What do you call yourself?

People in the USA (I’m told it is different elsewhere) always want to know what you do for a living. You are defined by your profession in many ways. This is difficult for me because what I do for a living, even though I do it well, is not how I like to define myself. More importantly, I do a lot of different things with different titles. Over the course of the past year alone, I have had legitimate reasons to call myself a technical writer, freelance writer, blogger, web developer, editor and unemployed person. Different titles applied at different times, and none of these things were really how I wanted people to think of me.

At heart I am a writer. You can apply all sorts of modifications to this title, but it comes closest to defining me even when I’m not making a cent. There are plenty of things I write without ever expecting to be compensated. There are plenty of other things I write for direct payment or at least in the hopes of getting paid for someday. I write poetry, I write fiction, I write blog posts, I write online help, I write manuals, I write resumes… the list goes on and on.

Think about what you call yourself, and what it means to you. Is it tied deeply into your job? Do you feel limited by it or empowered? How many different things do you call yourself? If you find the title that means something to you, that defines who you are or at least who you hope to be, it will give you a clarity that cuts through all the titles that just don’t matter.

6 thoughts on “What do you call yourself?

  1. I grew up in the US and therefore also grew up with the standard line: “What do you do for a living?” It was very refreshing when I moved to Australia to discover that not only was it not a standard line, it was considered impolite. That changed somewhat over the twenty years I lived there, but what you did for a living was never what defined you as person or became an indicator of your status or worth as an individual as it is in America.

  2. For me it depends somewhat on the scenario and who I’m talking to. Often I’ll just say I’m a writer, other times I’ll just say I own online businesses. It kind of depends on what I think the person will understand best, since where I live very few people are aware of the reality of making a living online and trying to explain it just gets tricky.

  3. Tom,

    I understand the need to tailor your answer to the people around you. Even my normal “job” title, Technical Writer, often results in a blank stare.

  4. Do you send out your fiction and poetry? Any of it published?

    I find the current situation crazy: tech writing and marketing is easy and plentiful. But there are few pro markets for fiction and poetry. 100 years ago, 50 years ago, short stories were in the mainstream. Today it’s either in zines (readership: 20) or academic journals (readership: 200 … college profs). Nothing pays, aside from the New Yorker. So what do you do?

    All best.

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