More Than Your Identity
A few days ago I started to do something that’s very unusual for me: I cracked open a book—yes, a real book—called “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss. This says something profound about the value of this novel considering I rarely read during the school year (I read enough with my textbooks as it is). Right away, within the first ten pages, Ferriss challenged me with an overwhelming idea that I hadn’t given much prior thought to:
“The most fundamental of American questions is hard for me to answer these days…’So, what do you do?’…I never enjoyed answering this cocktail question because it reflects an epidemic I was long apart of: job descriptions as self-descriptions” (Ferriss, p.6).
This is the kind of statement that makes me close the book, look up, take a deep breath and then open it back up to think deeper about what the heck the author might be trying to say.
Not only did this quote make me think about how often I’ve been asked in my life ‘what do you do?’, but it also made me incredibly angry at the fact that this is still a thing; we are still categorized by our professions, rather than our passions and we are still deemed worthy or worthless in direct relation to our paycheque. Think I’m being irrational? Just stop for a moment and reflect on the ways that we categorize our homeless population in Canada. If we truly did care about the underlying character of individuals and the creative, cool and quirky things that they are capable of—rather than the position of authority they hold—then we wouldn’t even have a homeless population to ridicule in the first place. Now that’s something to chew on.
I realize that this is a good conversation starter, I really do. And asking someone what they do is just one step beyond asking someone what they’re studying in university—one follows the other, but inevitably, they both point to the same notion that we are ultimately defined by what we do, not who we are. Disregard my hobbies and skills for a moment, and if you were to ask me this question today, I would be a disappointment in the eyes of many adults—not because I’m a university student, but because I’ve chosen to study arts, which, in the eyes of society, is often perceived as a fruitless, useless degree that will undoubtedly lead to unemployment. It sounds harsh, I know, but believe it or not, I’ve actually been blatantly asked on multiple accounts why I made such a ridiculous decision to study communications. The worst part is, I don’t even try to fight back anymore because it’s a lost cause in this new hierarchical pyramid of identity that we’ve learned to judge others through.
So how does travel fit into all of this? I want to travel as a means of escaping this ideology, or belief. I want to transcend the limits that society tells me I need to work and play within and I want to reach beyond the four walls of an office. I’m not saying that I’ll never have a professional career in my life, but I do want to discover who I am before I find out what I’m meant to do. The former is much more valuable in my eyes and if I can separate myself from an identity that is built on my job alone, then I’ll consider my life a success.
Travel, for me, seems to be the best possible way to find out who I am as a person, and better yet, what I’m truly passionate about. From what travelling I have done already, I’ve noticed an astounding difference in the way I view the world and my position in it. I’ve discovered my passion for photography and blogging and I’ve learned that I love to cook and experiment with new recipes. Had I never had the experiences I did while abroad, I doubt I would’ve realized these passions as quickly.
I don’t want to be defined by a job title, I want to be free to play with my identity and discover all the weird, hidden talents that have been yearning to escape since I entered university: the “system” which continuously attempts to suppress any and all forms of expression I am capable of. I want to be able to explore and meet others that will see me for not what I do, but as a human that is capable of so much more. This skewed way of thinking is not the discourse of the world’s majority—as I have slowly began to realize from travel—it’s the exception, and it is not by any means healthy. Beyond our sheltered North American walls there are people and cultures out there who already know that you are more than your professional identity. As individuals, we are beautifully and wonderfully created to be unique and I truly believe that travel will help anyone realize this.