What Do You Call Yourself?

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Letting Others Name You

At a recent social event, I realized that my default answer to that question is, "I'm a personal trainer," or, "I work at a gym." Honestly, though, that's not what I want people to think of when they recall who I am or what I do. There is so much more to me than my job. I want to write, and be called a writer, among other things. If I look at all the things I 'do' with my day, I actually spend more time writing than training. But I felt strange telling people I am a writer, mainly because I do not get paid to write. It was as if the external validation of someone else paying me determined whether or not I had a right to call myself a writer.

It takes a bit of courage to claim a name for yourself. It is always easier to let someone else label you. You can let society define your role for you, and then you simply have to fill it. Alternatively, you could define your own role. Call yourself a martial artist, or a painter, or a camper, a traveler, or a writer. Call yourself something else every day. Tell people, "I live, and eat, and sleep when I can. I socialize with people and care about them on good days." Honestly, if you gave as much focus to those things as to your job, you'd probably live a very interesting and fulfilling life.

Also, I think there is something sad about the fact that money is the criteria for assigning value to our actions. Just because society deems something money-worthy doesn't make it spiritually fulfilling, and I'd rather not define 'what I do' as something shallow and unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

Call it Like You Want it to Be

Besides the freeing aspect of choosing your own label (or refusing to choose a label at all), doing so can also open up opportunities. If you start telling people you are a ninja, they will start to expect some ninja-skills out of you, and you might start to feel some pressure to acquire or refine said skills. They might even be looking for a ninja to do some spying and assassinations, and suddenly, what used to be a hobby might become a way to make some money.

To use a more concrete example (ninja's are notoriously abstract), let's use my writer example. Let's say you meet someone at a party and they ask what you do, and you say you write. The conversation might go any number of directions from there, but if you make a habit of telling people you write instead of crunch numbers at a local accounting office, you have given yourself something to live up to. You are creating your own social accountability to do something you want to do anyway. To minimize the discomfort of telling people you do something you don't, you'll either start doing it, or stop telling people (I recommend the first option). Assuming you have integrity enough to make your actions match your words, people will start to treat you like a writer, rather than just someone who writes in their free time. And since people tend to fill the social niches given them, you'll start to act like a writer too. And then, you'll start to get all the perks of a writer.

The truth is, people rarely get to do what they want without acting like they already have it. You'll never get to be a successful baker until you start getting up at 5am every morning to bake dozens of loaves. People don't get paid to write until they write. Even in personal training, I've found that the best way to get started is to train for free. Once you demonstrate value, then you'll be paid. Once you start acting the part, owning the label yourself, others will apply the label as well. Names have a lot of power, since people think in terms of words.

So take a minute to think about what you would like to call yourself. Then take the first step and start telling yourself that is what you are. You might be a writer without a paying contract, or an unpublished writer, or a writer with writer's block, but you are still a writer, if you decide to be. Calling yourself what you want to be is the first step to becoming it.

What do you do? Post answers to comments.

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