays this year.  It has been many years since I’ve looked forward to the holidays at all, and in fact, I know I’m healing and making progress because this year, for the first time in about 10 years, I didn’t go into a real funk when I saw the neighbor’s holiday lights go up.  I know I am far from alone in finding the holidays a most difficult and painful time, a reminder of major losses at the core of my being.  But my “solution” this year has been to begin an enormous remodel project!  I am doing (well, actually, other emptying out cupboards, closets, and rooms, I am not doing much of the actual doing, but still) and changing my home to fit me, which is a very good thing as I excavate (my therapist’s term) my inner mind and try to figure out just who I might be.  But the timing of this project was very deliberate–it gives me something to focus on other than the traditional holiday activities which I no longer have.  Personally I think those of us who have a hard time with the season would agree that finding a coping strategy is a good and healthy thing.  And I am trying not to use it simply as a “cover-up,” and a distraction as I’ve done too many times in the past.


But all this “doing-ness” has a price.  For most of my life I have kept myself outrageously busy in order to avoid thinking beyond a very superficial level.  And if I didn’t keep really busy I tended to sink into depression.  However, I’ve now reached a point, whether it is just “old age,” or the result of living on adrenaline for way too many years, where I can’t be doing all the time.  And so, I’m having to learn how just “to be,” and to be comfortable with that.  I’m trying to go with the flow, slowing my pace to match what my body is telling me, and doing not out of fear but from genuine pleasure.  I love to quilt and to weave, and heaven knows my output has been prodigious!  During the summer when I had fewer activities and it was also the season for productivity I quilted like a busy bee.  But now is the season for slowing down, for introspection, since humans are also carbon-based life forms whose bodies naturally follow the seasonal cycle.  And so I shall work on learning to sit quietly, to enjoy reading with Sasha in my lap, to do more writing, to listen to my music, and to do the things I enjoy at a slower pace, moving with the rhythm of the Winter season and preparing for the increased activities and energies of Spring.

2 responses

  1. "Am I "me" because of what I do? Or is there a "me" that just is? "This is a profound question. People (including me!) often confuse what someone _does_ with who they _are_ as a human being. It's a very easy mistake to make especially in our current North American culture that has some pretty strong opinions on what we should or should not be.

  2. Hi Lydia,Thanks for stopping by again and yes, I would agree it is a difficult question. And I think it is "bad" enough when we confuse others with what they do, but when we confuse our own identity with our job it becomes much more insidious, or so I think. I have a friend who is quite literally killing herself running her plant nursery because as she admits, she says the store is who she is.And if we have our identity wrongly attached to what we do, then losing that position (retirement, layoffs, kids leaving home, etc.) can really cause an identity crisis. I think this may be at least one reason why people don't always survive retirement well. Anyway, just my two cents. Have a lovely day!

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