I love my life, and since that leaves a lot of free time, I also…
How do you answer the question “what do you do?” If you are in the majority, you say “I’m a” followed by a job title. Putting aside the fact that this doesn’t answer the question as asked, I find the mindset this creates to be counterproductive. It associates our job with our identity, leading to at least two errors.
What do I do? I worship God, I bake, I write a daily blog, I play tabletop RPGs, I wash dishes, I brush my teeth twice daily, I write proofs… there are lots of things I do. I am wary of defining myself by any one of them.
One of the great dangers in defining myself as a researcher is that when my research goes poorly I am tempted to think I am doing poorly. Nothing contributes to a feeling of stress like a feeling of inadequacy. A related danger is the risk of letting other elements of me slide in order to throw hours at my self-defined role, an action that will cause difficulty in one area to spread to other areas.
When asked “What do you do?” I like to give an answer broad enough to cover all of what I do. “Whatever I choose to do” is one such, I also sometimes do things I don’t chose to do, such as falling down stairs or catching a cold, but I rarely mention those. and “I love my life” another.
Each action I choose to take I choose for a reason. I may not enjoy mopping the floor, but I still choose to mop the floor because I prefer that action to the consequences of not taking that action.
In the movie “Mary Poppins” Likely in the play as well, but I haven’t seen or read it. when the children complain of not liking to clean their room Mary Poppins replies “so we make it a game,” after which music and magic ensue. There are at least two messages that can be learned from this scene. One, which I like, is that we can, through our attitude, increase our own pleasure in our activities. Another, which I do not like, is that every task can be enjoyable. If you have the capacity to make cleaning toilets fun, good for you. But if you don’t that doesn’t mean you’re a failure nor that you shouldn’t clean toilets.
The purpose of most activities is to instigate a change in the world. I don’t go to work in order to enjoy myself; I go there to work. A successful day at work is one where I strive to succeed, not one where I smile a lot. Keeping that distinction crisp helps me accept unpleasant tasks in stride.
Years ago I became aware that many of my friends had collections of one kind or another, and decided to farcically join in the fun. “I collect time,” I would say, “could you spare a few minutes?” Joking aside, almost anyone can give almost anyone a few minutes almost anytime. People seem to always have time to spare.
And yet I think that most people feel they have too little time. In the words of Mayor Archibald and the Doctor from the Veggie Tales episode The Story of Flibber-o-loo,
We’re busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what we have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.
Busy or not, the fact remains that the bulk of our time is spare time, free for us to allocate as we see fit. In the words of my friend Markham, “the only thing you have to do is die.” The obligations we take on, and the seriousness with which we take them, are in our control. The consequences of our allocation of time is not fully in our control, but that doesn’t mean we are a slave to habits and requests.
What do you do? You live. And, since that leaves a lot of free time, you also do many many other things. Some of them not panning out? Oh well. It wasn’t essential anyway.