I Am Not Where I Work [and neither are you]

In three days, I turn twenty-four. Twenty-four. It feels heavy and somehow makes me look in the mirror a different way. And while I’m genuinely ecstatic to be celebrating another year of life— [One of my best friends is getting married this weekend. Best birthday present ever!] —It makes me wonder how I’ve gotten this far and haven’t seemed to have gotten anywhere at all.

In reality, I know twenty-four is young. I know that I still look eighteen and still act childish and still have so much growth to do. I know there are so many more beautiful days to fill and sunsets to watch and walks in the woods to enjoy. There is so much laughter and celebration and love to look forward to.

But some days, like today, it feels like I owe the entire world an explanation. It feels like I owe those mentors and professors and family members an excuse for why I haven’t lived up to everything they told me I could be.

I’m sorry I haven’t had a full time job for more than eleven months since I graduated. I’m sorry I clicked the pause button and went to India. I’m sorry that I graduated at the top of my class but now live with my parents. I’m sorry I haven’t gone to grad school or published scholarly articles or gotten married. I promise one day I’ll figure it out. [or maybe I won’t?]

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

And in the light of my mother’s kitchen last night, I decided that for my twenty-fourth birthday, I was going to quit apologizing. Because I don’t owe people anything and mostly, because I am more than the work that I do. And so are you.

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I’ve reflected upon it a lot lately—this unfortunate and non-biblical ideology that our culture perpetuates. I’ve had really raw conversations with friends recently about how easy it is to base self worth on a resume or a job title or the answers we give to people when making small talk.

We ask things like, “What do you do?” “Where do you work?” And in answering these questions, I so often justify myself. I say things like, “Well, for right now, I’m doing this.” “Well, I hope to one day be X,Y,Z.” “It’s temporary.”

It’s a mere fact of our culture: we elevate certain positions above others. Someone is going to recognize a lawyer as being more successful than a coffee barista. A doctor more prestigious than a bag boy at the local grocery store.

I understand this. I’m guilty of this. But I don’t agree with it.

Our Biblical Paul was a tent maker. He made tents. Let that sink in for a moment.

We don’t remember this about him though. Nor, if we are really honest with one another, do we care what Paul’s trade was. We remember the way that he proclaimed what he believed. We remember that he was imprisoned for spreading the good news of Jesus. We remember Paul for more than his vocation. We remember the lifestyle he lived and the heart that beat loudly for the eternal.

I just wonder what would happen if we all worked to get to know the heart of the people around us. I wonder what would happen if we stopped basing worth on a worldly standard of success. What if, instead, I asked you what makes you feel like you are floating on the clouds? What makes your heart swell? What are you passionate about? What do you feel defines the very essence of who you are as an individual and a human being? What song lyrics do you have memorized because they resonate so strongly with what you believe?

Perhaps your answer would fall into what you do vocationally, but I’d venture to say that for many, this is not the case. Maybe the answers you’d give me have nothing to do with the place that pays your bills.

Maybe it’s the thing you do in the early dawn or late at night when the sky is painted with those ever glimmering lights.
Maybe you feel most like yourself when your fingers run across those lovely ivory keys.

Or maybe it’s the way that words are constantly ebbing inside of you and overflowing on to the pages of your journal.
Maybe it’s the way you feel when your feet hit the pavement, miles of road ahead of you to run.
Perhaps it’s a serving a meal to your family or to the homeless.

Maybe you literally know everything there is to know about Star Wars characters [in which I say, props, my friend].

I just wonder what our world would look like if culture didn’t determine value based on career goals or ambitions. We are so much more than where we work.

Just a little Thursday [almost Friday] food for thought: What is it that makes you, YOU? Do you rely on the work that you do to determine your identity?

3 Replies to “I Am Not Where I Work [and neither are you]”

  1. Audrey, I like the questions you pose here. I studied journalism in college and work in communications now. And for fun and friendship for many years I’ve asked everyone I meet questions about themselves, like I’m interviewing them for a story. Instead of (or maybe in addition to) asking “what do you do?”, I’d like to see what I hear if I ask “what are you passionate about?” “what song lyrics have you memorized?” I’ve heard so many wonderful stories and insights from these interviews that never actually became stories. The question of what you do can be really painful. So I sympathize with you. For nine years I was proud to say, “I’m a homeschooling mom.” Then my kids went to high school and for a year I didn’t have an answer. I really felt like I had no place in the world. Then my kids’ school hired me to be their public relations person. Now I have a “place in the world” and an easy answer to that question. But yes, I’m passionate about lots of things besides that. It’s important for all of us to remember that people are a lot more than the neat categories we want to put them into. And it’s really fun to ask them about what they love and hear their stories.

  2. An older man at my church gives me a hug every time he sees me and asks, “What is important in your life lately?” For a teenager, this is a much more heartwarming question than, “What grade are you in school?” – “What are you studying?” – “What do you want to study in college?”
    Thanks for this post. It’s encouraging to this teen. 🙂

  3. Audrey,

    First, you are a child of the King, and your writings are amazing and yes, you are worth, more than gold. I have known you since you were a very small child…I know your Mom and love her dearly. You are a lot like your Mom from what I can tell from your writings. So, here is my word for you on your twenty-fourth Birthday. Once I was young…now I am old (73) and I never accomplished anything my parents wanted me to do, and I tried. I learned early on in my life that I had abilities that they didn’t even know I had. So, I became exactly the woman God wanted me to be. I became a wife and Mother, the greatest profession of all. I made it my life’s goal to be the best wife and Mother I could possibly be. That’s the goal dear…to be all that He wants you to be, and be still and KNOW that HE IS GOD. He will lead you and the word “sorry” should leave your vocabulary. You’re special, and I love your posts…trust God to mold you into who He wants you to be, and use your God-given talents only for Him.

    God Bless you beautiful girlie…I will be praying for you, and have a Happy Birthday!!!

    Mama Sue

    Audrey Jackson posted: “In three days, I turn twenty-four. Twenty-four. It feels heavy and somehow makes me look in the mirror a different way. And while I’m genuinely ecstatic to be celebrating another year of life— [One of my best friends is getting married this weekend. Bes”

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