January 18, 2011

"How you answer the question 'What do you do?' is important..."

"... because it frames your story for you in a much more visceral way than it frames it for anyone else."

50 comments:

Beldar said...

When feeling mischievous, I answer "corporate assassin." That's a bit ambiguous as to whether I assassinate on behalf of corporations or whether I instead assassinate corporations. Inevitably, however, there's disappointment when I finally admit I'm really just ... a lawyer.

(Oh, and yes: That's now an inappropriate metaphor after the tragedy in Tuscon. Obviously I'm now to blame for the next murder committed by any madman anywhere in the world, but I'm glad to take that load off Gov. Palin's shoulders.)

Palladian said...

I always answer: I'm an oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchanger.

chickelit said...

@Palladian:

How meta-bolic.

dont tread 2012 said...

I'm a marine biologist.

Usually that's enough to move onto the next subject.

bearing said...

Thanks for linking to that post. I really liked it. I especially liked this bit, which I am going to remember:

... the best answer to the question “What do you do?” is “Here’s what I’m passionately learning right now.”

I am a stay-at-home mother. Nobody is more angst-filled, as a class, about the question "What do you do?" than us (okay, maybe the unemployed might be more angsty about it). I homeschool my kids, which helps answer the question -- at least it gives the questioner some idea that I am, in fact, busy with something that's at least arguably meaningful.

But I like the advice to answer with what *I* am learning. Seriously, I'm grateful to you for linking to the post.

Pogo said...

I have to develop a story to be framed first.

So until then I'll just have to say I do-wacka-do, wacka do, wacka-do, wacka-do.

Fritz said...

I'm a marine biologist. Usually that's enough to move onto the next subject.

Got that beat. My official title is Sr. Research Biogeochemist. When I meet a chemist I claim biology and when I meet a biologist I claim chemistry.

With "normal" people I claim fisherman.

Trooper York said...

I deal in bras

traditionalguy said...

Men very much are defined by their work habits. Being needed for a man is to have work to do. Retirement without responsibilities for some needed job is a terrible way to have to live. Not that Golf is not a lifetime challenge. Palladian has an ominous point: If we are no longer worthy of our oxygen usage, will we become a targets for the environmental murderers of goddess Gaia?

bagoh20 said...

"I always answer: I'm an oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchanger.".

I also do methane. It was a cheap upgrade, and worth every penny when you like your privacy.

edutcher said...

The best comeback I ever heard was in, believe it or not, a TV movie. The guy answered what his occupation was and then added, "That's what I do, not what I am".

Sixty Grit said...

I lift things up and put them down.

dont tread 2012 said...

The other one I use is 'I'm an importer-exporter'.

Diapers, and chips.

virgil xenophon said...

In college I used to say "fix flats for Continental Trailways, but hopefully they'll promote me to baggage handling any day now." Now that I'm retired I simply say: "As little as possible." If pressed further I reply that I'm "just a loose cannon on the deck of life." Not much else to say after that..

mesquito said...

Mostly, I leave comments on blogs.

(Yup, that hurts. Viscerally.)

EDH said...

Vincent: What ya gonna do then?

Jules: Basically I'm just gonna walk the earth...
You know, like Caine in Kung Fu: walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures.

t-man said...

There is a great line in Nabokov's Transparent Things:

"Don't ask me what I do, ask me what I can do."

traditionalguy said...

The old Richard Boone western series on TV appealed to me: "Have Gun- Will Travel". IMO his Pallidan character had the right attitude towards life...like a good lawyer does.

Chip Ahoy said...

In my opinion that is the worst question to ask anyone upon first meeting. On the surface it's a quick way to get started knowing one another, and I do understand the motivation and the impulse, but it's tantamount to asking, "How much cash do you have in your wallet?" or "How much is your net worth?" Or "How big is your house?" It is not a good way to know get to know somebody, although I realize at times it does connect when someone identifies completely with their line of work, but in that case that would come out nearly instantly without having to be so gauche. Usually I meet people under circumstances created precisely to distance one temporarily from their work, like a party.

Once at such a party out on a hotel balcony in Hawaii, pardon me, out on a lanai, a gentleman from my hometown asked me, "Okay, so what do you do?" He was just being nice and showing an interest in me but I thought in that moment. "You dumbass, the reason I am here is to be away from all that." It always strikes me as a pathetic way to grope for something to talk about. The people who know me, know all those things naturally without ever having to ask directly. It's one of the questions that I have never, NEVER, NEVER asked anybody. And yet I get asked it all the time. I also never ask anybody their age. It's just flat bad form.

