What We Say We Are (& What We Do To Make Money)

What We Say We Are (& What We Do To Make Money)

It hit me last night that there are things I never say about myself, or perhaps more importantly ways I never think of myself. I don’t know why I don’t because they are elements of my personality or of my identity, but they just don’t seem to stick to my psyche.

For example, I play the guitar regularly and I’ve been hacking around on the piano a little bit (block chords my daughter reminds me) as of late. Nothing amazing, but enough to pick out and sing songs that I like. But I never think of myself as a musician. If someone polled a room and asked, “do we have any musicians out there?” It wouldn’t even cross my mind to raise my hand. I wouldn’t angst over it or wonder what people would think. I just wouldn’t raise my hand because I am not a musician.

Another is writing. I’ve been killing myself for the past few years trying to get together any one of a number of book or film projects up and off the ground. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words. I’ve written proposals and chapters and screenplays and treatments, but I don’t think of myself as a writer. If someone asked me who I was or what I do, writer wouldn’t be on the list of ways I might answer. Again, it’s not like its there but on the bottom of the list and I’m embarrassed to say it. It just isn’t there. And yet, I do write.

In the midst of this “hitting me last night” moment I started with, I think I realized something. Something about myself that I’m not sure I like. Here’s why I don’t say those two or a few other things about myself:

I don’t make money at either one of them.

There it is. I think of myself in an entirely economic framework. I am what I do to make money. Because this is the measure for us in the US. If you are not good enough at something for someone to pay you to do it, then that’s not who you really are. You cannot “be” something that you do for love or duty or because it is important in and of itself. You “are” what you do to make money.

Only, I’m not. I’m not what I do to make money. That’s not what I am or who I am. I know this intellectually, spiritually and emotionally, but I don’t know it practically. Meaning, I think it but I don’t do it. Oh, I do relationally, of course. I will say I am a husband and a father, and these are my two most important roles in life. I love doing them. I’m committed to doing them. I say that I am a husband and a father and I’ve never made a dime at either of them. So, relationally, I’m all good.

For some reason, I’m stuck on the “what I do” questions, stuck on this portion of my identity, just stuck. Of course, it is an affluent, western problem to have, this problem of personal identity. But knowing that doesn’t change the practical reality. There are elements of me, parts of who I really am and things I truly love that don’t work themselves out into the practical expression of who I am or how I operate in the world.

A dear friend told me a story about a very successful writer friend of his who struggled for years to be published and who struggled when working with agents and publishers. One day, they decided that they were going to begin acting like, working like and dealing with people like they were already a successful, published author. And that’s when it happened. The believed they were, and then they were.

In the end, does it really matter if I raise my hand to the question about who are the musicians in the room? No. But it does matter to me that I only think about myself, that I only identify myself to others in the context of what I know I can do to make money.

I’m certain I’m not alone in this — only because we are never alone in anything.

Okay, I’m going to change my profile now to add writer and musician.

And then I’m going to write on the blackboard—well, first I’m going to buy a blackboard—then I’ll write on it 100 times: I’m not what I do to make money. I’m not what I do to make money. I’m not what I do…