What do you do?

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you do for a living. You may have told me once and somewhere in your description I got bored and started thinking about what I was going to say next. Or I just don’t understand what you meant. It’s my fault if it’s the latter, but, sorry, all yours if it’s the former.

Tell me again. What do you do for a living? It’s usually the second question asked in any social setting or introduction. If I yawn or look blankly through you, then tell me what you really want to do. Also, please give me your card, because inevitably someone else will ask me what you do when I tell a story involving you. I hate not knowing, I really do. I feel the need to study my friends’ LinkedIn profiles, because I never remember what exactly their job entails. There should be a “Take Your Grown Friend to Work Day” to help explain it all. About ten years ago I actually e-mailed a survey to my friends asking them to write about their jobs and their future goals/plans. Do any of you remember that? (Let’s be honest, those friends don’t read my blog.)

But here’s the kicker, I don’t want you to ask me what I do. Which goes against one of my biggest social faux pas. It’s a real annoyance when a person you’re talking to doesn’t ask you any questions about yourself. You know the type. You ask them, but they don’t reciprocate.

Ask me other things. Ask me what I like. But don’t ask me what I do.
Because it’s hard to explain. No, that’s not true. It’s just that you’ll ask me (or wonder) if/how much I get paid for it. And I don’t, really.

So then, should I just say I’m a work-at-home dad and not worry about the other part? Not worry about what you think? Or more accurately, how I worry about what you must think of me?

It’s why I don’t like to go out sometimes and meet new people. I used to excel at that, I really did. I’d make my rounds and meet everyone in the room at a party. I’d introduce myself and remember your name. We’d have a laugh.

Now, not so much. I try. Sometimes I’m back in my element. Maybe when I’m on stage or when I’m older than the people I’m hanging out with socially I’m fine.
It’s probably more of an issue when I try to keep up with the Joneses that are my age, the ones with the really green grass.

I’ve been sitting on this draft for a while, afraid to post it for the possible misreading of its tone. I keep coming back to it. I know I want to just get it out of my head. I should just go to bed earlier. Things are always better in the morning than when you think too much about your problems alone at night.

If interested in my dilemma, know this is a companion piece to: Are you wanted to be when you grew up?

Do you know what your friends do?
Would it be better to know what they want to do?

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12 Comments

Filed under Adults (kid-free), Grown-ups, Take a Chance

12 responses to “What do you do?

  1. Morgan

    Software engineer. Thomson Reuters. We have a huge data center and I write custom tools of various sorts for the people who support it.

    Re asking what you “do”, I like a suggestion I’ve heard of taking a broad view of the question. “What you do” doesn’t just have to be about the work you do to make lots of money. For me (for example), my job just pays the bills, the specifics take some explaining, and most people have no clue about writing software anyway, so I don’t talk a lot about my job. What I “do” is work at Thomson Reuters, cook, read, play ultimate frisbee (and kickball), and go to a sweet book club.

    What you do, whatever your work-at-home dad work pays, is probably more interesting than most of the Joneses your age. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  2. mhp

    no one ever asks what you do in LA…just saying. also, who asks this — don’t they know it’s 2010 and no one works.

    your brothers, amelia, a friend of mine and myself were having a great lunch at malibu seafood last week. the work question came up and only one of the five of us works. and the one happens to be visiting from minnesota. of course he’s also the one who asked us what we were doing. we’re used to not asking nor being asked. ;)

    this is a great post. xxoo

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys! And yes, please do write “what you do” in the comments section. Very helpful, Morgan. Perfect example, I knew you were at Thomson Reuters, but I wasn’t sure what you did there. I did, however, know most of the other stuff about you. This makes me happy and feeling like a real friend. I know many people do a job just to pay the bills and feed their other passions, which is fine and necessary.

    Minh, your “employment” has always been an enigma wrapped in a riddle found in a fortune cookie ;)
    That said, you’re right, L.A. was a wonderfully comfortable place to be a dreamer, artist, future thinker, abstract worker.
    I will relive this memory when I see Greenberg this weekend.

    Thanks again for the comments. Please keep ‘em coming.

  4. Charlotte

    I really like to hear about what people do, and I really hate having to answer that question myself. My own dear daughter has done this to me. We ran into her pediatrician while she was having dinner with her 2 children, who happen to be the same ages as mine. J was fascinated to see her doctor in that context and baffled that she was a mom just like me. “So, she’s a doctor AND a mom? What else are you, mommy?” Nothin’, baby.

  5. Sherry

    I never comment on these but felt compelled. You have the most noble, important, and difficult jobs I know. Plus you get to do what you love. And that makes your grass very green. One more thing. More friends than you think read your blog. :)

  6. Andrew

    In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges asks Maggie Gyllenhaal, “What’s the most important thing about you?” I like that question. I’d like to use it myself when I meet new people, but I think it would freak most Minnesotans out.

  7. Charlotte, very funny, those overachievers are the worst.
    Sherry, thanks, didn’t expect this to be a pity party for Jefe, though. And what do you do?

    • Sherry

      Hardly a pity party my friend. Just a pat on the back and a friendly reminder. What do I do? Try to make the world a little easier for my family, friends, and coworkers to navigate. Resource provider and obsticle remover.

  8. Kelly

    Hey Jeff-

    I like this post. You have put in words what I think a lot. I’m a third grade teacher. I didn’t set out to be a teacher, though. I was in the business world for thirteen years and then went back to school. I don’t regret those thirteen years, nor do I regret the career change I made.

    Keep doing what you do. Whatever you choose to do, or what chooses you.

  9. I lost my job last June after 16+ years with the same company. Along with all the other changes over the last two years, this was a very stressful period.

    Getting fired (I hate the euphemism “laid off.”) turned out being a good thing. I was fortunate to land in a really terrific place. I work for a small, family owned office. I am the 29th employee.

    My group manages investment portfolios for foundations, endowments, and other non-profits. I am the primary service contact for our existing clients, most of which are located here in the Twin Cities. Terrifyingly, I am also responsible for marketing, writing proposals, and creating and delivering presentations to attract new business. A forced stretch.

    I work with nice people now. I forgot what it was like to be outside a toxic, highly politicized, bureaucratic environment.

    I make enough money to fuel my music habit and maintain a steady supply adult beverages.

    The rest of my work is focused on being a dad – the best job possible – and trying to make sense of the other bits.

    Great topic, Jeff. I remember you did a lot of sticking and moving when I asked you the dreaded question. I think you should take the direct approach. You’ve got it all. No reason to hide that.

  10. Katie

    When we met, I was doing the same that as you, but now I am a certified physician assistant for a colon and rectal surgery group.

    Great blog post; I’m just responding to your query now, and then thinking some more about the rest of it.

  11. Thanks, everyone. I just saw a couple of these comments as they were lost in spam. Won’t happen on the new blog. Signed up for a professional comment keeper of sorts, Disqus.

    Diana, will send you the mix. I have the live Phoenix, already, but thanks.

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