So Tell Me, What Do You Do? ~ Nicole Weinberger

Via elephant journal
on Oct 29, 2013
get elephant's newsletter

you are not your job

“…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?”


Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assist Ed: Andrea Charpentier/Ed: Sara Crolick


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


10 Responses to “So Tell Me, What Do You Do? ~ Nicole Weinberger”

  1. Kristin says:

    Love this! These thoughts rattle around my head ~ What do you do, what is your name, where are you from.. qualifiers. Help me box you up and decide how our experience will go.

    I think these questions should come after expereince/connection – shared journey.

  2. Nicole Weinberger says:

    Yes, agreed, Kristin! I'm glad you enjoyed this and thank you for your comments. 🙂

  3. I am a writer, a mom, an educator, a seductress…. and I am loving this article.

  4. Nicole Weinberger says:

    Those sound like beautiful identifications; even without those you shine brilliantly. Thanks for the nice words.

  5. Lynn says:

    While your article is clearly well thought out, it drips of easily offended, chip on the shoulder self-importance. Truly, stop reading so much into the question “so what do you do?”. It’s often just a conversation starter, akin to “how are you?”, In many instances it is not a question intended to offend, box in, judge or size you up, but rather just an attempt at striking

    up a conversation. Stop taking yourself so very seriously and being so easily offended. Offer grace and pardon to flawed individuals making attempts at relationships, you may find yourself surprised at the wonderful interesting hearts hidden behind on skilled conversation starting techniques.

  6. Lynn says:


  7. Carrie says:

    Um, in case the author and supporters failed to notice, most of us spend 8+ hrs a day at our jobs, so it stands to reason that being asked what we "do" would be a perfectly legitimate way to get to know something about one another. I mean, most of us choose our careers based on things we have a particular interest or skill in, so we are, in fact, at least partly defined by what we do. No, not entirely, because we are multifaceted, changing, growing people, but surely it stands to reason a geologist or a pastor are likely to have a different skill set and life experiences than, say, a musician or a stay-at-home-mom/former accountant. Asking others "what do you do?" is not necessarily a sneaky tool to identify income potential, or box a person into some predetermined, judgemetal little compartment, but, in fact, a starting point in showing interest in another, inquiring about what makes them tick. Why in the world would I take offense at being asked about the very thing I spend approximately 1/3 of my time persueing? Answering the question "what do you do?" in no way precludes me from also discussing what I do with the rest of my time, and, surely we also are free to answer in that way, as you suggest, if we prefer. Would I be offended if someone asked me "so, what is your favorite music?" because they had not instead asked me about my pediatric practice? Why must we insist that anyone approaching us for conversation be so clever or careful? Why do we judge their intent? I agree with the comment above, that it is narcissistic self-importance that creates such a touchy, superior, intolerant, suspicious and easily offended attitude.

  8. nicole weinberger says:

    Ah! Never saw myself as touchy and self-important! Maybe this came across that way to some. I just think you can answer that question in so many interesting and creative ways. I'm not at all offended by the question, but I think people are very mulit-faceted and talented.

  9. nicole weinberger says:

    Excellent! I should not take the question so seriously and instead think of that as a conversation starter. The more you converse, the more comes out anyway and that's definitely true for any social situation.

  10. nicole weinberger says:

    Excellent. I never thought of it this way, and as an above comment stated, it's more of a conversation starter. The more you interact those things that you love and do will come out anyway. I never thought of myself as offended by the question at all and am not uptight when asked. Interestingly enough, I don't really discuss what I love and do, as I usually am listening to what others are saying in a social situation. Eventually, if you listen enough what they love comes out.