“…and what do you do?”
This question has always irked me.
What do you mean what do I do? You mean, other than taking up space at this function, what’s my purpose in this world?
This question concerns what you do for a career, indeed, your job title. Since the Industrial Age, people have been single-minded in pursuit of a career where the focus is on one job for the entire day, every day, after traffic.
I’m a dentist. I’m a teacher. I’m a scientist.
Ah ha! There’s a label and mental concept associated with your career choice.
Oh, you’re in finance! You’re conservative, organized, ambitious, and you probably do well financially (bat the eyelashes). That about sums you up. Oh, then again you might be boring, materialistic, and don’t take lunch. Oh, you’re a nurse! You’re kind, helpful, earthy and would take care of me by bringing soup and crackers. You might be overworked and underpaid, though. I’ve read about nurses. You’re a stay-at-home mother or father? Silence. Oh. Your spouse supports you so you can stay home. How nice (false smile)! You’re a chiropractor? Can you check something on my neck…
“What do you do?” is a question posed to identify you and refers to your ability to earn a living. If you delve deeper, however, you find most people do and love many things.
I knew a brilliant scientist who was a most talented craftsman. He made beautiful tables, cabinets and dressers just for fun. He was also hilariously funny and had done radio shows earlier in life. Life is rich and most people are highly talented at something and most likely talented at many things.
People are not one-dimensional automatons and shouldn’t limit themselves to their career as a definition of who they are.
The next time that question is posed, tell the examiner all the things you do and love.
Tell them how you earn money; that in the morning you serve waffles to pay the electric bill, at night you sling drinks, and that you’re going to school for an MBA; but also tell them that you love gardening and grow the most beautiful, round, juicy tomatoes one has ever seen and have huge yellow roses with a scent that perfume could never match; or that you are fond of making thick specialty stews that you learned from your Grandmother who was from Vienna, that you are adept at building wooden tables for playrooms and have even sold a few; or that you’ve taken up painting faces while sitting in train stations, that on Mondays instead of sitting in traffic, you’ve decided to start writing that biography you’ve always wanted to start.
Tell them that watching sunsets on Tuesday evenings at the ocean is your idea of heaven, that you have journals full of love poems, that every Sunday you make crappy music with your friends, none of whom are experts, under that big tree in your yard (do you realize how many bands started this way?).
Tell them that you’ve taken up a martial art, that you are a dreamer and a hopeless romantic, that shopping for antiques is a vacation to you, that the forest is your church. Illustrate how you prefer reading nonfiction, collecting stamps, telling jokes, taking care of someone special, hiking through trees, or collecting cars (miniature or Fords).
Exclaim that you’ve discovered a great, inexpensive wine that goes perfectly with fast food. Whatever it is, that’s what you do whether it rakes in the dough or not.
Yes, you work (or not), but you also do a host of things and you wear many hats. Why relegate your hobbies to sidetracks? You might be a doctor who has always wanted to act, a mother of three, an older sister, a best friend, an artist, a terrible singer, a budding pie maker, an avid skier looking to live off the grid. Everything you do is who you are.
There is also the option of not doing. You can reply that you’d rather not do at the moment and would rather just be.
In fact, you’ve been in the mode of simple being for a few months and may need another year to sort it all out while you stare at the butterflies.
Did you know that Einstein sat around a lot? There might be an uncomfortable silence for a minute, but you can just smile sweetly and blink back, “And who are you?”
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Assist Ed: Andrea Charpentier/Ed: Sara Crolick