Hello. What Do You Do?

On my ride in to work this morning I was listening to the latest podcast by The Minimalists (Education) and it got me thinking how far I’ve come since graduating high school.  It also had me thinking how I’m still the same person and how little it all means.  Before realizing I had what it took to go to college, I was working 40 hours/week in an electrical components factory soldering parts together all day long.  I was dating one of the engineers I had met there and that was my introduction to dealing with people who had an education.  I would D.R.E.A.D. going to parties or family functions with him because I was embarrassed of my job and that I didn’t have a college degree.   What I would DREAD most of all was that all too familiar question…

Hello!  What do you do?

What Do I Do?

Fast forward to present day…

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m a microbiologist for a major pharmaceutical company.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m a wife.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m a mother of a wonderful 6-year old girl.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m a real estate investor.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m an artist; I like to paint with oils and draw with charcoals.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m a personal finance blogger!

Obviously, the expected response is the first response.  The person asking this question wants to know how you earn your money and how much money you earn.  To some, that defines the individual.

I wasn’t always a microbiologist at a major pharmaceutical company.  I was the youngest of four siblings.  I grew up in a trailer and I had no idea I would ever have the chance to go to college.  After all, my parents never graduated high school and they continuously apologized during my teenage years for not being able to afford to send me to college.  Because I didn’t have any models or mentors, I assumed I wasn’t part of that world.  My plan was to graduate high school and get a good-paying job and live my life.  Full stop.  Good-paying job was a relative term.

Working 9 to 5

Back up…

After high school I worked at an electrical components factory where I met my first real boyfriend 🙂  He was an engineer with a master’s degree; his family was highly educated and wealthy.  It made me nervous.  Whenever we had a party or family function to attend I would sweat bullets waiting for that awkward question.  Inevitably a doctor or lawyer friend of his would ask, “So, what do you do?”  I would turn as red as Santa’s suit and sheepishly reply, “I work in production at a factory.”  In those moments all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and never come out.

During my podcast this morning, I was floored when they started talking about THIS VERY THING.  They pointed out something so obvious.  This question isn’t a get-to-know-you question.  It’s a question to gauge the other person’s socioeconomic status and, ultimately, their success.  I suppose I knew subconsciously knew this way back when I was attending those parties.  That’s why I felt the way I did.  I was always on the short end of the stick.  The Minimalists used some pretty harsh language to explain the real intentions behind this question and offered some pretty clever alternatives.  If you’re unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of that question and don’t really want to go into a conversation about what you do to earn a living, you can simply state, “I’m passionate about [insert whatever here].”  For me, I could pick any one of the above items in response to that pompous question, depending on my mood.  I suspect the same goes for you!

Achievements

All told, I achieved a master’s degree and a high-paying job (again, relative).  I am successful according to standard, middle-class expectations.  But…what does it all mean?  I’m the same girl from the trailer park who didn’t think she was smart enough to go to college.  Ironically, having made it, I feel like my new goal is to get out of it.  Ha!  It’s funny how perspectives change over a couple decades.  Next time I’m asked that question, I think I’ll respond with any one of my passions.  Maybe I’ll be the real estate investor.  Maybe I’ll be the artist.  Maybe I’ll be the mother.  We’ll see how I feel at that moment.

The point is that our jobs are not the entirety of our being.  Our being is made up of our inner circle of people, our MANY passions, and finally, our jobs.  In my opinion, this question has risen to the top of the social status pile because our jobs equal income and income equals how well we are doing in the American consumerism rat race.  The End.

Let me rephrase that original question, Hello!  What are you passionate about?

Bailey Gato BW

MMC – Minimal Style

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Lisa is the creator and resident writer at Mad Money Monster. She's a mother, scientist, and financial guru on a mission to save Generation X from working until they die!

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19 comments… add one
  • our next life Jan 31, 2016, 11:12 pm

    One of our absolute favorite things about living in a small town in the mountains is: no one asks what we do. No one cares. People ask what activities we’re into, or where we like to go hike, and that kind of thing. Occasionally someone might ask something like “Do you have a full-time job, or do you do seasonal stuff?” but the intent of that question is totally different. It’s so refreshing after living in status-obsessed cities for all of our adult lives! And sure, we have impressive sounding answers right now to the “what do you do?” question, but we so much prefer not being defined by our jobs.

    • Mad Money Monster Feb 1, 2016, 11:37 am

      I completely agree. It’s not often that I’m in a situation getting asked that question anymore. But when it does come up, you better believe I’m going to get creative with the answer. I’m really looking forward to this 🙂

  • Generation YRA Jan 30, 2016, 2:47 pm

    I love this! This question is something I am always trying to discover the refined answer to. This post distinctly reminds me of a seminar I took. They asked us, “Who are you?” and provided a list of items/things that we could NOT give a response to. The list included: work/occupation, gender, ethnicity, age, etc. Essentially, all of the items that place people in “boxes.” I was fascinated by this and how challenging it was for everyone to come up with. We are so quick to respond with work especially – and what’s even more saddening is the fact that people have a hidden agenda when they ask this question. 🙁

    For me, this is my working what I am passionate about reply:

    I am passionate about determining what happiness is to me, while supporting those on their paths to self-defined happiness as well.

