I think the question is misguided. I always have. It’s not even really what we want to know about a person, is it? What we want to know is what interests them. What makes them feel alive, passionate, energized, driven. If that’s their job, great! If not, who cares how they earn a salary?
Here’s what I love best in the post. Penelope says your answer to the question “What do you do?” matters because it “frames your story for you in a much more visceral way than it frames it for everyone else.” Answering the question with what excites you – if not your job, then your hobbies, your goals, what you’re learning about, what you’re attempting, what you believe, where you’re headed – reaffirms your direction and gives you something real to talk about. Let’s face it. If your answer reflects your discomfort with the question, there’s not going to be much to say. On the other hand, if your answer is about the thing that’s lighting you up inside, there will be plenty to talk about.
I love that. You should read the whole post… right after you play with me. Her post got me thinking about what I could say next time someone asks me what I do. Penelope says to focus on where I spend my time and energy and what I’m learning. So okay… here are three possible answers to the question, What do you do?
- “I’m a writer of secret documents.” I will say this with a solemn, regretful expression that conveys my frustration at not being able to tell them more, thus avoiding the whole “What do you write about?” question which really is worse than the “What do you do?” question.
- “I have this Love Project I’m working on.” I love talking about love. I can see myself following people around, going on and on about how I think love really is the answer, how powerful even the smallest gestures can be, how I think the Beatles had it right – not the part about love being all you need, but the part about the love you take being, in the end, equal to the love you make. They’ll stare at me, these people who have asked me what I do. They’ll look dumbfounded and maybe a little overwhelmed. I’ll smile reassuringly. I’ll decide it’s in the best interest of everyone that I refrain from actually following people around.
- “I take care of two slightly neurotic rescue dogs; I just read Miranda July’s book, No one belongs here more than you and I’m about to start Jennifer Egan’s A visit from the goon squad; I do yoga, and hike, and wakeboard, and compulsively consume political news; I’m becoming a vegetarian; I’m learning to cook; The Boy has been teaching me about the history of gas masks; I’ve been trying to read more poetry; I recently saw the Coen Brothers’ True Grit and then came home and watched the original so I could compare them. I don’t think either version quite nailed the ending…” Here is where I might pause to breathe.
My point is that you can handle the question anyway you want. You can talk about your job if your job is what defines you, or you can talk about the things that make you feel most alive.
So, what will you say the next time someone asks you what you do?