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For the most part, we all take on a job or a profession at some point in our lives. If we’re lucky, we pursue a true inner calling and our work becomes a joyous, fulfilling experience.

Unfortunately, though, some of us must do everything we can to see the best in an occupation that we don’t exactly love.

In either case, many people seem to identify themselves with their jobs. One of the first things a new acquaintance will ask you is, “What do you do?” as if your job is the most important part of who you are. We might answer, “I am a nurse,” “I am a lawyer,” “I am a stay-at-home mom,” or “I am a secretary,” etc. But a job does not define who we are—it is only one expression of our complex and multi-faceted selves.

If you ask a child upon first meeting him the same question, “What do you do?” he might answer something more along the lines of, “I swim, and I color and I play with my dog and I love to help my mom make cookies!” Most children recognize that they do not need to define themselves by one pursuit in life.

The Baha’i teachings remind us that we all have many talents and faculties:

The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 260

When we get older we start to define ourselves by our jobs, sometimes to the point where we become boxed in. The problem with limiting our identity to one occupation is that we put all our “self-worth eggs” into one basket. But what happens if something changes and we can no longer perform in our career—or our career no longer performs for us?

In the case of my daughter, she has always been a natural teacher. Teaching high school is a terrifying prospect to many, but for her, it is pure bliss. She can’t wait to go to work each day. However—if for some reason she can’t work it makes her miserable, and she questions her value.

The same premise applies to any label: wife, daughter, friend, or parent. As a mother who home-schooled my children, my life revolved around them for years. When they left, so did my self-worth—because I had it all tied up in them. It wasn’t until I opened myself up to what I was capable of outside my children that I regained my joy and purpose.

The problem with identifying your career with “who” you are, is that if it is taken away for some reason, where does that leave you? For artists, writers, actors, or those in the public eye, it is especially precarious to associate their identity with what they do or with their popularity. If you are on top of the charts, does that make you better than someone else? If so, what happens to you when you fall from grace?

I used to work with developmentally handicapped youth. Many of them would go on to be capable of only menial labor, if that. However, there was no question that they were just as valuable as any other individual. Just their “being” was a lesson in love, humility and kindness. I could write volumes and never come close to the contribution they’ve made to this world. These sweet souls never confused their job with who they are—they were just pure love, and their purpose was to reflect God’s grace.

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. – Brennan Manning

 You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness has identified with. That’s the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.Eckhart Tolle

Beyond our egos and our professions we are all a wonderful combination of God-given talents and abilities. One profession or label does not make up all of who we are. Perhaps one day we will retire, or be otherwise unable to work. This shouldn’t take away our identity in the least. Instead it should open up new doors of exciting possibilities.

Most of us have only scratched the surface of our potential. With so much to offer this world, we should never limit ourselves, or the value that just our essential presence contributes. God’s image is engraved upon us and we all make a contribution to the world. So the next time someone asks, “What do you do?” perhaps you might answer, “I am a nurse, as well as an artist, a singer and a mentor, but above all else, I am a lover of humanity and a believer in our oneness:”

… in this age of splendours, teachings once limited to the few are made available to all, that the mercy of the Lord may embrace both east and west, that the oneness of the world of humanity may appear in its full beauty, and that the dazzling rays of reality may flood the realm of the mind with light. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 59.

14 Comments

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  • Oct 30, 2018
    Great article. It’s interesting how we classify ourselves based on our current occupations as well as some select prior occupations. But not others
  • Frances McCune
    Oct 28, 2018
    Hi Kathy, my husband & I lived in Elk Grove as members of the Assembly until my husband was transferred due to work . We miss the people who were there with us..We had a loving Baha'i community .We are Lawrence (Mac) & Frances McCune
    • Oct 29, 2018
      It’s a small world Frances! I would love to have known you. Yes! Elk Grove is still a very loving community and your presence still lingers here. ❤️
  • Kendrick Rustad
    Oct 28, 2018
    I was both blessed to be born into this world with freshly recruited Baha'i parents and cursed that it was in Santa Rosa in 1970. My father chose the most black and white hard core profession of being an inorganic (LIFELESS with ABSOLUTELY no surprises, no carbon present) chemistry professor and my mother the polar opposite, a nursery school teacher (all about life and surprises with lots of emotion). They were introduced to each other through one of the world's first computer matchmaking programs at UC Berkley. The only thing they had in common was NOTHING. ...My mother came from a life of luxury from real estate wealth and my father from Alaska commercial fishing (Deadliest Catch). Naturally, the Baha'i Faith was a perfect match...
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    • Oct 28, 2018
      What a wonderful story and an amazing family history, Kendrick. Thanks so much for sharing! I enjoyed it very much. We come from so many diverse backgrounds, and each have gems to share with this world. We are loved unconditionally by God more than we realize. This puts me in mind of one of my favorite quotes from the Baha'i Writings from a book called, "The Hidden Words" .......... " O SON OF BEING! With the hands of ...power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. " Baha'u'llah
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    • Kendrick Rustad
      Oct 28, 2018
      I had always known I was going to be and architect. I would build and draw castles as a child. My mom's father was an engineer who helped build the Golden Gate Bridge and an amazing ultra modern home from the bones of Judge Moheny's Victorian farmhouse at the top of hill in Larkspur with stairs leading straight from City Hall to the front door. My grandmother had also encouraged me and bought my first adult book I ever picked out at age ten, The Dream King, Ludwig II of Bavaria. I loved his clothes and castles. ... Turns out his father, the king, wanted to be a college professor and his mother believed love should be called friendship, not intellectual. I turned out just like Ludwig, gay, bipolar creative expensive architect. OOPS! GOD?
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  • Ellen Ramer
    Oct 28, 2018
    Really beautiful Kathy, and inspiring! Thanks for all these important reminders.
  • Taryn Saggese
    Oct 27, 2018
    So true ! I am a 30yr women ,currently unemployed and as yet no children. The question, ' what do you do ? " haunts me !! to the point that I don't want to leave house some days ..
    • Taryn Saggese
      Oct 31, 2018
      Thank you for the kind words. I should have mentioned that I myself feel lost without my profession , after so many years as a student and then a scientist , without this identifier I feel lost. , I know I am more than my education/profession, but it is hard some days . Reading the Baha'i writing I find statements around the purpose of life :
      1) To know God and to attain His presence
      2) To acquire virtues ... 3) Carry forward an ever advancing civilization So I am trying to keep this points at the forefront of my thoughts
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    • Oct 28, 2018
      Just my humble opinion, Taryn, people are curious because they care about you but mostly they are just concerned about their own lives and not worried about you. It’s your life and we all have different paths. No one should judge another's path. No one knows what inner work you are doing now or the amazing things you will do in the future and perhaps when people ask you can say, “I am still figuring that out!“ Anyway your personal relationship with God is all that matters. You don’t answer to anyone else. Much love! Kathy
  • Oct 27, 2018
    Kathy, Excellent article, very on point. I encourage you as the good writer you are to gather your stories or working with others into a book or memoir and help others see the worth in all people.
    • Oct 27, 2018
      Writing a book has always been a dream stirring in my heart, so the kind encouragement of such an accomplished and compassionate writer as yourself brings joy and light to my spirit! Thank you so very much dear Rodney!
  • Jules R
    Oct 26, 2018
    Beautifully written article 💗