what do you do? [an outtake from a post last week. It’s me looking at you. so it works here too.]

You meet someone new or maybe you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while – usually the first question that gets shot your way “what do YOU do?” or “what are you doing now?”.  And you know they aren’t asking what you do for fun or what you do on the weekends, it’s all about what you do and where you work. I have always felt weird (but weird also isn’t really the right word) answering questions like this, half because (so I am often told) that I am humble (and charmingly awkward – I tell myself this one) but half because I have never felt like what I do defines me. Also, what I do these days is super complicated, but that’s another story all together. I have always loved what I do for work. And yet I still haven’t felt like I’m answering this common question, properly when I give an outright straight answer.

I lately answer “what do you do?” with a quick short descriptive word (lately it’s: “I freelance”) and then if they want to know more they will ask (they often don’t and that’s totally cool). Thinking back on these conversations I notice I always talk about projects, things I’m working on or things I’m working towards rather than “job title – company”. It seems to steer the conversation into a more meaningful direction (if they are into it, again cool if they aren’t) and there is often more common ground that is found and much more room for learning about the person (them learning about me and me learning more about them).

Does your day job define you? How do you feel about this question and how do you usually answer it? It’s a pretty run of the mill question, one that isn’t offensive at all (I’ve of course asked it many a time) – but I’m just thinking maybe there are better questions to ask to truly get to know someone and give a fuller picture. What do you think?

*I also find (just an odd little observation) in parent groups or when meeting new moms, this question rarely ever comes up. Maybe because we all already know what the most important job that we hold is.

On another but also sorta the same note: After I received such awesome feedback from the survey you guys did – last month, I don’t think I said it yet (seriously summer just puts my brain in a fog) but THANK YOU so much for those of you who took the time to take it and leave such thoughtful answers. I am trying to work towards flushing out some of the awesome topics you’d like to see more of. One of them a major one that came up, was that many of you are going through a career change, going back to work after kids, or trying to find yourself while at the same time becoming a parent – advice, guidance and inspiration was heavily requested. I am trying (in my foggy summertime brain) to get together a series (or a single post, just in case I’m biting off more than I can chew) that hopefully will offer different view points and maybe some inspiration around this area.  With all this being said, maybe you guys can help me…..have you gone through a career change or know someone really inspiring who has?


  1. says

    I do so many random things, and I'm a student – but it's usually easier to explain I'm a student and not get into the specifics of different types of translating. But I think jobs really do define us – people form so many conclusions based on the half a sentence you answer that question with.

  2. Morgan says

    Another fabulous post – thank you. I work in the ethics and compliance department of an oil and gas company part time AND I'm a mom to a beautiful two year old girl. Part of what I struggled with while on mat leave is having meaningful conversations with people who didn't have kids. Or at least conversations that went beyond "so, do you like being a mom" and my answer of "yeah, there are definitely hard parts AND I love it more than I could have imagined". Interested in hearing if others had this experience!

    • Heart and Habit says

      That's interesting! I can't say I had this happen to me often, or maybe I just don't remember. It sounds like some curiosity mixed with maybe not the best delivery, I really like your answer though!

  3. Lola says

    Great post! I don't normally mind the question itself, I just don't care for the judgmental undertones of the reason why people are asking…. if that makes sense? It seems that when meeting new people, that is just one of 20 questions immediately asked and they all have the same tone to them as if they are trying to figure out my status, class and income instead of who and what I am and do. And secondly, I feel that not all people get to do what they love as a job/career. I enjoy my career, but it is definitely not a passion nor does it define me. The question does not seem like a good 'get to you know' question other than how you spend your days, unless you are the lucky few that has a job that is their passion and drive.

    • Heart and Habit says

      Totally makes sense! It is totally one of the 20 questions and it's not going to drop out anytime soon – but maybe that different answer can help steer the convo to help them get to know you better. That undertone, can totally make any question feel yucky, you are so right.

  4. says

    Very thought-provoking post! I actually think that even though this specific question doesn't come up all that often in mommy groups, a slightly different question gets asked a lot: when are you going back to work? Which is another question I'm not a huge fan of. Mainly because I find if I were to answer honestly (which would be "if we can afford it then never. I'd love to be a full-time mom"), it's just not satisfactory to the person asking the question. Most people can't understand why someone who has a masters degree and had a career before having a baby wants to "give that all up". So I usually answer something along the lines of "oh, I'm not sure yet". I agree with Lola – it's the judgmental undertones of the reason why someone is asking you that question that makes me uncomfortable, rather than the question itself.

    • Heart and Habit says

      Yes! When mine we really little, that was like the single most asked question! And I never came up with a good answer for that one, so please do tell when you do! (though I think your answer is awesome, you are right – many just wouldn't understand).


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