How do you define yourself? I start where most people start- a definition that is made true by the existence of others. I have two sons… this makes me a mother. I have a husband… this makes me a wife. Daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, etc. Often, relationships define us. As they should, for a good majority of what makes us who we are.
But I’ve been thinking about who I am when everyone else is stripped away. If I had nobody else to attach my definition to, what would remain?
“Thinker” has been a common descriptor I’ve used for myself for many years. I naturally find myself unpacking everything down to its tiniest atom. I seek a deep understanding of everything and everyone I encounter; I enjoy the process of that exploration. This very topic is evidence of that- what or who am I at my core? I have to say that I held a lot of pride in this over the years – just the fact that I considered things deeply. But I could just as accurately describe myself as anxious – which can be tied closely to all this deep thinking- but I don’t offer that up nearly as often! Being anxious is not nearly as poetic as being a thinker.
But I was humbled hard by my son on this topic recently and it lead to some searching introspection. He was working on his letter recognition and reading with my husband the other night and he just wasn’t getting “G”. He was struggling with it. Joel told me that he got frustrated and said, “I’m not a thinker, Dad. I’m a worker and a builder.”
It comes down to this: No thinking in the world is worthwhile until the hard work of sharing it is done. Every philosopher has had not only to just ponder a theory- they had to put it into writing – writing that was clear and passionate and persuasive! And writing is hard, hard work.
If you want to be a builder you will need to learn math and planning and design and think through all of it before getting down to work. The thinking will come necessarily with the desire to build. It’s a skill that can be gained through necessity. Thinking things through is almost an afterthought of the work. If you enjoy ‘working’ the same applies- you will have to think through the best way to execute on a project in order to be effective in your work.
My son is a builder and a worker. He will get the job done with gusto and enthusiasm. He will put his work out into the world without hesitation. He will not think deeply about why or what for- he will just do it and share it. He will not fear failure because a project finished is better than a project only imagined.
You’ve got to DO the actual thing. Thinking is absolutely worthless unless you are willing to put in the hard work of following through on the plans you are thinking up, or the hard work of putting a story down on paper, or the hard work of maintaining relationships, or the hard work of conversation, or the hard work of motivating a team. Nothing matters to anyone else if it’s all just in your head.
And that brings me back to relationships. Workers, builders… “Doers” are very connected to people. They create our homes, our workspaces, our roads, our stories- they create the infrastructures of our lives. Thinkers are at risk of not contributing. They observe, muse, ponder. But they don’t necessarily do anything. They may easily fade into the background, so busy are they observing. Now, don’t get me wrong, thinkers who also work… well, now they are in the worker category. They put their work out there. Artists, authors, philosophers, teachers, designers, academics.
I was grounded by my son because he taught me that being ‘a thinker’ is absolutely nothing special. In fact, I am ashamed by the pride I had in such a thing. How silly it seems now! I want to be like my son. I want to be a worker.
Doing the work is what will make the difference- whatever that difference is that you are looking for.