Stop Mistaking Career for Character

Scott Leonardi

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What are you?

A difficult question to answer about ourselves. Are we our names? Our beliefs? Ideologies? Are we our jobs? Our art? Are we our ethnicity or our sexual preference? Sure, the easy answer is to say it’s a combination of it all, but what does that even mean when it’s all changing and evolving so often throughout our lives?

One of the harder things to reconcile in today’s society seems to be trying to distinguish what makes us who we are as far as how we want to be seen by the world, who we really are under it all, and how similar those ideas hopefully are to each other.

Most people nowadays seem to identify with their profession. When a person has a decent profession it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t have a problem professing who/what they are to other people. No one is ashamed of being a doctor or a lawyer. Teachers aren’t afraid to admit they teach and it’s literally a business owner’s job to make their business known to as many people as possible. These are pretty common and obvious examples, but there are too many careers out there to list off all of the great jobs a person would be proud to admit they have. This isn’t about them, anyway.

What about the rest of the working society? What about the people who consider their work “just a paycheck?” These honest, hardworking folks might not necessarily want to identify themselves with the means in which they make a living. Yet, our society has a bad knack for making presumptions about a person’s character based on what they do for money. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy your work if what you do pays well, but if it doesn’t pay well, then you better let it be known that you make up for that lack of income with a burning passion for the work itself. That way people will have a way to balance the choices they think you’ve made in your life to be where you are at that particular stage of your journey.

“It doesn’t pay well, but I love what I do!”


“It’s not my passion or anything, but the pay is great.”

It feels like our conversations regarding who we are and what we do always has one of these two statements floating around in the background like an ever-present static. We try to assess who a person is based on what they contribute to the world or how they’re being compensated for it when it has nothing to do with who they really are. Sure, you can ascertain that a person may be hardworking, or outgoing and social, or empathetic and nurturing based on them having a particular profession, but do those things really speak to the heart of who they are? Perhaps…

But this isn’t the case for everyone. Most of the working society is just trying to get by. They have jobs as stock boys and cashiers and delivery drivers and waitresses and fry cooks and sign holders and a million other menial labor jobs. Do these people — and I include myself in this because I literally have two of the jobs I just mentioned — really want to identify themselves with their source of income? Most likely not. I know I don’t. So, why does it seem like it’s not taken as an acceptable answer to identify with something like a hobby or interest or being a member of a group or family? 

When a person asks, “So, what do you do?” why does this imply what we do for money to stay alive? Since when does that describe who we are as people? Why do people seem to think they can get a sense of who you are by knowing what you do for an income when it’s been proven time and time again that the correlation between a person’s income and their emotional well-being doesn’t necessarily always line up. There are plenty of miserable rich people and probably even more happy poor.

So, what’s with the third degree about where I’m punching in?

I do get it. You can tell a lot about a person’s character based on what they’ve been willing to put themselves through to further their own life and the lives of their family or loved ones, I get that. My point is that it’s a difficult spot to be in when someone asks you what you do and you want to tell them about the thing you do that makes life worth living, but since that doesn’t pay the bills you feel you have to tell them what you do to be worthy enough to live your life.

I’m a sous chef that doesn’t give a shit about food, you caught me.

I’ve been in and out of restaurant jobs my whole working life. Never had an actual interest in food, but I’m good with my hands and can multitask like a maniac. Some people would love to work in a kitchen and learn about different kinds of cooking and be able to make food all day. To me, it’s a paycheck and not a great one at that.

Like countless people on this site, I’d like to someday be able to make a living with my writing. This takes time and energy that I’m starting to slowly cultivate in my off hours when I’m not sweating myself to death in the kitchen. I enjoy writing and I’ve gotten a lot better at it in recent years. I know that if I continue making progress that eventually making an income doing what I enjoy is a real possibility if I put the work in. For now, the $7 I made last month on this site might be encouraging and may even mean that I’m technically a paid writer(cha-ching!), but it’s hardly a professional claim to a career.

So, I find myself stuck between telling people what I do for money and dislike versus what I want to do for spirit and love. I’m getting tired of saying things like, “I’m a sous chef, but I’m not really that into food. It’s just a job for now while I work on yadda yadda yadda.” That’s a conversation that gets old very quickly.

How are we to identify ourselves when we don’t want to relate to the work we do? When we don’t want people to make assumptions about us based on our meager wages? Do we just exaggerate our other interests? Inflate our hobbies and obsessions to make it seem as if we’re so preoccupied with these things that the money must be coming from some other, entirely negligible, area of our life?

I think it’s becoming more common these days for people to identify with the thing they wish to be, rather than are. Uber drivers are actually CEOs. Hostesses are actually actresses. Line cooks are actually writers…

But, I mean, come on…are we really?

“Oh, you’re a producer? That’s so funny because I’m actually a writer. Crazy how you’ve been in a Lyft for ten hours and are now currently driving me to my own eight-hour stint as a glorified fry cook. What a world.”

I know that we all gotta do what we gotta do to get by. Especially while we work on the lives we actually want in our downtime. You can’t just have the life you want because you want it. You have to do want you can with the time you have available to you and work your ass off doing what you have to so you can survive and still have enough energy to pursue your preferred path.

I guess I just wish so many people didn’t conflate income and character. I understand the interest in a person’s livelihood, but we should take better care in understanding that not everyone is living their dream, they’re working towards it(hopefully). We should ask about a person’s personal interests and not be so concerned with who’s signing their paychecks.

What you “do” may not be what you feel you are at the moment, but as long as you’re taking the right steps in the right direction of who you wish to be, it really doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks.

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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at

Imperial Beach, CA

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