For an obnoxiously long period of time, I believed – what you do defines who you are.
When we allow what we do, to shape who we are, it is dangerous territory we are venturing into and yet we have little control over it. The psychology of the culture we inhabit daily seeps into our consciousness which forms our view of life and idea of self. We carry that psychology with us into our personal lives and relationships. The danger here is that although influenced, our outlook feels natural to us when it is anything but that.
Sometimes all it takes is a chance encounter with an individual or an event or a place that is very different and new from the one you are accustomed to and voila! Layers of conditioning and becoming peel off to expose the ‘you’ who was before the ‘you’ who became.
A few days ago, at a birthday party, a mother who had only just made my acquaintance asked me one of the worst cookie-cutter questions. A question that perhaps I am guilty of asking too in the past.
‘So, what do you do?’
This question assumes an awful lot of things. It attaches a person’s identity to a job instead of attaching a job to a person’s bigger and evolving identity. Akin to that annoyingly boring question we often ask children. ‘So, what do you want to be when you grow up?’
I wanted to ask her if she had the time, patience and inclination to hear me go through a laundry list of things I do throughout the day. Whether she would judge me if I told her that I am a stay-at-home-mom who keeps a quivering toe in the workforce because she is struggling to come to terms with her constantly evolving self. Basically, I wanted to request her to stop asking such a question or come up with a better one if she was genuinely curious.
Instead, I answered her question and asked her one in return.
‘What do you like doing with your time?’
She paused for a while.
‘I cook. I love cooking!’ She beamed at me.
I could see that she really loved cooking because her eyes gave away more than those three words (I love cooking) could ever express.
‘Wow! I am not much of cook but I like to eat.’ I said with a wink.
From thereon, the conversation went places.
From culinary snippets to kitchen hacks. From how she makes the perfect potato gratin to how I make a mean Maggi. From Julie and Julia to The Hundred-Foot Journey. We got so involved with our intermingling worlds that we lost track of time and of where our children were at.
I went home that day and tried her potato gratin recipe. Called her soon after to let her know that it turned out rich, creamy, sapid and by far the most perfect potato gratin I have had.
She was ecstatic and then she said. ‘You know I don’t usually talk about my cooking skills because it is kind of a given when you are a housewife but when you asked me what I liked doing with my time, I couldn’t resist telling you.’
The realization dawned on me that our conversation would have happened very differently had I asked her the same question she asked me. Somewhat like this maybe.
‘… and what about you? What do you do?’
‘Oh, I am just a housewife.’
– The End –
Being a housewife is a job too but if you let that define you then everything that is intrinsically you will take a backseat.
Turn off the autopilot. It is only for when you are dead.
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