"What do you do?"
How many times have you been asked that question? How many times have you asked it of others? When greeting an old friend, when meeting someone for the first time – it seems to be the go to question when we don’t know what else to say.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this question, but something about it has always bothered me. It seems so…narrow. It is almost always answered with a short, simple response.
"I'm an accountant."
"I'm a lawyer."
"I'm a teacher."
"I'm a waitress."
It starts to feel like all we are. Whenever I hear myself start to say "I'm an administrative assistant", I try to catch myself and edit my response. "I work as an administrative assistant." Somehow tweaking a few words in my response seems like a good place to start. But after that? How do we dig deeper into who we really are, especially with someone we may have just met?
Kate and I started to talk about this with our friends, and it was like we hit a nerve. Everyone had a story to tell – about feeling like their job was all they were and about struggling to find the words to express who they really are. One question that also came up was "If I don't ask people what they do for a living, what other questions could I ask?" In a way, exploring this question is like inventing a new language. If our own circles were so eager to talk about this, we figured others would be too.
At the end of February, we started researching and interviewing people for a play about “The American Dream,” our relationships to our jobs and how it affects the rest of our lives. We’ve spoken to over two dozen people across the country already, and feel very struck by how eager each person has been to try and get past the "What do you do?" question. Each person we've talked to, regardless of their job, has had different ideas about how they'd like to connect with other people in their lives, and many of those ideas are independent from what they do for work. The more people we talk to, the more we hear the desire to break free of our "work identity" and re-imagine the way we connect with the people in our lives. It feels like charting a new course on a map we have always used.
We are still interviewing, still unpacking all the things we are hearing. But we know this: people are ready to continue this conversation about changing how we identify ourselves and how we connect with our community. It's a challenge but it's exciting. Change is in the air. It's time.
Leave a comment below and tell us: What do you say when people ask "What do you do?"