What you do is what you are…and other tales of bullshit

During my life, I’ve heard the saying “What you do is what you are”…and by this, they usually refer to occupation or profession. This would imply that a person who does plumbing IS, at his or her core, a plumber…or a person who is a cop. IS at his or her core, a cop…almost as if the job changes your DNA.

I think part of this was born in an age in which the occupation of your father, would probably be your occupation, as it was also probably the occupation of your grandfather, great-grandfather, et al. This grew in a time when there was less upward mobility in society and you were often somewhat destined to be what the men in your family had been for decades.

Some of the reason for this was that it was only natural for a child, who often wanted to be like his Dad when he grew up, learned the profession or trade almost by osmosis, from being around their father as he did his work or talked about it, combined with an informal apprenticeship that children went through with their fathers.

As far as I can tell, the idea that you are what you do, arose for several reasons, some understandable, some not so much. An occupation or profession , each has its own particular skills that are necessary to perform the job well, and also, to some extent, a certain temperament which goes along with it. We would expect an ironworker to be more stoic and a man of few words, compared with a politician or a writer. The idea is that the more you perform a task, or act in a certain way, over and over, perhaps the way it affects your view of the world, how you approach situations, etc. And, physical tasks such as working on an oil rig, or being a musician, build “muscle memory”, which is a type of subconscious behavioral patterns one develops from continual performance of a given action.

And yes, doing something over and over has a residual affect on your mind and body, but it is not deterministic nor overriding in the sense that if you train to be a boxer or carpenter, you would be unfit for anything else. Sammy Hagar was a boxer before he became a singer and Harrison Ford was a carpenter.

The point is that this notion that you ARE what you DO, has a fatalistic component, as if once you start a certain job, profession, etc., you are doomed to do that because it has actually become WHO you ARE. Anecdotal cases show this is absolutely not true, and these days, people change professions often more than once in their latter years.

The only area in which I might agree this perhaps has SOME truth, is in the area of politics. I think that to some degree, once a politician, always a politician, whether the person is doing it professionally, or they just employ it during their everyday life. The skills learned in politics, using people’s biases to help you get where you want to go, being able to speak without really saying much, being able to put on a likeable persona, can be applied to lots of other jobs, because, like it or not, ,most jobs do involve in interacting with other people, and the ability of politicians to manipulate other people, would be advantageous to a salesman, lawyer, policeman, doctor, all kinds of occupations.

So, I reject that if you collect garbage for a living, that means you ARE a garbage man, or if you sell cars for a living, you ARE a salesman, or if you work in a factory making cars, you ARE a car maker.

With today’s fluid job market, where people can b e laid off, fired, dismissed, for any reason or no reason, a human, man or woman, has to be fluid enough, plastic enough to learn to do another job.

It also means that if you lose your job, as scores of people do daily, if you accept that you are what you do for a living, then when you lose your job, this means you are nothing, and that is injurious to your feeling of worth, of self respect.

So, realize that, what you do is what you do, but it does not turn you into a robot, only capable of a given set of behaviors and skills, and, that losing your job does not make you irrelevant, not worth anything. All it means is that you have some time to figure out what you REALLY want to do….something that is more in line with your talents, skills, and who you REALLY are.

Thanks for reading this.



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