What do YOU do?

(I wrote this one in 1999 and updated the job list in early 2002. I'm now--2003--teaching English in the Czech Republic and much of what I said here is no longer true, since I enjoy my job, but I still feel the same way about this annoying and impolite conversational trend.)

I really hate it when people ask me what I "do". I know...to most people it's a trivial thing, and I just worry too much...but it's so insulting. They're not really asking "what do you do"; they're asking, "how do you earn the right to eat and continue living; what do you do that proves you're worthy to breath my air; what contribution do you make to our world culture that dictates 'no work no food' that means you're worth the space you're taking up?"

My work is not me...it is not what I do. I am not defined by my job. These sound like trite, little, self-affirming statements, but they're also true. My job is just the way I earn money, earn my slave wages so that I may feed and clothe my family and wake up and work again tomorrow. Since I left college, I have worked at a newspaper, a plant nursery, a preschool, a nursing home, a bank, as a secretary, and in a medical lab as a lab assistant; none of these jobs have I liked, and none of them have interested me. They've all just been jobs I could tolerate. They've all been weigh-stations until I find something I can tolerate more, or (dare I dream) find a job I (gasp...is it possible) enjoy.

"What do you do?" If I answered that question honestly, in order of meaningfulness of activities, the answer would be something like this: "I spend time with my family; I love my wife, play with my cat, and dote on my niece. I write, I paint, I dream, and I think. I run three or four times a week to stay in shape, and I try to walk outside when I can. And I spend a lot of "veg" time in front of the TV or computer. I read about things that interest me, and sometimes, when I get angry enough, I write a letter to the editor of the local paper. Oh...and to earn money, I work at the bank." Now, in order of time spent, work--unfortunately--comes first. And it does seriously infringe on the rest of my day, the rest of my activities. (There's actually little painting, reading, and thinking, and there's a lot more "vegging" than I wish there were.)

But answering the question honestly, telling people what I really DO (i.e. love, run, think, sleep, spend time with family, snuggle, etc) makes me a "smart-ass" or "obnoxious punk". People I've never met before can demand to know how I earn my wages, but I'M rude if I answer honestly. That's bullshit. I'm hearby launching a new campaign...I'm hoping to start a new trend. The next time you're in a situation that demands small talk, and you don't know what to say, instead of asking the person next to you "what do you do?", ask them "what do you LIKE to do?", "what do you with your free time?", or--if you feel a little more daring--"what do you do when you're not shackled to your job?"

I have had two work experiences I enjoyed, but neither of them earned money, so neither are considered worthy of time or mention in "polite" conversation. I volunteered at a reserve that raised gibbons (a two-month stint that actually cost several hundred dollars); that was the hardest I've ever worked and the most rewarding work I've ever done. And I also helped produce and direct an independent play that a friend of mine wrote and which we both starred in. It was a money-losing venture in the end, too...but a lot of fun! I know...I know...how dare I mention "fun" when someone asks me "what do you do?"

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