“You are What You Do” – A Very Dangerous Myth

Today is the 120th anniversary since Labor Day was officially declared a U.S. federal holiday (it is also observed today in Canada). It is also viewed as the last weekend of Summer. Since I live in Phoenix we will still enjoy 100+ degree weather for another month so be careful of your definition of Summer being “over.” And it signals the beginning of the football season!

Since this is supposed to be a holiday, or a break from work, it is a good idea to define the concept of work so we can know what it is we are getting away from. On the surface it seems fairly simple. Work is the activity you do as a profession and for which you are paid. But if you are a writer the latter half of that formula isn’t always a guaranteed proposition!

Thus for the writer we are left with a definition of work as being what you do. But that can be a dangerous thing because we tend to let what we do define who we are. I can speak to this first hand.

Over 20 years ago I lost my job. I won’t go into the gory details, suffice it to say it was a surprise and came without warning. Since I had some time on my hands I thought I would take a night class on the Old Testament prophets at a local seminary. During the first session the professor had us go around the room, say our name, and  what we did for a living. When it came my turn I flushed with embarrassment and said “My name is Steve Laube and I am no longer encumbered by employment.” I felt so humiliated I left the building during the first break and never returned.

Why did I react that way? Because I defined myself by my work. And since I no longer had “work” I no longer had a purpose. A ridiculous reaction? Maybe. But it was very real at that moment.

I wrestled during those months of unemployment with my own sense of identity and purpose. Ironically my work became the job of finding a job. Eventually through God’s mercy I received a phone call from Carol Johnson at Bethany House Publishers wanting to talk about my becoming an editor. And a new life chapter began.

I learned some valuable lessons during those dry times. Some of them may apply to your situation.

1) I am not what I do. While it is so easy to fall into this trap, it is actually a sinkhole without a bottom. You are not a writer. I am not a literary agent. What we do is not our identity. I have to trust what God says in Philippians 3:20 and Colossians 1:13-14 and 1 Peter 2:9. If we believe in Christ our identity is in Him.

2) Waiting is hard. Need I say more?

3) Success is impossible to define. We all struggle with this but writers in particular. We drink up numbers and rankings and other author’s successes like water in a parched desert. When our numbers are not what we had anticipated we get depressed. Since writing is solitary and time consuming there is a desire to have some criteria by which we can judge whether the effort is “worth it.” But that definition is incredibly subjective. No two authors define success the same way. I talked to a writer who was stunned that their latest book did not sell the usual 50,000 copies, but only sold 40,000. And another author who was mortified that their book sold only 1,200 copies over a two year period. Publishers can also define success differently. One may sell 5,000 copies and celebrate. Another publisher may sell 5,000 copies and someone’s job is on the line.

Let’s return to number one on the list above and  think about it for a moment. Aren’t numbers two and three solved by grasping the import of number one?

It is simplicity itself. Instead of searching for identity, success and gratification we already have everything we need.

Work no longer is something we have to do. As if it were a chore based on a deadline, a financial necessity, or on an employer’s assignment.
Work is something we get to do.
Work is something we are called to do.

In that there is purpose. In that there is success.


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