    It’s a huge over-arching answer, but passion and happiness are evolving. 5 years ago I was happy with one thing, and in 5 additional years I may have gained a new happiness & passion. Due to this revolving process, I like to support others on their journeys too!

    • Mad Money Monster Feb 1, 2016, 11:43 am

      It is definitely sad that there is often a hidden agenda with this question. I’m really trying to focus more on my passions when I get the opportunity to answer it these days. And you’re right, our passions are constantly evolving so our answers will never get old!

  • tenleygwen Jan 29, 2016, 1:38 pm

    This is such an important post! Thank you! I’m going to spend some time thinking about answers to “What are you passionate about” and “what do you do for fun” — so much more interesting for everyone concerned, I think!

  • Mortimer Jan 28, 2016, 11:41 pm

    Awesome post! I’ve read some other articles on this subject and couldn’t agree more. It’s such an irritating question because so many people hate their dumb jobs anyway. Who cares if you’re a cardiologist if you hate it and are working 90 hours a week to stay current on your $2m home and $200k car payments? It just makes no sense. I like your question. Another one I like to ask people instead is, “So, what do you do for fun?”

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 29, 2016, 7:06 am

      Ooh, adding those two little words “for fun” really switches it up! Perfect! Yeah, I can’t say I have ever asked anyone the “what do you do question”. It was caused so much anxiety for me when I was younger that I never want to put someone else in that position. Sometimes people are passionate about their jobs, oftentimes, the job is their paycheck. I might start asking the For Fun question. That sounds, well, fun 🙂

  • seattlegirluw Jan 27, 2016, 3:56 pm

    My husband is on disability (and I’ve been on it before), so we’re all too aware of the uncomfortable “What do you do?” situation. Tim actually tends to avoid social scenarios just because of this.

    Luckily, the parties we tend to go to are for a bunch of improv players. So people don’t ask what you do. They assume you’re part of a troupe.

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 28, 2016, 12:44 pm

      I used to avoid it at all costs. I hate this question. I’m not sure if some people who ask it realize how it often makes others feel. I’m definitely going to start answering with one of my passions next time I get the chance 🙂

  • Matt @ The Resume Gap Jan 27, 2016, 11:40 am

    I’ve been a borderline-jerk for years when responding to this question. 😬 I love giving the non-traditional answers: “Well, I love hiking, and traveling, and exploring all our city parks, and trying new beers, and…”

    My favorite part is getting cut off with, “Oh, that’s not what I meant.” It’s as if to say, “I don’t care to talk about those things that you value; let’s talk about your employer instead!”

    “Oh, right… I’m the [Vice Boring Title Officer in Chief] at [Corporate Corporation Corp, LLC]”

  • Maggie Jan 27, 2016, 10:54 am

    I love that thought… because “What do you do?” is a test of socioeconomic status, it’s always a
    “wrong” answer to say “Mom of 3.” I get horrible looks and it pretty much ends the conversation. But that’s what’s wrong with society. I’d much rather be defined by one of my passions, as you say, than by what makes me money.

  • youmeanme Jan 27, 2016, 7:38 am

    I love looking at that as a passion question! It foils the judgment and can deepen the conversation.
    Adam Leipzig did a Tedx Talk on knowing your purpose so you can answer this question. He suggests asking yourself what you love to do and who you do it for. Then using that as your answer.
    I was a bit punchy when I first heard the video. My answer was a I read every day so I can maintain my sanity while increasing my empathy, which really means I do it for everyone who interacts with me 🙂

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 27, 2016, 2:59 pm

      That sounds like an interesting Tedx. I might put it on my To Do list. I find it’s really tough to narrow down my “passions”. I seem to have more than my time allows. The trick for me is choosing where I want to spend my energy and time. Thanks for sharing this tip!

  • Ernie Jan 27, 2016, 7:11 am

    “What are you passionate about?” That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for a very, very long time, and I still don’t have an answer! It’d used to bother me that I didn’t have this predisposed passion…like I was one of the few who was born without one. But then I discovered Cal Newport (who the Minimalists refer to often) and his refreshing and empowering take on passion. Now I’m trying my best to focus on my interests and seeing if I can cultivate a passion. And I’m also beginning to realize that my interests (and possibly passions) don’t owe me anything…meaning I’m not expecting them to provide me money. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But trying to turn my interests into passions and then my passions into a job isn’t the point.

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 27, 2016, 2:55 pm

      Well said! I also think it’s ridiculous to think that we can have only one passion. We have a limited amount of time, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean we have to pick only one passion. We need to figure out which passions are worth devoting our time to. I also agree that a passion doesn’t need to make you money. If it does, bonus!

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