So now instead I tell people what I do starting on whatever it was I did that day. Sometimes when I'm feeling impish I start out. "Well, it's a long and dragged out desultory story with no real aim direction or point, a continuous series of episodic misadventures filled with pain, suffering and heartache and very little to lighten it. Here, let's have a seat and I'll start at the very beginning."

Noooooooooo *runs*

Last week a man from London was visiting a friend who invited guests over. The London guy asked me directly, "So, what's your claim to fame?" I was nonplussed because I claim no fame, so that's what I said. The man wasn't satisfied. My date sensed my discomfort and goes, "Oh, Chip does a lot of things." The London guy goes, "Like what?" My date answered, "Well, for instance he carved that bas relief hanging in that room." She pointed. The guy nearly shit himself because he had been admiring it earlier. It did answer the question to his complete satisfaction, as if that was all I ever did, and I would not have thought of that myself.

Belkys said...

here the most common pick up line is : do you work or study?

edutcher said...

Trooper York said...

I deal in bras

Better to deal in what's in them.

traditionalguy said...

The old Richard Boone western series on TV appealed to me: "Have Gun- Will Travel". IMO his Pallidan character had the right attitude towards life...like a good lawyer does.

That's Paladin, not Palladian.

Methadras said...

I like to tell people that I'm a legitimate businessman. The looks are awesome.

traditionalguy said...

Edutcher...Right, it was Paladin for the Knight chess piece he used for his symbol. Boone had that cool attitude towards weapons seen in Clint Eastwood, but not as cold. Boone had learned for real on twin 50 cal. machine guns as the turret gunner in TBD Avengers flying off Carriers in the Pacific.

Bruce Hayden said...

Got that beat. My official title is Sr. Research Biogeochemist. When I meet a chemist I claim biology and when I meet a biologist I claim chemistry.

I do the same - tell lawyers I am an engineer, and tell engineers that I am an attorney. Or, that I am sometimes a lawyer. And then when they ask about the rest of the time, I answer that I was a part time ski bum, but now part time engineer. The reality is that I am a patent attorney, and that lets me switch back and forth, when I get bored of the one or the other.

Actually, I think more accurately, awhile back I was 1/2 ski bum, 1/4 lawyer, and 1/4 engineer. I wasn't making as much, but I got a lot of great skiing in, and that is the part that was most interesting to others, except those who skied too much, and they were more interested in the lawyer part (esp. to get out of DUIs).

MadisonMan said...

I'm someone trying to endure the teenage years.

I think a good question when you meet someone at a party is Why are you here? Emphasis must be placed on the correct word (that is, usually you don't stress the you).

Paddy O said...

When I was unemployed after seminary for a little while I got tired of the question, so I started answering, "I run a Christian Escort business."

Funny how many people kind of believed me but weren't sure of what to ask next.

Now I say, "I theologize."

William said...

I always made a living, but I never had an impressive job. I was kind of defensive about it. When you're jobbing a line of merchandise that includes birthday cakes for dogs, you get that way. Well, anyway I made enough money to retire full time by my late fifties. That's always been my real goal in life--doing nothing. There are very few things in life more fulfilling than turning over and sleeping for another hour. I'm to sloth what Charley Sheehan is to lust. It's not just a vice; it's a vocation and how I define myself.

Marica said...

I am a vegetable farmer. I grow vegetables. Thus, I contribute to O2 / CO2 exchange.

It's fun to go into these conversation sort of low key-- aw shucks, I'm just a gun-tottin' veggie farmer from the poor deep south.

Kabamalama.

Turns out, I'm not as stupid as you thought I was. Wanna talk some bio-stats? How about some Aristotle? Wait, wait, wait,.. how about some neuroscience?

But what do I know? I'm just a veggie farmer.

Pogo said...

William, you're my hero. Srsly.

deborah said...

Yeah, I've noticed William is an astute commenter...and I'm reminded of a favorite comic strip line from 'Shoe' that I've always applied to myself: Intelligence runs in my family, but ambition walks with a limp.

chickelit said...

That was harsh deborah.

Every man is entitled to the torments which leisure brings

~Jean Rostand

madAsHell said...

I never ask people what they do.

I think it's like asking about their religion, or sexual orientation. None of my damn business.

Of course, telling people that you're an engineer will ALWAYS kill the conversation. If they pursue the topic, I just bury them with mind-numbing details.

