What Do You Do?

I have to confess I hate being asked the question “What do you do?” at parties.  It’s not that I dislike the question itself, but rather I’m never sure what answer to give.

I know traditionally you are supposed to discuss your day job, but that seems like such a narrow focus.  Yes I work as an engineer, but that’s only about 20% of my year.  I hate to be literal and tell them I get a fair amount of sleep each night so that eats up about 31% of my year.

It’s that other 49% of my time that I have a hard time describing.  Yes I write a lot and read a lot.  I also like doing home improvement and visiting with friends or family.  Being a husband and father also consume a fair amount of time.  Not to mention all the day to day stuff like cooking, cleaning, running errands,  and balancing my chequing account.  Then there is attending parties and hosting dinners.  Bascially most of my life happens in that other 49% of my time.

How do you describe that to someone you only just been introduced to?  Then what happens when you retire.  The standard answer is gone.  Do you say your retired?  Is that even a job title now?  Or perhaps you give yourself a new title like ‘private wealth manager’?  Or better yet do you answer “I’m seeking the absolute most happiness I can from every second I have left on this earth.”

If that is the case, why can’t I use that answer as well?  My point of this ramble is we are much more than our day jobs.  Don’t let yourself get too define by just one part of you life.  Descibing your life should always feel like having to describe the contents of the Louve in a sentence.  It’s impossible to do it justice.

10 thoughts on “What Do You Do?”

  1. When I’m asked that I don’t even mention my job at all, and giggle inside when the asker is a little baffled.

    “Oh well, most days I ride my bike about 8-10 km, and I do a lot of knitting as well. Sometimes I like to go to the community centre and sit in the hot tub.” etc.

    I have a friend who goes a little bit further and won’t describe his job with “to be” – that is he won’t say “I’m a waiter” or “I’m a software engineer” but rather “I wait tables” or “I design software.” A little pedantic, but whatever suits him.

  2. I usually just give the standard option of what my day job is. I had never really given it any thought about during the off hours.

    I guess I would have to say I am mostly a loafer.


  3. I could see that being a bit of a problem in early retirement.
    Being retired when you are young does not make sense to most people.
    I suspect they will think I’m either lazy or rich…or both.
    If that is the worse thing that happens,I can live with that.

  4. I find that this is typically just a way for someone to try to break the ice. It’s true, normally people will give the standard day job answer. Depending on my mood and inclination to speak to that person, I will sometimes respond with a standard answer, or sometimes ask for clarification. “you mean, what do I do for a living? for fun? in the shower? when i’m partying?” I find that’s a good way to steer a conversation. Sometimes you never know what the other person will want to know and you find out that you have more in common with that person than you thought.

  5. I find that question comes about often, especially when meeting new people. As another commenter mentioned, I think it’s simply a way to break the ice and build rapport when meeting someone new.

    If you want to build conversation about the topic of what you do, come up with a sentence that describes the value or contribution you add to the world. Perhaps in your case Tim, you can mention how you work with the government to help save the environment as part of what you do. Or perhaps “I’m a writer who helps people with personal finance and how to find happiness”

  6. Ted,

    Good point. Thanks for the ideas.


    Very good point. I suppose the value of what you want to show determines the answer.


  7. FT makes a very good point.
    I am not a big fan of this question at all because it is pretty ambiguous and it comes up very often.
    I handle the question depending on the circumstance. If I am asked this question in a work setting, or it rises in a topic about work, I answer it with my employment. If not I’ll answer it with something that more defines me as a person.


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