Thursday, December 01, 2005


what do you do?

it's a question that ranks at least in the top five of small talk questions. you meet someone, ask their name, maybe where they live, and then you ask "so, what do you do?" sometimes we are more direct and ask "what do you do for a living?" but often the shorthand will suffice, because we all know the expected answer to this question - the person is inquiring about your job, your livelihood, your means of making money.

now this is a great question for those of us who love our jobs, feel they are distinctly connected to our identity and truly enjoy talking about them. unfortunately, that doesn't cover a whole lot of us. and if you've had life experiences at all similar to my own you've had times in your life where answering this question can feel like a quiz you are sure to fail. what do i do? well let's see, i work part-time at a boring accounting job is that what your asking, or maybe you want to know about my blog and the book i'm hoping to write, or maybe your asking about the community building i do with people in their twenties...i do a lot and most of it doesn't make me any money nor can it be summed up into a simple job title.

answering this question often makes me feel like i should be more sure, more specific and more accomplished than i am. which quite frankly is ridiculous. the problem is not with me, it's with the question, or more accurately with the assumed answer. do you really want to know what my job is or do you want to know more about me?

oriah mountain dreamer's poem the invitation expounds brilliantly on this subject, i've written about the poem in previous posts. as the first lines state:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

oriah's perspective is refreshing. and reminds me that i am not alone in my frustration with the "what do you do" question.

we clearly are in need of new questions, new ways of sharing the basics of who we are with others. i'm not saying that all of us would be comfortable telling a complete stranger what we ache for, (although some of us i'm sure would) but at least we could tell them something we love to do, or our favorite place in the world, or what kind of music inspires us. we could tell them about us.

i'd love to hear how you answer the "what do you do" question, or your proposal for new questions. post 'em here.

dream big,

I loathe the small talk questions and often come off as rude because I just don't want to answer them. Sometimes to the "so what do you do?" question I say something like, "Well, I work..." and then add on something about a passion of mine like music or photography. Right now my job doesn't define me so I try to throw something in that does:)
Hey girl, you are dead on with this one. I, personally hate this question. To me it's like saying "Hey i hardly know much money do you make?"

Ug. I would fall on the floor, out cold, if someone asked me what I like to do or what I'd like out of life. Now thats someone I'd like to hang out with! :)

People that ask "What do you do?" Are, to me, more interested in telling YOU what they do. It's like a reverse ego boost or something.

~Shells xoxo (Still loving your blog! So inspiring!!)
Ha, You are correct about them just wanting to tell you about their life! I try not to ask them the reciprocal question:) hahah!
I make it a general rule to never ask the "so what do you do" question at parties. If it's relevant to who they are, what they do for a living will come up naturally. If it's not, the conversation finds its way to more interesting things.
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