Both. We are what we do -- and we are who we are, if that makes any sense (like I would shut up if it didn't).
We may or may not like being who we are, but it is what it is. However, we are known by what we do (and, of course, by what we fail or choose not to do). There, again, sometimes we like this and sometimes we don't, but it's always so. The upshot of this is that, to others, we are what we do. Probably half of the people in the world would tell you (and themselves) that they don't care how other people view them. I tell myself this lie several times a day. The truth is that only one in thousands really, honest-to-god doesn't care how he or she is viewed by the people around them. The majority of these folks are begging change in front of the Hollywood Video at Girard and Central.
There's a difference between who you are and what you are. Who you are has to do with a lot of nebulous stuff like your experiences and your genetics. That, for better or worse, can't be changed. Not now. What you are can be modified to some degree by what you do.
One sort of interesting thing I picked up from my sabbatical in the Twilight Zone has to do with that. It is the idea that the predominant paradigm in scientific-materialist culture is "Have, Be, Do." This means that many people believe that if they have, then they will be, then, and only then, they will do. For example if we have a billion dollars, then we will be rich, then we will do great or fun things. Or, one that's close to my heart: If we have an engineering degree, then we will be an engineer, then we will design wonderful things (and, of course, make a lot of money).
Well, the "everything you know is wrong" crowd say it works the other way 'round: "Do, Be, Have." Some motivational coach types take this to what, in my experience, amounts to absurdity. They proclaim that if you want to be rich, you have to do as rich people do and then you will have what rich people have. Go borrow the money to buy a Mercedes sedan and an Armani suit and rent a suite of swank offices on the eleventh floor of an eleven story building and do like a rich person and, sure enough, pretty soon you'll attract all of the people and circumstances that will, in fact, make you rich. Yeah, right. I think if you study some cases of what I call real success, that is, those in which some real value was created, you'll find that Wozniak and Jobs built the first Apple computer in one or the other's parent's garage. Similarly with Hewlett and Packard. And take a look (if it's still there) at the mighty Microsoft World Headquarters building, circa 1980, right here in Albuquerque -- an office in a strip on a side street by the fair grounds.
What the motivational folks got wrong is the difference between doing and play acting. Wozniak and Jobs actually subscribed to the "Do, Be, Have" paradigm. They didn't worry about what they didn't already have, they just did. In fact, I heard that when Apple went public, Wozniak cashed out and went back to school to get the degree he never had while he was developing the early Apple computers. Wozniak and Jobs did engineering work and in the process became engineers and ended up having all sorts of stuff. In that sense the "Do, Be, Have" paradigm is valid, I think. Though I'm not one of the great success stories of all time (yet), I just started doing engineering work because I liked it and had some talent for it and ended up becoming an engineer and having a job.
A classic illustration of the "Have, Be, Do" paradigm is the way that, when I was young, many of us would-be rock 'n rollers thought that if we had name-brand store-bought guitars and amplifiers, we would become rock stars. Conversely, we were sure that we could not become rock stars without the proper equipment. Looking back, nobody I can think of whose parents went out and bought them professional band gear ever even got a paying gig, much less became stars. You might say that their already having completely short-circuited any need to do or be. So they just had. Probably still have out in their garage somewhere.
What you are can have a lot to do with doing. And not much to do at all with having. I can think of some folks in Washington . . . But I won't.
. . .
So, as the needle on the ol' diatribe gage approaches the red zone, it's time for me to wax unphilosophical and try to figure out just how how I'm going to pull this thing off.