“Talk about yourself for two minutes and don’t mention what you do for a living,” was the instruction provided to attendees of a retirement seminar a colleague of mine recently attended. “This is going to be what it’s like when you retire. How are you going to spend your time?” Just a few of those in attendance could talk for the full two minutes. When the attendees were asked to fill in a pie chart divided by the hours of the day and show how they would spend their time in retirement, most couldn’t say how they would spend their days.
Many of us, even those that can’t claim to have successfully found fulfillment in our work, still define ourselves by work and rely on the structure work provides. Work removes the onus of figuring out how we will spend our time. We go to work every day as engineers, teachers, non-profit directors, and marketing executives. Even when we are a software salesperson, but really want to be a film producer, and are taking classes at the local university to pursue our interest on the side, we are still a software salesperson. “Software sales” is our socially acceptable identity, even though it may be one we want to change.
But are we to blame? We live in a society that defines success not by inner contentment, but external accomplishments. If we want to shift the dynamic, to place more value on our lives outside of work, what should we ask someone the next time we strike up a conversation with someone we’ve just met? What should we say about ourselves?