“What Do You Do?”

October 17, 2014

There’s something I’ve been pondering for a couple of years now, and a few conversations have brought it into focus again of late. It has to do with the rat race that is the American culture. Sometimes it can feel as though it’s always, “What do you do?” “Who do you work for?” “Oh, and what do you do there?”

small talkAnd, after we catch a response, maybe we’ll have something to say, but usually we give some kind of complacent look, a nod, or a “hmmm, I see,” and move on. It’s as if a label has been slapped on, and that’s who that person is to us. He’s an engineer, or she’s a waitress. And we can draw all kinds of conclusions about that person’s life because of what their title is in the blue- or white-collar world. But do we ask about the rest? Not usually. We’re good assumers, and that’s not something I want to be known for. This seemingly curious question quickly becomes a conversation-stopper.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t inquire about that area of people’s lives, but there’s more. After living on the West Coast for a spell after college, I was quick to learn that people asked other questions. I didn’t feel the pressure of work being what wholly defines you, what people asked you about, what they wanted to know. I’ve been making a genuine effort to ask people the other questions, the ones that get people talking about things they love, are passionate about, and what inspires them.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Midwest. But after being elsewhere, it does seem that so much is focused on your work and what you do for a ‘living.’ Does this question always have to mean a financial living? On my second day of working at Fast Horse, I went out for a pint with Jorg and the other ponies, for our quarterly ‘Pint with the Prez’ outing. I remember one conversation richly, the one in which Jorg spoke about work/life balance. We talked about what people do with the time that is truly theirs. This is the time that you really grow, and are moved, and find out what you love. So let’s talk about that.

I challenge you to join me in making small talk more interesting with stimulating questions and genuine interest in a person’s story. What sets you on fire this year? What makes you come alive? And if that happens to be your work, fabulous. But let’s not forget about the other stuff, too.

Now that the introduction is over: What do you do?