“The eulogy is the foundational document of our legacy, of how people remember us, of how we live on in the minds and hearts of others. And it is very telling what you don't hear in eulogies. You almost never hear things like:
‘What everybody loved most about her was how she ate lunch at her desk. Every day.’
‘He was proud that he never made it to one of his kid's Little League games because he always wanted to go over those figures one more time.’”
Many of us know, intellectually, that the things that bring us professional success are not always the same as the things that bring us happiness. And yet, we still have a hard time shifting our attention from the former to the latter.
In the same way, we have a hard time communicating who we are without falling back on our professional designations, something I’ve talked about with a number of my interviewees. Why do we define ourselves more by our jobs than by our hobbies, by the things that bring us money than by the things that bring us joy? Who are we then when we’re between jobs, or before we’ve chosen a career? Why am I more confident in calling myself a college counselor than I am in calling myself a writer?
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people, I’m challenging myself to remember that we are more than just our jobs. Instead of asking every high schooler where they’re planning to go to college and what they want to major in, I’m going to ask them what they do for fun. Instead of asking every new person I meet what they do for a living, I’m going to ask them if they have any upcoming travel plans. And instead of asking my friends and family how work is going, I’m going to ask them how they’re lives are going.
If I’ve learned one thing from the When I Was 17 project, it’s that our careers are only one piece of the puzzle. No matter how much we love our work and how much time we devote to it, the story that will ultimately get told about us is going to be about our adventures and our connections, about the times we were brave and the times we were vulnerable. And that story is something we can start sharing right now.