It kicks me out of jury duty as well.

The Crack Emcee said...

edutcher,

The best comeback I ever heard was in, believe it or not, a TV movie. The guy answered what his occupation was and then added, "That's what I do, not what I am".

I thought that just as I read it. And it's true. Fuck what I do:

I'm an artist.

Joan said...

LOL MadMan, me too.

Often I say I used to be a software engineer, but I recovered.

Anyway now I teach junior high science and it's really easy to say I'm a teacher, and I get all kinds of reactions when I say that I work with 7th & 8th graders -- it does take a certain kind of lunacy to voluntarily put one's self in that environment.

I love finding out about what other people do. There are so many interesting things to do out there that I've never heard of before.

Deb said...

I always say, "Why do you ask?"

AllenS said...

At the present time I have to say that I'm retired, which is kinda boring. When I was a young man, I loved telling people that I jumped out of airplanes, and killed people.

rdkraus said...

edutcher said...

The best comeback I ever heard was in, believe it or not, a TV movie. The guy answered what his occupation was and then added, "That's what I do, not what I am".


I think this is mostly wrong. If you're spending 8 to 10 hours a day doing something, it's a big part of what you are. If you don't like that, you should think about changing; ya know, you only get one life to live. I'm not saying your job is all you are, but 1/3+ of your life is a big part.

Naomi said...

Bearing, I'm also a SAHM and I had a snappy answer ready just in case my husband got invited to any snooty cocktail parties. Never got to use it though, so it's yours if you want it.

"I volunteer my time teaching preschool and elementary children life skills such as time management, hygiene(sp?), and budgeting."

Fritz said...

I always answer: I'm an oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchanger.

You can claim to be a special agent for the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Drew said...

I had always understood that the "What do you do?" question was far more important for men than for women, because for men, what they do is strongly connected to their view of self, whereas for women there are other things that define their sense of self (motherhood being a humongous one).

I fully admit this may be nonsense but it has the ring of truth.

Personally, when work is bad, then my sense of self suffers no matter how awesome things are on the home front.

bagoh20 said...

My time and passion is just spread out over a bunch of disassociated work, hobbies and interests. Nothing dominates. what do I do? I learn, decide, fix, explore, enjoy. That's it and it tells someone nothing. I guess someone who knows me would say I own a business and I rescue dogs. That's part of it, but I really make an effort to not be engrossed in any one thing - to avoid getting lost in anything. I don't have an easy answer to the question, and it's on purpose.

Andrea said...

One question: what use does she get out of the birdcage? I don't see a bird in it, and something tells me that taking care of a parakeet would be too chaotic for Ms. Trunk. Maybe she makes her farmer husband feed it.

Also: you can't go wrong with Antique White on your walls. It goes with everything, and has just a tinge of gold to give the room warmth without making it necessary to only put "warm colors" on all the furniture.

Andrea said...

Chip Ahoy: you should have told the London guy that saying "what's your claim to fame" and then not being satisfied with the answer (or non-answer) is such an American attitude! That would have shut him up right quick I bet.

Jasmina Boulanger said...

I'm the seeing-eye person for my blind yellow lab.

Kirk Parker said...

You bio guys are nothing. Take it from several pastors I know, "I'm an ordained minister" is tops, tops, TOPS in the conversation-stopper department!

Paddy O, omg that's the funniest thing I've read all week!

Kirk Parker said...

For myself, sometimes the straightforward answer works fine (software developer and consultant), but occasionally I'll answer, "Musician with a day job--the pay is much better this way".


wv: exonion - job history of the NY Times' new editor.

Kirk Parker said...

OK, after actually reading Trunk's column, why isn't everyone else asking the obvious question: WAIT, WAIT--there's PRO VOLLEYBALL???????"

You have got to be kidding.

wv: hatin -- see, Blogger is with it too.

Trooper York said...

That was a Magnificent Seven referance by the way.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"I'm an ordained minister" is tops, tops, TOPS in the conversation-stopper department!

Insurance agent works pretty good as a drop dead coversation stopper.

I used to say (before I retired from that field) Financial Advisor or Stock Broker....but that was bad because, like the Doctor at the party, everyone wanted to get free advice and wouldn't stop talking at you.

bearing said...

"I volunteer my time teaching preschool and elementary children life skills such as time management, hygiene(sp?), and budgeting."

Yeah, my version goes something like, "I battle daily the forces of chaos and ignorance."

But I get your point.