You Are Not What You Do, You Are the Power of Not Yet: A Guest Post from Christina Hubbard
I am at the orthodontist. Before the assistant presses the clammy clayish mold into my teeth for the second time in sixteen years, she asks, “What do you do?” A giant heaping mass of nothing fills the oxygen between us. I inhale and suddenly need more air. Something comes out.
“I’m a writer.”
“Um. A blogger. Well, a freelancer.” I pause, “Sort of.”
“What do you write about?”
“Courage, compassion, and creativity.” Does it sound memorized?
“That sounds cool.”
“It is,” I say, trying to convince myself I believe it. Can she detect the uncertainty?
Shoot. She isn’t saying anything.
She’s onto me. I might as well tell her the whole truth.
“I don’t get paid for my writing really, but it’s fun.” She’s for me to say something writerly.
“I get to make my own schedule!” I add, attempting to cover my pseudo-career with a stamp of fun and freedom. Instead, I singlehandedly short-change my own words and worth in a few short sentences.
I am grateful when she presses the mold into my mouth so I can just shut up already.
You are not what you do, or are you? Don’t actions matter more than words? That’s what parenting books preach.
I sit fraudulently in the chair, and I am relieved.
It’s a toss-up, figuring out where this conversation will go and how my worth and work will sprawl itself under the examination lights, naked, pink and shaking in its blinding blankness.
Culture grooms us to categorize each other as what we do rather than who we actually are. Typically it goes like this.
“Hi, I’m Christina. I’m a writer.”
“Have you written a book?”
(Cue the crickets.)
Talking about what we do rather than who we are gives us a safe, understandable structure in which to understand someone. We can get a read on them. That’s safe, structured, and helpful for judgement calls. Can any one of us truly say WHO we are anyway?
I wonder who this lovely, kind, obliging, still miraculously-interested orthodontist tech is. She has asked me more questions than my kids do in an afternoon. Who is she behind her ability to wire teeth and press cold molds into the roofs of mouths?
The reason I am in the orthodontist’s office is this: the two front teeth I had braced and straightened sixteen years ago had moved out of place. So we went back to the process of shifting and molding my central incisors to a more pleasing shape.
For many of us, talking about who we are feels like getting orthodontics again. Tight, restricting, vulnerable, but with the promise of something beautiful and more perfected at the end. For a while, our speech is awkward, that darn retainer hinders our s’s, and the tip of our tongue catches on the wires. This is part of the process of becoming our true selves: O.K. with showing our insecurities, at home in process, and open to the connecting power of curiosity.
None of us is defined by what we do completely. We are a complex web of dreams and struggles, motivations and misunderstandings, movement and stillness. We are lovers and hypocrites, hippies and control-freaks, honest free speakers and selfish liars.
We are a mess.
This is the tension. Where grit meets glory. Where quiet kisses noise. Where push meets a good night's sleep. We sigh and cry, write and wrestle, wonder and worry.
This is who we are.
My friend Elizabeth has a solution to the awkward intro:
“Instead of saying I'm writer or artist or an Adjunct Professor, or anything that has a ‘thingness’ to it, I say, ‘I've noticed a lot of people have a hard time incorporating creativity into their daily lives. I have developed a process that helps them further this skill both personally and professionally.’’ This opens the conversation up for deeper levels of connectivity.”
Her intro acknowledges none of us is just one thing. You are not a job. I am not a title. We are transforming into new creations, constantly adjusting and being tweaked as we offer our work to the world.
A few years after I got my braces off for the first time, a co-worker called me shy. It burned me because it wasn’t true. I whispered, “I’m not shy, I just don’t have anything to say.” Not yet, anyway.
I didn’t know who I was at 26, that I had a voice, or even a story to tell. It was years before I realized: I’m an introspective extrovert who loves long, deep conversations
not a party-animal like the neatly buttoned co-worker doing the labeling. I desired to be a mom and a writer, but I was neither yet. Although I couldn’t see what, I was becoming someone.
This is why I believe you are not what you do. You are connection and creativity, shifting and becoming, straightening and realigning. You are not a thing or an answer. You are in process. You are the power of not yet.
Christina Hubbard is a poet who writes memoir. Her work has appeared at (in)courage and Proverbs 31. She cares for writers as a group leader through Compel Training. A wife and mom to two creative kids, Christina dreams big and believes words can change hearts and, ultimately, alter eternity. She loves doing yoga in the sun, reading heady books, and burying her face in flowers. Find her at CreativeandFree.com.
Essay Published with Permission from Christina Hubbard.