Monday, April 26, 2010

Sometimes it is who you are

I recently saw the following quote posted on a colleague’s door: “It’s not who you are, it’s what you do.” At first I thought the point is “what will speak for you is what you do, not what your background is.” I read it the same wey I read “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” or, pertinent for this discussion series, “it’s not where you live, it’s how you live.” (There’s also the cynical “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”)

But, as that colleague later explained, she intended the quote to refer to the fact that any one particular activity need not define you and shouldn’t be used by others to define you. She works with non-traditional college students. She meant it to encourage them to retain their ‘who they are’ and not think that their role of college student should elbow out their outside-of-school life of parent, spouse, community member, worker, etc. She wanted to encourage them to strike a balance in their activities and to avoid stereotypes. The idea might come across better with an opening noun, something like “Attorney: It’s not who I am, it’s what I do” (Just kidding, lawyer friends and relatives! Attorneys can be lovely people!)

But for some of us, what we do is a large part of who we are. For many of us, our career isn’t just what we do, it really is part of who we are. My definition of myself certainly includes parent and spouse but I think of what I do – my work in education, conservation, community sustainability – as a large part of who I am. Or is it vice-versa? Is it who I am that dictated that I would work the career I chose? Hmmm. Probably a little bit of both.

Following this train of thought, can ‘where you live’ be a large part of ‘how you live?’ To what extent does place – the aspects of where you live -- inform your life? To the extent can 'where you live' help direct ‘how you live?’ Can positive feelings generated by your place help you get through frustrations and barriers and lead a more positive life?

I’m not sure. Afterall, we talk about ‘sense of place’ not just ‘place’ A place cannot be positive or negative other than as people let it affect them. (Another quote I recently saw was Shakespeare’s “There’s nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”) Some places have many traits that many people would think positively about. But a place doesn’t define itself. We still need to develop our sense of place if that sense of place is to positively influence our lives. I guess it really is how you live, not where you live. Bu still, knowing about where you live – having a strong sense of place -- can help you choose how you live. Examples anyone?


  1. I think the up and coming Millennials are more engaged and somehow have a pre-understanding that it will take "hands on" efforts to make a difference in their communities. This group is the largest growing demographic of volunteers along with Women.

    I think that you can make any place the "place to be and live". If you start to volunteer in the place that you live you will start to feel like you are connected. You will see needs you never knew were there and you will see and feel the benefit to helping others. Once that web begins to grow you feel like they are a part of you and it is very rewarding.

    I think that the EUP is the place to live! I used to live here when I was a child and later came back during my college years. I had always wanted to "feel" like part of something larger so I began to volunteer first at my church, then a parenting group when I had our child, then a health organization because someone asked, and now look, I work at United Way.

    I think there was a plan for me all along, I volunteer because I love to and now I work at a job that I love because of it.

    I hope this is a great example of how someone, who hadn't grown up here, came back to this area and now feels like "this place" is the place I want to be.

    Tracey Laitinen
    Exec. Director
    United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula

  2. thanks for the great comment. volunteerism certainly adds to our sense of place.