Can you think of a more ubiquitous question when meeting someone new? It seems that we're driven to define ourselves by what we do for a living. I think that this is part of a powerful need to maintain a static, unchanging image of ourselves. The reality that new experience changes us all the time is too unsettling and so we search for clear definitions. I'm a lawyer, accountant, doctor etc etc. How limiting is that?!
It's also something about the western worship of money. If some of what you 'do' doesn't produce the green, well, it's basically a waste of time. "No, no Phil don't get us wrong" some well meaning acquaintances will say, "it's nice but where's the bottom line?"
I'm far from immune to this phenomena, in fact I know that much of my life has been a mad scramble to define myself in clear and unequivocal terms and prove that I can earn a living. It's only now with the little maturity that has crept up on me that I find myself rebelling against this drive. What do I do? Just once I'd love to answer, "me? Oh, I'm a gamer/blogger/writer" and stand there as they try to work out where the money is. This is followed by the delightful moment when they say, with a perplexed look on their face, "no, I meant what you do for a living?"
Tee hee, I think I'll save that one for someone heinously pretentious :)
What got me thinking about this was, once again, Wil Wheaton. He wrote a post tonight about some sage advice he received from an acting teacher. The advice was to make sure there was a space in your life to do what you do for the love of it, not just for money. And, of equal importance, not to allow yourself to be defined entirely by what you do. To find something else you're passionate about and get to it. In Wil's case what he did back then was, of course, acting and the teacher's words were geared towards that but I think it's clear from his blog that he sees this as good advice to anyone who has a creative streak or does something creative for a living.
Don't just be defined by your day job or the need to earn money, explore your depths and discover new interests and passions! Do them for the sheer joy of it. Expand your self-definition to such an extent that you lose sight of the boundary. That way when someone inevitably says "what do you do?" You can answer, with a knowing smile, "lots of stuff!"
This is a fairly rambling rant about what his post brought up for me, I hope it's of some interest.