You are NOT What You Do

Over the last few months I’ve been doing some radio interviews to promote my books. Especially with Spiritual Blueprint, one question they always ask is: How did you get the idea for this book? I suppose because the book is a kind of self-help, organize-your-life sort of thing, people wonder if I wrote it from personal experience. Well, the answer is yes. In a way, I wrote it for me, and then decided to publish it in case it might help others, too.

Years ago I was working in a job that was not right for me. At a time in my life when I had finished my Ph.D., but didn’t yet have a full time teaching job, I had to take whatever job came along just to pay the bills. I found myself working in the marketing department of a major credit card company. I won’t say which major credit card company it was, but if you rule out Mastercard and Visa, you should be able to discover the answer.

Keep in mind, I have no background in marketing, no desire to work in marketing, and only a teacher’s instinct that ironically made me good at training sales reps. What started out as a temp position turned into a five year stint complete with a promotion to project manager (cue the theme song from The Office). By the time I left, I actually had one person reporting to me, so I was a boss (which, by the way, I’m also not cut out for). I’m very thankful for that job, and there was nothing wrong with the company – in fact this company had what I perceived as a very healthy culture and a positive working atmosphere. The problem was not with the people I worked with – the people were really great, and they are still my friends. But I was not suited for the job. I struggled with the fact that I was not using my gifts, and I wondered what God had in mind for me. I was like a fish out of water, or swimming upstream, or some other aquatic metaphor.

By the way, it was at about this time that I wrote the song The Game (Seize the Day), which was eventually recorded by my group Remember Rome on the CD Carpe Diem. When we play it live I always describe it as the “I hate my day job” song. If you listen to the song with this in mind, it will make a lot of sense. There is a reference to “heavy chains” in the song, which comes from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that he is forging his chains every day, and I felt like that – I felt like every day in that job the chains got heavier, and every day I prayed, “God – get me out of this cubicle.”

Anyway, I started to feel like I had to make some changes, but didn’t know where to start. On a flight back from a business trip, I started making some notes. What came out was the beginning of the Five Homes concept. I concluded that there are five areas in everyone’s life, and each one needs to feel “at home.” Everyone needs a home for their hands (a job), a home for their mind (hobbies and passions), a home for their heart (relationships), a home for their body (a place to live), and a home for their spirit (a faith community).

I’ll never forget that there was a woman sitting next to me on the plane and she noticed what I was doing. At the end of the flight, the woman wished me luck and said she hoped that I would find what I was looking for. I thought that was very nice of her. Over the next few years I added to my notes on the Five Homes concept. Eventually I wrote the book. By the way, the original title of the book was Building Your Five Homes: Creating Order out of Chaos for a More Peaceful, Hopeful and Fulfilling Life, or something like that. But the good folks at Liguori Publications convinced me that Spiritual Blueprint is more catchy (or at least more google-able).

Working on the concept, one of the first things I had to sort out was the difference between one’s vocation, one’s occupation, and one’s identity. A vocation is a calling (that’s what vocation means). For people of faith, that implies a calling from God to fulfill one’s purpose in life. The problem is that many (maybe most) people don’t have a day job that fulfills their calling, or gives life purpose. So for a lot of people, their occupation (what pays the bills) is not the same as their vocation, and that causes frustration. The ideal solution would be to change jobs, and get an occupation that is also one’s vocation. But that’s not practical (or even possible) for many people, especially in this economy. If you have a job that pays the bills, you’ve got to be thankful and call it a day. But then how do you fulfill your calling?

I came to the conclusion that if your occupation (the home for your hands), is not also your vocation, then you simply need to be intentional about finding other ways to express yourself and give life purpose. That’s what hobbies and volunteer activities are for (the home for your mind). I’m convinced that one’s calling is directly related to one’s gifts and talents. Put another way, God expects you to use whatever gifts and talents you’ve been given. So naturally, the things you’re good at, and the things you love to do, are meant to be used to express yourself and to make the world around you a better place. And there’s nothing wrong with the fact that it’s also fun.

But the important point you have to understand right up front, is that your vocation, and especially your occupation, is not your identity. Never define yourself by what you do, because if what you do has to change, you’ll feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. If you define yourself by your job, and then lose that job – then what? Instead, your identity has to be based on what cannot change: that you are a child of God, made in the image of God. That’s your identity. Oh, there’s more than that, I know – all the many intangible things that make you unique are also part of your identity, but the foundation of who you are is the one thing that is common to all humans, and in fact binds us together as an entity called, “humanity.”

So if someone were to come up to you on the street and ask you, “What are you?” I hope you will not say, I’m an engineer; or, I’m a plumber; or I’m a pastor; or, I’m a student. That’s what you do, and who knows, you might not be doing that some day. I hope instead you will answer the question by saying, “I’m a child of God, made in the image of God.”

Jim Papandrea

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About Jim Papandrea

Jim Papandrea is an author, educator, and singer/songwriter. Visit his website at:
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One Response to You are NOT What You Do

  1. Jerome Kramer says:

    A recent sermon used this phrase, “You are not what you do” to complement the theme, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The sermon started with the preacher confronting his listeners with the 10 commandments to show that each of us is a sinner and in need of light. I balked when I realized that he was saying, you lie, so you are a liar; you steal, so you are a thief; you look lustfully, so you are an adulterer. Those statements run counter to the statement that you are not what you do. Can they both be true?

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