February 16, 2011

taxi wisdom.

I have a talent for finding the most enlightened of cab drivers.

Last week, when the temperature had dropped below zero and even a two block walk seemed out of the question, I treated myself to a taxi and ended up having one of the most poignant, inspirational conversations I've had in a long time. The cabbie's name was Chuck and since he was driving me to work, our exchange almost immediately turned over to what I did for a living, then what I dreamed of doing down the line. 

And as I began to rattle off all of my hopes and wishes--my writing ambitions and my Broadway fantasy and my dream of opening a flower shop in Montmartre--Chuck turned in his seat and said, ever so matter-of-factly, "Just remember that what you do isn't who you are."

And I stopped. Stopped talking, maybe even stopped breathing. Okay, that was melodramatic, but still... Because what he said was so off from everything I've ever been exposed to, everything I've ever learned. In this culture, at least, we tend to be defined by what we do professionally--after our names, it's usually the first question we're asked. And if you're a doctor, it even becomes part of your name.

For the rest of the ride to work, I sat in silence, wondering--somewhat anxiously--what in the world I defined myself by, if not through my work. Sure, there are the old standbys: a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend. But of course there's more than that. There's the fact that I'm passionate and sensitive and empathetic--almost to a fault. There's my constant worrying and my Type A list-making and my knack for bringing the awkwardness into any occasion.

And I realized that this, yet again, is just another instance when I have to acknowledge that all my forward-thinking can leave me oblivious to the here and now. Another time when I recognize that I need to be more mindful, more aware, more in the moment--and less in my head, months and years and decades down the line, lost in the vision of some corner Parisian flower shop.

So I'm working on it, slowly but surely. 
And in the meantime, I'm also wondering how I define myself--besides, of course, by my daydreams.


KT Mac said... [Reply to comment]

I love this post. I'm struggling with the same questions myself these days and you put it into words so beautifully!

Lillian (Unstitched.) said... [Reply to comment]

It's so crazy how timely your posts are, Laura - I am going through the same thing almost always at the same time! I had this thought recently too. A friend of mine was saying how she broke a pipe in her house and she was talking to the plumber who came to fix it (kind, funny, just a really nice and sociable guy). Then a couple of days later, she ended up sitting next to a brain surgeon at a bar, and he was rude, unsociable, crass, just a jerk overall. She wrote me an email about how we tend to define people by their jobs and making assumptions immediately. And every time we meet new people, one of the first questions after (Hello, my name is...) is "What do you do?". It helps people place you in their minds.

But I think it's so true that there is so much more than our job, even more than those old standbys you were saying. It's a lesson I'm still learning, but I think my meditation class really helped. I don't know if you've ever read "Eat, Pray, Love", but there was a point when Elizabeth Gilbert reached the highest state in meditation, and she said, "I used to laugh at the way I defined myself - I am a woman, I am an American, I am a writer. Because those words are so limited compared to our infinitude." And when I did my meditation workshops, by the end, I really felt what she was saying - you are so much more than those limitations your mind creates.

Okay, I'm not sure if that was where you were going with this post, but it's so true too! Asking yourself who you are, and how to define yourself, is a really deep and philosophical question, obviously :) Sometimes it takes great leaps to find the answers to that!

nicole addison said... [Reply to comment]

this is incredible and so badly needed today.
you put it into words perfectly, thank you.
and thanks to the taxi driver!

Rachael said... [Reply to comment]

Wise words from a taxi driver!!
He's right though.
Although I think we as people think, what we do, IS who we are. I think we're just brought up to think that way in our society.
The question of it being a good or bad thing is questionable.
I personally think it's an important thing to keep in mind. That whatever you may be doing as a job is just that, a job. It doesn't define you as a person. No matter what you do. I don't think no one is better than another person for what they do, and society would be a lot better if we all kept that phrase "just remember that what you do isn't who you are" in mind.

kitten roar said... [Reply to comment]

what great words from a chicago taxi driver. it's very rare when you get a cab driver like that.

kate. said... [Reply to comment]

wisdom from strangers!! i love it. reminds me of "the july project" that i did over the summer in nyc :)

love your blog! you are very inspiring!

ChinkyGirLMeL said... [Reply to comment]

What a wise stranger. It is amazing what lessons we could learn from complete strangers. Very inspirational post. =)

Ana* said... [Reply to comment]

Once again this proves strangers can teach us the most valuable lessons

Danielle said... [Reply to comment]

so true! and something i've been struggling with for a while. we definitely get so used to defining ourselves in relation to what we do that it gets pretty tricky to figure out who you are without that career/job/whatever. i love when you meet someone and instead of asking "what do you do?" they ask "what do you do for fun?". THAT i have no problem answering!

becky said... [Reply to comment]
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becky said... [Reply to comment]

This is something I struggle with a lot, too. Especially because in university, what you want to do is all that is asked of you...it's hard, definitely hard, when you don't know what you want to do suddenly translates as you not knowing who you are or want to be. Posts like this - and conversations like the conversation you had - emphasise the chasm between a job and a personality so I am very grateful of that---especially this week.


Melina said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for sharing this moment of enlightenment. This is why I continue to come back to your blog, it is full of those healthy reminders that keep me sane. As I am graduating from university soon I worry more and more about what I want to be when I grow up. Thank you for reminding me that what I do isn't who I am. It is hard to remember this in our culture, unfortunately.

Kelly said... [Reply to comment]

Definitely something to think about, I've been thinking about it a lot lately, actually. Thank you for sharing this!