What Do You Do?

you-are-more-than-what-you-doHow many times have you been asked “What do you do?” How many times have you asked it? I made a personal rule for myself a long time ago: Never ask someone what they do. Why? I don’t give a shit what you do for a living.

On the surface it seems like a perfectly harmless question, an icebreaker to get conversation moving along. People answer this question with a pre-made, canned answer they can repeat at will without even thinking about it. Easy answers to stupid questions. Let me clue you in – No one cares if you are the Senior Manager at Whereeverthefuck. Good for you. We all have a job. We are all cogs in the machine just like everyone else. Mostly. Even if you have a fantastic job that you love going to, I certainly hope that your life has more to it than your job.

People do many things throughout the day.We drive, cook, clean, shop, play games, all sorts of interesting things… so why focus on work? I’d rather talk about anything than my job – or yours. Is talking about work really the best way to get to know someone? A job is a means to an end, a necessity for living in society, but It doesn’t have to define who you are. Asking, “What do you do?” is a euphemism  for, “So, how much do you make?” Your socioeconomic status isn’t fodder for parties. It is your own private business.

These days when I encounter that question, I answer as honestly as possible. The conversation goes like this:

“So, what do you do?”

“Lately I have been really into sketching and drawing. I have a blog and I’m getting ready to volunteer at a Buddhist work study program. Should be cool. What are you into?”

People are usually taken aback with that answer. They didn’t get what they were looking for, and now the ball is in their court. Now they have to think – repeating your job title and duties is easy, telling a stranger about your interests actually requires thought. I pursue my dreams and my passions every day. I’d rather discuss the exciting, fun, interesting things I do than talk about my job. If you want to know how I make money, then you should ask that question. But you won’t. Because deep down you know it isn’t any of your business in the first place.

Here are some questions you can ask instead:

What are you reading? Seen any good movies lately? What did you think of congress shutting down? Don’t you just love kittens? How do you feel about the last season of Breaking Bad? Where can you get good Phó around here?

You get the picture. If you are really interested in someone look past their paycheck. Look for clues to their real passions and interests. You might find you have a few things in common, and you might even make a new friend.

5 thoughts on “What Do You Do?

  1. I always feel so awkward being asked what I do. While the designing part is fun, the making part is boring. It’s actual work. But people don’t want honesty, they want to tell me how working for myself must be so fun and how they would sit around in their pajamas all day. I don’t work for myself, I work for any of the client that place an order with me. If I just sat around in my pajamas all the time, then I would be lazy, unmotivated and obviously not be able to pay my bills. LOL

  2. I love this post, it’s great. The thing is that there is no way to make the conversation interesting after asking “what do you do” – because it’s always predictable questions from thereon out. Good work!

  3. I’ve just written a post to be published later on this month and then I see this one about a similar thing – the Evil of Small Talk. As soon as I say what I do as a job I have to explain it, and I do have my stock answer prepared with an example from their everyday life once I’ve found out what they do. Then interest in the conversation grinds to a halt.

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