It is one of the principle differences I notice between life in Europe and life in North America; in Europe, what you do for a living does not define “who you are”. In North America it often does.
I remember, long ago, being proudly told by a Dutchman that you can often find a millionaire, a working man, and a homeless man sitting at the bar together, drinking and talking as equals. My own experience backs this up and I remember when friends I had known for long time periods were surprised to find out I was an engineer. It had just never come up in the course of dozens of conversations. I’m also a “writer” and a “diver” and a “teacher” and these are just as likely to be discussed as the day-to-day activities that pay the bills.
It is my experience in North America, when two strangers meet, that “what you do for a living” is almost certain to be amongst the first three questions discussed. In Holland the question instead is “where are you from?”
Worse still, I remember a friend who completely defined herself by her job. And when, through no fault of hers, she was stricken with multiple layoffs over multiple years, it devastated her.
I always felt that that was wrong. A part of who we are is what we do for money, but shouldn’t we all strive to be so much more?
If the bar conversation includes me saying,” I’ve lived and worked in Amsterdam for a number of years now,” then a Dutchman would ask,” How long?” while a Canadian tourist would ask,” What job?”
Regardless, my standard answer is,” Many jobs and many years,” and the conversation moves on.
And it was with this perspective, because of it, that I was beginning to feel guilty. For days now I’ve been excited and nervous over a perspective job. Overly so, I was thinking.
I’ve always been proud of my career. But I’ve also know that “talking shop” can bore people to death. Anything beyond a 20 second description and people’s faces glaze over. But if I am lucky enough to get this new job, I can imagine talking non-stop about work, work, work, work, work.
And so the voice of balance speaks from the back of my thoughts. It reminds me that I can share my enthusiasm, but not to excess. Jargon and shop talk will always bore people outside the office. And too much enthusiasm, shared, can be unwelcome. But being enthusiastic about and motivated by your work is a great thing. I look forward to applying this energy at work, to work!
And if the job comes to be, I look forward to celebrating by buying a round, and then asking my friends how their days went. For in the end, I would rather be the good friend who listened well, than the designer of X or Y. It frees up time for more interesting conversations, about who we really are.