"So who are you, anyway?"
In her defence, I don't think YMC publisher Erica Ehm was trying to break my brain when she tossed that question my way this week in a Toronto cafe. But, really, doesn't that kind of sum it up?
Hrm. Let me back up a touch.
One of the cool things about the internet, besides hilarious captions on animal pictures, is that we can connect with people over long distances and really build relationships and form communities without ever staring into the whites of someone's eyes. Over the past couple of months, I've become part of the amazing family here at YMC and connected with the staff, fellow bloggers and the readers in really meaningful ways. But I'd never actually met any of the principals. Oh sure, Candace and I had crossed paths at a few events in Ottawa, and Kat and I spoke at the same summer conference, but generally speaking, Team YMC was mostly a collection of avatars to me.
So when I found myself in Toronto this week with a few hours to myself, I jumped at the chance to finally actually meet the woman who has given me this platform. During the course of our chat, the conversation flowed easily and covered a lot of ground but the first few minutes really were a little game of getting to know you.
What better way to kick that off with a question like "who are you, anyway?" Innocuous, right?
WRONG. IT'S A GODDAMN EXISTENTIAL MINEFIELD.
It's something I know a lot of women struggle with, actually. Especially ones who have kids. All of a sudden, they're someone's Mom. And for some moms, that becomes their identity. Which is cool, really. I mean, it's a pretty important gig. Others, though, work to maintain a sense of balance—ensuring they carve out time and space to be themselves. And honestly? Do what you need to do to get by, man. Live your life and damn what anyone else thinks.
But for men, it still always seems to come back to career. Sure, more and more dads are opting to stay home with the kids, but by and large, when you meet someone and they ask what you do, they're asking about your career.
So does my career define me? Granted, I love my career. I work in a field that didn't exist 20 years ago. I get to play with cool technology and I work with amazingly brilliant people. It's great. If I have to be defined by what I do, I can take pride in that. But my career is also changing direction a bit. Well, more of a course correction than a real change in direction. I am going through a career transition of sorts and the single biggest reason? My responsibilities as a husband and father.
And even that is limiting, to some degree. My family may be the most important thing on the planet to me but it doesn't mean I'm limited to just being a husband and father, right? Of course not. I'm all kinds of things and each plays an important part in making me who I am as a whole.
It's another area where I think men and women suffer very differently in the general sense of things. For every woman that has to face questions like "can Marissa Mayer be an effective CEO and an effective mother?" there are guys who have to wonder if they are going to be judged harshly for putting family ahead of career. Our dilemmas just don't typically make headline news.
I'm lucky in that I work for a company that understands we are more than our careers. It makes it harder to answer innocuous questions sometimes, sure, but it also means I can focus on being Dad sometimes too. And that's awesome.
(photo by Flickr user Basissa82)