I have always hated the question,“What do you do?”
I thought for a long time that I hated it because I didn’t have a solid, ready answer handy. I thought that perhaps if I had become a podiatrist or a tree surgeon this would be a simple fix. I always thought it must be nice to be able to say, “I’m a nuclear physicist” or “I’m a city bus driver.”
As it stands, I don’t have that sort of title to throw around. I do a lot of things. It’s complicated. When I try to explain that I’m a parent, personal trainer and writer I’m met with radio silence.
Complicated answers are conversation stoppers.
Recently when someone asked what I do I sighed heavily and said, “How much time do you have?” This got a chuckle. And that got me thinking about this pesky question that we acknowledge is figuring out our positioning with our conversation partner.
While I agree that it’s all about positioning oneself, there’s a part of me that understands, too, that asking what someone does is just a polite way of saying, “Who are you?” or “How can we connect?”
I think that asking what someone does is a surface way of hinting to the deeper question, “Who are you?” and that’s encouraging, really. We ought to be curious about new people. I suppose we just don’t yet have the language for having those type of passing conversations.
At nearly 48-years-old, I admit that I have no idea how to answer when it’s asked of me. This has been a tough one for a long time, probably because when I became a mother for the second tim,e 14 years ago ,I quit “working” for the man.
My job description got wonky and my inner feminist bristled at the “stay at home mom” label. Now that I’ve hit my mid-life crisis years, which I now understand is all about figuring out my own identity at this stage in my life, this question makes me bristle more than ever.
I am distressed in the face of it. I am driven to drink, making excuses and avoiding answering.
I keep thinking that perhaps what we ought to do instead, when asked what we do, is simply answer the question underneath the question. I wonder if it might drive us into the next stage of our societal dialogue, maybe knit us all together a bit more tightly?
So, the next time someone asks what I “do” rather than saying, “I have no idea” or “it’s complicated” or shuffling from one foot to another until they lose interest or, I believe I shall answer this way:
“I breathe every day
I care take
I do laundry
I do windows
I do lunches, parent conferences and PTA meetings
I drink too much coffee
I work it out with shaking hands and trembling heart
I pick up again
I remember to breathe
I start over the next day and see what greets me.
How about you?”
Author: Angela Doll Carlson
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock