“What do you do?”
Each time I meet someone, I’m faced with this question. As I grew into adulthood, answering it became second-nature, and when I hear it, the little speech I’ve prepared comes tumbling out of my mouth. The oft-rehearsed speech changes a little from year to year, and is usually painless to deliver. But there are times when the question is not easy to answer.
It is the sort of question that’s easy to answer when I am thriving, but difficult when I am struggling. Sometimes it prompts a stab of pain, guilt, or confusion. The transition times are the hardest. After graduating from college, I moved to Germany to pursue two years of volunteer ministry at a boarding school. It took time to learn the tasks and to fit into my role as a resident assistant, and even more time to adjust to the foreign culture. During the process, I groaned with questions about my progress. Was I succeeding? Was I failing? Was I adapting or floundering? Would I, ultimately, be good at my job?
On a fall day in 2006, I wandered alone on a hilltop in southern Germany, staring at the green fields and feeling the wind attack my hair. Why do I feel so insecure? The question had burned in my heart for weeks. Am I succeeding or failing at this? How come I have no idea how to answer that question?
Then, I had an epiphany: in my previous role, studying at a university, I’d received lots of feedback. Homework, essays, and term grades kept me informed on whether I was failing or succeeding. In my new role, however, there was no such feedback. I could ask my teammates for advice, or wait for my supervisors to volunteer helpful information, but several months into the assignment I realized that I was floundering: not because I was actually failing, but because I wasn’t getting graded. I wasn’t receiving constant feedback. Without the tangible evidence of an “A-” or “B+,” I felt insecure.
Recognizing the problem helped. I asked God some more questions. Why does it matter so much to know I am doing a good job? If I fail at this, does it mean I have failed as a person? The ultimate question was a tough one: Am I defined by what I do?
Scripture answered the final question with an emphatic “No!” While roles are fulfilling, distinctive, and God-given, they can be over-emphasized or idolized. As a creation of God, saved by grace through faith, what I do has no bearing on who I am in Christ. My identity is secure. I can’t mar it by making mistakes in my job, hurting someone’s feelings, or failing to check off items on a to-do list.
When I recognized that my worth was not dependent on performance, it allowed God to work through me. The job got better when I stopped obsessing over it and started relaxing into it.
I’ve had a similar experience with teaching. Last year, fears of failure haunted me every day. In the midst of transition from a multi-cultural school in Europe to a small school in the countryside of Tennessee, I faced the further transitional hurdle of jumping from a role as a resident assistant to one as a middle school English teacher. The RA role is one of mentorship, practical duties, and nurturing. It is casual and relational. The teaching role, especially in the classical atmosphere fostered at the school, was far different from life as an RA. I found eighth graders challenging pupils, and faced many difficulties in the task of teaching them.
Once again, I faced the possibility of “failure” at a job, and again, God pointed out to me that my new role, while important, was not meant to define me. Last year, I wanted desperately to say “I’m a teacher” and feel confident that it was true. This year, I say it and feel more confident that it is true (although there are still days when I shake my head and wonder). Whether or not I can say it with confidence, it is not the center of who I am.
I am the redeemed of God, purchased at the cost of blood. I am His servant, created to love others. Then, I am a daughter, friend, sister, advisor, writer, and yes, a teacher. But the first two items matter more than any others. If they are the only things I know about myself, they are enough, because they answer a more important question than the infamous “What do you do?” Until I know who I am, I cannot know what I should do or am capable of doing.
So a better question is, “Who am I?” In 2006, and again in 2008, I grappled with this question. Both times, God gave me the same answer. I am His. Nothing else matters. Since I am His, He equips me to fulfill my roles. In Matthew 6:22, Jesus says,”But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” He provides all the energy, ability, courage, humility, and patience I need. He tells me who I am and dares me to trust Him when He says I can do the tasks before me — and do them well.
Welcome to Ungrind!
Do you want to be inspired, motivated, and equipped to live the everyday story of your life well?
If so, you’re in the right place. Whether you need encouragement in your relationships or in your faith, I hope you’ll find the transparent voices of mentors and friends here at Ungrind.
So, grab a cup of coffee and keep reading. We're so glad you're here!
Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
Get Our Free Ebook!
To Those Who Want To Be Truly Happy: Stop Chasing Happiness
Chasing happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be. Here are a few reasons why.
How the Psalms Speak to Our Emotions
The Psalms is a book that's rich with the reality of what life's like in this fallen world. Here are...
3 Ways to Navigate Personality Differences
Sometimes personality differences can wear on us. Here are three ways we can navigate them in a loving manner.
Surprised By ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
If you haven't seen this film, God may speak to your heart through it in ways you weren't expecting.
The Wedding Ring
Are you struggling in your marriage? Here's how a wedding ring helped one wife fight for her marriage.
5 Ways to Live an Out-of-Control Life
Here are 5 ways to let go of control and trust your present and your future to God.
5 Creative Places to Find Prayer Accountability
Do you want to pray more, but are easily distracted? Here are some practical ways to stay focused.
What Women Are Saying
-- Sarah Martin, author of Stress Point: Thriving Through Your Twenties in a Decade of Drama
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
-- Gary Chapman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages
We are a member of the Amazon affiliate program and regularly use affiliate links. If you purchase an item from an Amazon link we provide, we will receive a small referral commission. This doesn’t cost you anything additional. We only share books, music, and products that our writers personally have used and highly recommend.
Faith4 years ago
When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds
Motherhood4 years ago
Surviving a Strong-Willed Child
Faith5 years ago
7 Ways to Create A Family Altar
Friendship6 years ago
Beyond the Registry: The Ultimate Gift Guide for Expectant Parents
Relationships6 months ago
5 Ways to Teach Your Child to Hear God
Marriage6 years ago
4 Reasons I’m Not Facebook Friends With My Husband
Everyday Faith5 years ago
6 Simple Ways to Give Thanks in the Thick of It
Articles5 years ago
10 Ways Life is Like a Box of Chocolates
Articles7 years ago
How to Lift Up the One You Love
Articles5 years ago
Relationships11 months ago
Facing Our Motherhood Fears
Digging Into Scripture3 months ago
How the Psalms Speak to Our Emotions