Human Beings, Not Human Doings


Name Plate

My old teacher name plate from St. Patrick School.

I used to be a full-time teacher and for a long time, that was my identity. In a small community, I was known as the Grade 3 teacher. The teacher box was the one I fit in. Almost two years ago I gave up this position to train for a new career in writing and editing.

Since completing my editing coursework and graduating from Simon Fraser University, I’ve taken on some writing projects and I’ve also done some substitute teaching. The substitute teaching has been great. I work at the school here in town, so I get to walk to work. I also get to work with older students. I wasn’t sure how that would go! They’re so tall and I’m not. As it turns out, those big kids suit me just fine.

Listen to me read this post:

The trouble with substitute teaching is not substitute teaching. This job lets me feel useful and it helps teachers out. It’s fun to work with the students and refreshing to teach new content. The trouble with substitute teaching is that it reminds me what it’s like to be in that teacher box but denies me actually owning that teacher identity. This is uncomfortable. I don’t quite know who I am or where I fit in anymore. My identity was clear and now it’s blurry.


My school photo taken the one year I taught Grade 3 here in Hughenden.

We are not our work.

This is true, and yet we all identify each other by our occupations. “So, what do you do?” The inquirer is not asking about whether you garden, exercise, or meditate. The inquirer wants to know how you make a living. “What is your key identifier?” That’s usually what we want to know when we ask about what another person does.

Now that I’m transitioning between careers, I feel identity-less. More accurate to say that I don’t have as solid and reliable identity as I once had. “I’m a teacher.” It was certain and no one could dispute it. It was the container I belonged in.

Supporting our identities takes energy.

We spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining our self-identities. It’s handy to be able to describe ourselves: married, employed, Gemini, middle-aged, menopausal, rock music fan, hockey fan, agnostic, and not a morning person. We wear rings and T-shirts to support our identity. Our posts on social media proclaim our self-image. To own a solid identity is to exist.

But there’s an obvious problem with relying on identity. Identity changes constantly.

Identity is not static, so why do we strive to make it into something more solid and real than it is? Why do we cling to our self-identities as if they were life preservers in the waters of life’s ocean? Self-identity changes as sure as each wave rises and falls and disappears back into the sea. Who we are doesn’t stay the same. Sometimes we change imperceptibly and sometimes we change in the blink of an eye in the biggest way.


One of many of my school photos taken while I taught Grade 3 at Amisk School.

It’s time to let go.

It’s difficult during this life change to let go of my professional image, a ghost that’s long since faded from a colourfully-decorated Grade 3 classroom. If I want to move forward, I need to take this old picture of myself out of its frame and throw it away. It’s not me anymore.

What would happen if I let go of my self-identity and took a break from trying to label myself? Probably nothing would happen because this identity is unreliable. Just like today’s weather, my identity will be different when the sun rises tomorrow. We humans crave constancy, but it’s not to be found in this mortal realm.

Life without an identity is freer.

This identity we work so hard to support and nurture might just be weighing us down. It’s like we’re building boxes of specific dimensions and out of imaginary lumber, and then shaping ourselves so that we’ll fit. We’re limiting who we might become and what we might do, all the while ignoring the fact that we constantly change shape and size. We’ll never quite fit into that box.

Let’s step out of that self-made container, take a nice deep breath of fresh air, and stretch our legs. The view is broader out here and the present moment is bursting with potential. Outside the box, we can discover that we aren’t what we do. We simply are. We are all human beings, not human doings.

If you don’t already, consider following my blog by email or through WordPress. My posts won’t always show up in your social media feed. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time! ~ Lori




2 Comments on “Human Beings, Not Human Doings”

  1. A friend from Scotland who married an American and lived in the States for 20 years (she has since returned to her native land) once told me that it unnerved her that the first question Americans always asked was “What do you do?” She perceived this (correctly in most cases, I think) as a quickie route to sizing you up–class, income, social ranking. But as you so deftly point out here, any response is ephemeral at best and deeply inadequate. I completely agree with you that we are so much more than what we do, as evidenced by how quickly what we do can change. But people crave “shorthand” because our little brains search for categorization, though the marvelous truth about us is that we all defy simple categories. We are, each of us, so much MORE than words can convey. Thoughtful, well-argued post, Lori.


    • Thanks Amy! It was a post to help bolster myself as my little brain is craving categorization these days! Thanks for reading and commenting. 😀


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