Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Work, perhaps a different definition,  in Kerenge, Tanzania

"I like what is in Work - the chance to find yourself.
Your own reality -for yourself, not for others -
what no other man can ever know.
They can only see the mere show,
and never can tell what it really means."
-joseph conrad

When I was 17, just on the cusp of going off to college, I had a very clear identity set out for myself. 

I fell into two explicitly defined categories, that were easy to communicate and convey to people when they inquired about the direction I was headed in. 

"I'm going to college to play basketball, and I'm going to study biology to become a doctor." 

I had decided that, although I wanted to play professionally, either in the US or abroad, going to medical school was a longer term investment, the impetus to a path that would be fulfilling, meaningful, purposeful and rewarding.
 Playing basketball was my passion, becoming a doctor was my dream. And I was hell bent on doing both. Funny how dreams and passions change. I still love basketball, and miss, severely, the training part of it. I miss the everyday grind. As a young kid, my schedule was so jam-packed, I never really had time to think about what it all meant. My sights were clear, and I loved what I was doing. In college, the path changed. I gave up a full scholarship, focused on school, worked in a research lab, joined the model UN, met some new people and had a more balanced existence, slowly, I started to have more time, dictated by myself. 

And I filled up those spaces, the void, with things I was interested in, like writing for the newspaper, or working at a cultural center. The dreams of playing professionally dwindled, and I was okay with it. But there was, and still is, a void, that I still try to fill. 

My dream of becoming a doctor has also dwindled, so right now, I'm sort of at this place where I've never been before. With a future that scares the shit out of me. Because I don't know what "profession" I fit into. 

As a species-humans, we try so hard, to organize ourselves and others. So much so, just as we try to organize our worlds, that one word, can carry so many connotations. I am a doctor-means so much. Not only does it tell others what we spend our time doing, it give them insight into personality, motivations, aspirations, values, choices, or a least that's what it tells them in their minds. 

But if, for instance, like right now in my life, I were to answer the question, 

"what do you do"

with avoiding the question all together by launching into a long-winded blast asking the person why it matters so much to quantify and qualify my existence and my value by what I "do",  then, of course, that person and I will be faced with the uncomfortable silence that inevitably ensues, and an attempt to avoid any further conversation by saying something like,

 "well, how about them Giants." 

I guess I'm still stumped by that identity, or ego, I suppose, in conversation. And if I were to become all hippy dippy, I would try to justify to myself, and others by taking the Zen approach, and say, happiness is only found when you have peace within yourself, regardless of outward expectations. And of course, I'd feel good about saying it, because let's face it, I am a little hippy dippy, but I can't say I'm all that Zen. 
I cling to the words, but haven't quite been able to put them into practice, if I could I'd be a much better person. 

I guess I'm still trying to find a purposeful statement of identity. 

That fits. 

That I'm comfortable with. 

Sure it's ego.

Sure its not Zen.

But it is me. 

Then I think about all the people who don't have to define "Work", and who have lives that don't allow for the luxury of such thoughts and conversations, who do work simply to live. And then I think about what a jerk I am. Middle-class suburbia, the problems of us 20-something's who came from families where we had the freedom to explore these questions. And who are now in this same place-not being forced to follow a certain path, but have too many choices, or were told we have all these choices. 

That's another topic, though....

Maybe I should look back to Conrad's definition of work, and take those words and put them in practice. 

Because if Work is, 

"the chance to find yourself-your own reality, for yourself-not for others" 

then this identity in conversation isn't really about fitting a single word; it's more about finding yourself, or reinventing yourself, or connecting with those around you. 

And maybe people bringing up the questions provides an opportunity to put everything into context, and reflect on the present, without worrying too much about the future. 

And maybe the question will lead to follow up questions. 

And the answers don't matter so much.

 I'll try to remember this the next time someone asks me "what do you do." 

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