How 4 Words Dropped My Self-Esteem

I am a confident woman.

Yes, I do struggle now and again with vulnerability, shame, and all of the other Brené Brown diagnoses, but on the whole, I’m pretty secure in life.

Until last week. 

Last Wednesday, I went to an event honoring a favorite author. When I met Author, he was perfectly delightful. Then, through no fault of anyone but myself, my confidence disappeared.

What do you do? Author asked, Oh, wait! Did you get that radio job?

No, the station decided not to hire anyone for the time being.

I felt small.

I asked my friend, Sandy, to come with me to the party. Sandy is all things – mom, teacher, master creator, and our pastor’s wife. I glommed onto her identity like a life-saver.

Let me introduce you to my friend, I re-directed the conversation, she and her husband started the church plant we attend.

Now we had something to talk about.

My self-esteem waned further as the evening progressed. Also at the event were at least 3 different published authors and Big Agent. I met all of them. All of them asked me the same question,

What do you do?

What could I say? My mind drew blank.

Well, I’m a wanna-be writer who has a blog but that just seems silly now doesn’t it?

Well, I’m working on a book. No, no one has shown interest in publishing.

Well, I was going to be a radio talk show host, but that’s not quite working out.

Well, I love to preach, but I’m not really a pastor, so…

Alice in Wonderland quote

It didn’t seem right to list all of the things I used to do.

I used to be a teacher.

I used to be a youth minister.

I used to go to school.

I used to homeschool my kids.

I used to work outside the home and pull an income.

The ironic part of this story is I really like my life right now. I have time to write during the day. The kids are at a more independent age. Not having a job to report to leaves us options for travel. 

So why do I feel so insignificant when asked what do you do?

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a pat answer.

Maybe because unpaid writer-chauffeur-house manager-maid-executive assistant-volunteer is too long to print on a business card. 

Maybe it’s because I care a little too much about what others think of me.

Dang. I hate when I’m convicted by my own words.

What is the answer friends? What would be a perfect response for someone who does “stuff” without having a label for it all? Better yet, what is a different ice-breaker when meeting someone for the first time? 


  1. robing34 says

    How frustrating. And while we know we shouldn't care what others think of us, we still do. Nothing more confusing than an identity in transition.

  2. talktojeremy says

    I have that same illustration on the wall of my office. It's always been an interesting question for me… And one I have always preferred to "what do you do" Thanks for bringing this issue up and being willing to be vulnerable.

  3. says

    Thank you for writing this. I feel the same way about those words. People used to know me/remember me by my profession (FBI analyst). Once I got sick and had to quit, but I still run into people from college or meet new people, I want to curl up and die. It's not my fault that my neurological problems started, but I already feel guilty enough.
    It's made me more conscious to ask people questions to get to know them that are more than their profession!

  4. anonymous says

    I completely get the perspective you are coming from. I have worked for years (on-call, which gets eyes rolling as well), and have felt inadequate in many ways (feel I should be contributing financially, "giving back" for the education I have, etc). I have fought for years (with myself) what I really want to do- stay at home full time with the kids (though I have the opportunity at a very part time teaching gig right now and I'm really excited about that). It's really amazing the number of educated, (cough) older, women who really want to do this, but we feel ashamed at saying it out loud. I'm not sure of a great response- having not had one for myself in the past- but maybe now I'll try and say, I was a physical therapist, but I've CHOSEN to stay at home now to raise my children. Even if they are older and more independent. (Those people who say that haven't lived with a teenager yet though, I think). We only get K for 6 more years, and A not far behind at 9…should I really, in the grand scheme of things, care what "those" people think? Not when I can have my 5 minutes in the morning where K curls up next to me on the couch (voluntarily) before she walks out the door, or I get to walk A home every day from school. Because someday, I won't get to have those moments, and then what will I think of myself?

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