The eternal question and how to answer it.

Okay, eternal is a little strong. This isn’t some religious post, or anything really earth-shattering. The question I’m talking about is the one people ask when you first meet them.

What do you do?

How do you answer this question? I mean, I get how easy it is to answer when you have a traditional J.O.B. with a title and some way to easily define what you do. Even a bigwig at a bigwig company can say, “Oh, I’m a bigwig at this company that everyone has heard of” and listen to the sighs of admiration.

What if you’re NOT in a traditional job? What if you have no title? What if you’re a stay-at-home parent, or have a business that you built from the ground up, sharing your specific knowledge about the caps on toothpaste tubes. How do you answer the question then?

Perhaps there are two parts to the answer, or maybe even two intended parts to the question. We all want definitions. We all want the easy understood label. “Oh, that person’s a bigwig. Not in my social circle – bet I’ll never see her again.”

But what, exactly, does that title mean? Do we really have any idea what that person does day in and day out? Unless we’ve been in that position, it’s hard to say. (Even then we’ll have brought our own way of dealing with issues to the table.)

And is the question anything more than a social construct, a way to ask the expected – a more sophisticated version of “how are you?” or “how about the Redskins this last Sunday?” Do people really listen to the answer? Do most people really THINK about the answer they’re giving?

Or is the question more “Who are you?”

I’m on this kick this morning because I came to a realization last night. I’m a little tired of the non-answer that I give, an answer that felt so right when I finally came around to giving myself permission to say out loud – but now it feels false. Hollow. Incomplete.

Questioner: “So, what are you doing with yourself these days?”
Nica: “I’m at home. I have a personal chef business, and an exercise motivation business.”
Q: laughs
N: “I know, right? The perfect deal. I help people exercise and then I feed them, or the other way around.”
And the conversation goes elsewhere. Where else can it go but elsewhere?

What do I really do? I inspire badassness. In my kids, in my husband. In anyone for whom I cook and give them a part of their lives back. In anyone I work with to find their fitter and healthier selves. I inspire people to live more confident, capable lives. I give them the tools to stride through the world as if they belong in it.

If this isn’t a conversation starter, I’m not sure what will be.

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5 Responses to The eternal question and how to answer it.

  1. Jen Lucas says:

    After reading this awesome post, I thought of this quote from Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. … We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Shine on, friend!

  2. fit2sail says:

    Jen, are you familiar with the work of Brene Brown? I watched a podcast of hers earlier this week and was BLOWN AWAY. Similar in theme to what you shared here. Thanks for reading and sharing and commenting!

  3. lindalcrowe says:

    Kevin related something he heard on NPR this week. Americans almost always ask, “What do you do?” Because we place so much importance on that title and all that supposedly comes with it. Elsewhere in the world apparently, people typically ask, “Where are you from? Who are your people?” In that way, at least, Southerners are more like the rest of the world.

    Also – in this economy, it’s rather thoughtless to ask young people, “What do you do?” So many of them are still trying to find meaningful work. It really puts them on the spot. We need to change the question! Thanks for posting.

    • fit2sail says:

      Linda, I had a good conversation with a young friend on Facebook yesterday about this very topic. I also enjoyed what people posted on my own Facebook wall about it. We do need to change the question!

  4. Pingback: Definitions | Fit for Almost Anything

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