How do you define who you are and what you do?

Recently I told my 7-year-old grandson that I won’t get to see him next week because I’ll be away on business. Henry knows I often travel. But the “business” part pricked up his ears.

“Why, Nana? Can’t you write your column at your house?”

Henry is smart. He knows I write a newspaper column each week. I’ve read a few of them to him and he generally approves. He especially likes the ones about him and his cousins.

“I’m not writing on this trip,” I said. “I’m speaking. It’s part of my job. I go places to talk and people buy tickets to hear me.”

He looked at me the way he did the day I told him that once, while swimming in the ocean, I was circled by a shark.

“What do you talk about?”

“I tell stories, like the ones about you and your cousins.”

“Seriously? People pay money to hear you tell those stories?”

“Seriously,” I said.

We fell silent, thinking about that. Finally, Henry sighed.

“Well, Nana,” he said, laughing, “that’s just crazy!”

“Yes,” I said, “it is. But let’s not tell anybody, OK?”

For many years, my children knew me only as their mother. And rightly so. It was the most important, most demanding, most rewarding job of my life. And it was what I wanted to do.

In kindergarten, when asked to tell his class a bit about his family, my oldest said, “My dad teaches chemistry and coaches basketball. And my mom drives us to his games.”

A few years later, after I began writing a newspaper column, I heard one of my son’s friends say, “Your mom is really nice.” And my son replied, “Yeah, she’s nice, but watch what you say around her. It could end up in the newspaper.”

My mother, like so many women, needed a “paying job” to make ends meet. She worked as a waitress and a millhand to put cornbread on our table and second-hand shoes on our feet. I was proud of all she did. But I loved her for being my mother.

The best eulogy is never a job description. It’s a celebration of the reasons why the departed was loved and the ways they made the world a better place.

My children lost their father to cancer when they were just becoming adults. They admired him enormously as a teacher and a coach. But they loved him most, and remember him best, simply for being their dad.

Years later, I married my former editor and friend. I like him a lot. But I love him for his kindness and how he makes me laugh; for the dad/stepdad he is to our kids; and the grandpa he is to our grandkids. He makes our world a better place.

He’s retired now, but still hears from former co-workers who liked him as an editor, but love him as a friend.

Often, we are defined by our work. Not by the job, but how we treat people we work with and deal with along the way.

Months ago, I started a dental implant, a process requiring a series of appointments and a great deal of patience from my dentist. Finally, last week, when the crown was in place and I was good to go, I told him this:

“The work that you do is important. But the kindness you bring to it and the grace that shines in you and your staff make the world a better place.”

I hope to make it a habit to say those words often to people who deserve to hear them. Maybe you will make it a habit, too?

I’m thankful for my “paying job.” Henry is right. It’s crazy, even if it keeps me sane.

But I’d like to be known to my family and friends (and myself) for the reasons that they love me and the ways I try to make their world a better place – things seldom seen on a resumé.

How do you want to be known? What do you tell others about who you are and what you do? What do you tell yourself?

– Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.