A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with two pilgrims from my albergue, Michael from Ireland and Caroline from Germany. Before our food came, Michael asked if I was vegetarian. For 25 years, my answer has been an immediate “yes.” However, at that moment, it wasn’t so easy to answer.
Truth be told, I had ordered the trout on the menu because it was the only option listed as “local,” having come from the river right outside our door. After weeks of eating vegetables, eggs, and fruit that came from who knows where, but certainly not anywhere nearby, the fact that the trout was caught locally was more important to me than the fact that it was indeed a fish. Another night I ate fish soup, because despite being told a vegetarian meal was no problem, this was in fact the only option presented at the communal dinner table. Am I a vegetarian? My heart says I am, even though I have not been strict about it over the last few weeks.
This conversation and my struggle to answer a simple question, got me thinking about labels. We use labels everyday to categorize ourselves and others. Labels are an easy way to explain yourself, to recognize whether you have something in common with someone else. But we are all unique, and it strikes me how absurd labels are in trying to communicate who you are as a person. They are certainly a useful tool. Yet, by choosing one label over another, we omit important information about ourselves.
So which labels to we choose? One of the first questions we usually ask or are asked when meeting someone new is “what do you do?” We know instinctively that the person is asking about our job, but our jobs are not the only thing that we do; for many, they are not the most important thing. Yet, we answer: “I’m an attorney;” “I’m a journalist;” “I’m a project manager.”
None of these answers fully explains what it is that we actually do 40 or more hours per week. And certainly none of these answers adequately tells another person much about us other than what we do for money. And yet we keep asking, and we keep answering, typically with a one word label.
The professional label is a hard one for me these days. In May, I left my law practice, not knowing whether I would return. Although I remain passionate about the subject of my work as an public interest environmental attorney, I knew back in May that sitting in front of a computer in an office everyday, just wasn’t sustainable for me.
I do what I do because I am passionate about the natural world, but I only get out to enjoy it maybe one day on the weekend. I think I’ve known deep down since May that I won’t be returning to my law practice, at least not anytime soon. Yet, I’ve had a hard time letting go of the attorney label. What I’ve come to realize is that there is a lot of my ego wrapped up in that label. It is a label that carries a lot of weight and prestige in the U.S. (despite the lawyer jokes). And it is a label that has defined me in some way for the last 11 years.
Letting go of that ego and that label is one of my reasons for walking the Camino.
I am an activist, wife, traveler, pilgrim, gardener, hiker, native plant enthusiast, reader, blogger, cat person, birder, wine lover, foodie, Oregonian … I can let go of one label. I have so many others to choose from.
Today I walked 24.5 miles!