I am More Than my Job.

Via Alice Jones Webb
on Jan 11, 2015
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“What do you do?”

It’s a standard question.

(If you’re from the agrarian South it may also be accompanied by two other standard questions: “Where do you go to Church?” and “What does your daddy do?”)

Strangers ask this standard question of one another when they meet. While nothing is inherently condescending in the question, and it might just be a polite inquiry meant to open up conversation to meaningless small talk, it does help file people into neat little categories.

(The other two standard Southern questions are a bit more inherently condescending. The first is trying to file you into acceptable categories like Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or the not-so-acceptable and borderline scandalous “Other”… The second is just trying to determine if you come from old money.)

The person asking the question is probably looking for an easy answer. When they ask the question, generally they are looking for a job description or career choice.

The standard answer to the standard question might be “I’m a teacher” or “I sell insurance” or “I’m a doctor, lawyer, car salesman, tattoo artist, cashier, student, nurse, mechanic, bum-on-the-street”—the list goes on and on and on.

The standard answers to the standard question might help the listener neatly compartmentalize people by income, education, social status and relative perceived value to society, but it doesn’t adequately answer the question.

I hate the question.

Or, at least, I hate the standard and expected answers to the question.

Maybe it’s because I’m a little sensitive to being easily compartmentalized. Maybe it’s because I don’t identify my worth based on what I do to generate income. Maybe it’s because I am so very busy “doing” things that have nothing to do with a career.

Maybe it’s because when I answer the standard question with the expected answer, I don’t like the way I am so easily disregarded as irrelevant. Maybe it’s because I don’t have my identity or my self-worth completely wrapped up in what I am currently employed doing.

“I am a waitress.”

It’s what I do to make money. It buys groceries and pays bills. It helps keep a roof over my children’s heads and shoes on their feet (when they choose to actually wear shoes, that is—which admittedly isn’t very often).

With that answer, people tend to automatically file me away into a neat little preconceived category that really doesn’t define me.

Because being a waitress isn’t what I do, at least not with most of my time and energy.

If I were to honestly answer the question, “What do you do?” the answer would look more like this:

“What do I do?…I sort laundry, walk the dog, practice karate, teach my kids, lose my patience, cook dinner, read books, waste time on Facebook.

I write a blog, compete in archery tournaments, make snarky comments, laugh, sleep, make love, breathe, run. I bite my nails, take hot showers, obsess over grey hairs, worry about my children’s futures. I think—sometimes I over-think.

I sweep floors, clean the litter box, drink coffee, eat chocolate. Sometimes I go camping, take long walks, go hunting, look at the stars…and for about 21 hours each week, I smile and make people happy at a really top-rate restaurant.”

What I do to make money is such a small fraction of what I actually do. It doesn’t define me.

Perhaps, as a society, we place too much value on what people do to generate money. There is so much more that we, as human beings, do with our time and our talents and our energy.

To me, how a person is living his or her life is far more important than how they might be earning a living. I want to hear about dreams and hobbies.

I want to hear about what they love, what they fear, what they hope for.

I want to know if they sing in the shower or call their mother every Sunday night.

I want to know what keeps them awake at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning. I want to know how they like their eggs and how they take their coffee. I want to know if they return their shopping cart to the corral in the parking lot when they are finished unloading their groceries (because you have got to be an evil person if you don’t—how do those people live with themselves?).

There is so very much more to who a person is than what they do to make money. There is more life than what is being lived at a job.

And there is more worth to a person than what is filed annually with the IRS. A person’s income does not equal their value.

Who a person is, the composition of their character, should have more value than their career choice or how much money they make. After all, we are human beings, not human doings.



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Author: Alice Jones Webb

Apprentice Editor: Keeley Milne/Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Shane Gorski/Flickr

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About Alice Jones Webb

 Alice Jones Webb is a homeschooling mom with four kids, a writer, bookworm, laundry sorter, black belt, nerd, free-thinker, obsessive recycler, closet goth, a bit of a rebel but definitely not your typical soccer mom. You can usually find her buried under the laundry and also on her blog, DifferentThanAverage.com


7 Responses to “I am More Than my Job.”

  1. Shannon Day says:

    I hear you and I feel you. I write. And, occasionally I get paid to do so but really the pay is minimal so it doesn’t really qualify as a job at this time. Yet, I have recently started saying that I’m a writer, when asked that question. (prior to this I was a “SAHM who used to be a teacher”) I feel somewhat relieved to have something to respond with and never felt quite right saying, simply that I’m a SAHM. I guess this is my own insecurity coming out but it’s also an awareness of what you’ve described: the compartmentalizing of people and the measuring of there “importance.” And it’s not just them doing it. It’s me, doing it to myself. Great post!

  2. I fight the feeling of needing to justify my choices, too. I often tell people that I'm a waitress, but I homeschool my kids during the day… as if each of those choices somehow validates the other. So, yeah… I do it to myself, too. I don't like labels at all, though. I really mentally roll my eyes whenever someone asks me The Question.

  3. thejillist says:

    You will be my freaking hero if you really start using your honest answer. Why not! More people should answer the question that way. It's far more interesting and I think a lot of times that's what people are really after. They want to know what to talk about, which direction to go in , where to take the conversation, how to relate to you. Though certainly, it's true, there are many who simply feel the need to try to define and categorize others. Another option is to just answer the question with another question, as in Q: What do you do? A: What do I do when …. I stub my toe? When … I get sand in my crotch? When … someone uses up all the hot water in the shower?

  4. Yes! I am in love with that idea.

  5. Ashlee says:

    Beautiful! Thank you. Namaste.

  6. Joy-Mari says:

    I used to answer: “I box, I do yoga, I think about stuff, I blog, I take long drives, I drink wine, I attend Toastmasters, etc” and it was, at that time, great conversation fodder. “You box?!?!” they’d ask me. “Yeah, I box”, I’d say, beaming.

    But then someone convinced me people aren’t looking for flippant answers to such serious questions. So then I was forced to answer “Actually, I’m unemployed” after that. I’m no longer unemployed, thankfully, but I’m going to start answering the Serious What DO You Do Question in my old flippant manner, even though I now have a terribly Worthy Job.

  7. @natehermes says:

    completely agree. how boring is it when we stumble into a social gathering where the only topics are work & career. we are not our work. work is a path we walk. thanks for the great article & insight.