Theatre Conversations: What Do You Do?
I've been thinking about this for some time, and yesterday had a conversation with a good friend of mine about it.
What Do You Do?
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When you first meet someone new, this is one of the first things you ask. "Hi, what's your name? Oh, nice to meet you; and what do you do?" What you're actually asking is "What do you do for a living, how do you make money? How do you define yourself and therefore how can I define you?" The most common response is to answer with your job title or profession: "Hi, I'm John. I'm a teacher." or "My name's Maisie, I'm an Executive Assistant to the Managing Director of a banking corporation." Whatever.
Why do we define ourselves by our job titles? Job titles are arbitrary anyway and can differ from company to company. What one theatre calls a Production Assistant, another might call Company Administrator. Why do we feel the need to have worth bestowed upon us by what we do to earn money? And does this mean we have no worth if we are currently unemployed?
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We live in a corporate society, and we need to earn money in order to live. As the charts above show, we spend a huge amount of time at our place of work, and it's hard not to define yourself by the activity you spend most of your time doing.
During a period of limited employment, I found myself reading a lot more, doing some painting and sketching, writing a lot more than I have done for years and teaching myself how to bake (I'm still not great, but hey ho!) So when someone asks me what I do, I could answer: "I love writing and have written a play, and I blog a lot. I play with my cats and watch documentaries on things like Ancient Egypt or the development of language. I spend time with my friends, and time on my own, reading, drawing, or visiting a museum alone; and I do freelance work for a theatre."
However, I don't. I answer that I am a freelance theatre practitioner. I define myself in these hypothetical eyes by what I do to earn money, even though, at the time, this was not the thing that I did the most.
The ironic thing is, that if someone introduced themselves to me in the former pattern, I feel that this would open up a lot more conversational opportunities than the latter.
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During this same time I was burdened with self-doubt and anxiety. I felt I had to prove my 'worth'. Having a monetary value (salary or wage) attached to your title (still arbitrary and variable across companies) assigns you worth. But is shouldn't.
We need to stop placing so much personal value on our job titles. You might be a snowboarder who enjoys flamenco dancing, and work in an office. You might have painted a series of triptychs and like long walks with your three dogs, and be a barista or a waiter.
You are more than your job title, and worth more than what money your company decides your job title deserves. Remember that. You are worth more, in more than monetary terms.
And maybe next time someone asks you the dreaded question "And what do you do?" Shake it up a little bit. Actually tell them what you do, rather than what your method of income happens to be.