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Define Yourself by What You Love, Not What You Do for Work

Shattering the Employment Myth: “Who Are You?” – An Adventurer

By: Matt Van Swol + Save to a List

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked, “Soooooo, who is the real Matt Van Swol?” I never know how to answer this question. On the one hand, I’m a nuclear scientist for the Dept of Energy. On the other, I travel the world taking photos for start-up companies and magazines. Yet, then again, I am a blogger, start-up owner, web-designer, social media influencer, biology major, wedding photographer, drone pilot, MBA-er…the list goes on. So, who is the real Matt Van Swol? Well, he’s not defined by his job, nor his degrees, nor his accomplishments. Who is the “real” Matt Van Swol? Well, he’s an adventurer, and I'll bet you are too. Let me explain.

I think for too long we have settled with being defined by our work. If I were to ask you today, “who are you?” you’d most likely answer by saying something like, “I’m a college student” or “I’m a nurse practitioner” or something about who or what pays you money. But, that’s not what I asked, right? I asked who you were, not who pays you. Yet, we (myself included) always respond to this personal question “who are you?” with a business answer, “I’m a (enter vocation here)” because we feel the need to fit in. To be defined by what we do not by who we are. I think part of this stems from pride, and part of it, from fear. We don’t want people thinking we are incompetent (let’s face it, most of us are) and we don’t want people knowing that we don’t love what we do (again, I’d wager most of you don’t). So instead of being honest, we say something like, “I’m a nurse because I love helping people,” and not “I’m really a hiker at heart who works as a nurse to pay for trips around the world.” That’s an honest answer.

The truth is that you are not what you do, but rather what you love: the things you think about after work, what you plan for, read articles about, watch tv shows about, and dream of. If you are anything like me, then you spend your days reading articles right here on The Outbound Collective website dreaming of returning to Iceland, skiing down mountains in Banff and Jasper in Alberta, swimming in nature springs in Thailand, and hiking in Patagonia. Plane tickets are always on my mind and in my monthly banking balance sheets. My browser bookmarks are: Outbound, Expedia, and Instagram. I spend my evenings looking over old photos from old trips and reminiscing, all the while planning to return. So, I guess, if you are anything like me, you’re probably not a nurse, scientist, student, banker, or stay-at-home mom. You are an adventurer.

So who is the real Matt Van Swol? He’s just an adventurer. Yeah, he works as a scientist, he does some photography and has had some schooling, but really he’s just an explorer with a wandering soul, hungry to see the world and willing to spend every last dollar to do it, and I bet you are too. So next time someone asks you who you are, think about, and respond honestly: I’ll bet that you’ll get a better response than “cool, cool.” 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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