“What do you do?”
I’m asked this question a lot, mostly by other guys and mostly by other guys who don’t know me. As I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember a woman ever asking me that question. I know a lot of times it is just small talk, but I really hate this question because I feel like many, if not most, people categorize you based on your answer. What type of education you have, what kind of person you are and the all-important (to some) how much money you make are all gathered from your answer. All the assumptions are based on the stereotypes the questioner subscribes to, not necessarily fact. I don’t like to be categorized and never have.
When I was in high school I was one of those guys that didn’t really fit in with any specific group. Believe it or not, I was pretty smart so I was in honors-level classes. I also played sports, partly because I love sports and partly because I knew it would keep me out of trouble by giving me something to do after school. On top of those things, I was a bit of a partier on the weekends (sports was only Monday – Friday). The smart kids, despite my good grades, never accepted me as one of them because I played sports and there were quite a few “jocks” that gave the “geeks” a hard time in school; the sports kids, despite overcoming my lack of natural ability with hard work, never accepted me as one of them because I partied on the weekends and “jocks” didn’t hang out with “burnouts”; the party kids, despite being at all the so called big parties with some of the same kids they hung out with, never accepted me as one of them because of the double whammy of being a “geek” and a “jock”, and the only thing a “burnout” hated more than a “jock” was a “geek”.
When I use the terms geek, jock and burnout, I’m not trying to make fun of people (or categorize them) but I’m using them as other people did. I didn’t really subscribe to the whole categorization thing even back then. I had acquaintances from all the different groups and some were actually friends, others like me who didn’t really buy into the whole clique thing, but who nonetheless hung out with a specific group. Still, for the most part I had a couple of close friends that I usually hung out with, my best friend being Tony, the New York Yankee loving, Dallas Cowboy adoring fan I mentioned in this post. He didn’t really fit in either, for some of the same reasons as me, but also for a different reason, too. No matter. We were the 2 Musketeers until our friend Jeff moved to town and then we were the 3 Musketeers. The funny thing is we were our own small diversity group: a somewhat poor white kid from a big Catholic family of nine, a moderately poor black kid from a small Catholic family of three, and a reasonably well off white kid from a small Jewish family of two. I guess we did actually see and understand the differences between us, but we didn’t really care about them or about what anyone else thought about us. The three of us can thank our parents for that.
Why should someone who doesn’t know me care about what I do for work? I don’t really care what anyone I don’t know does for work, unless I just happen to be looking for a crocodile wrangler to remove the crocodile from my back yard. So it looks like I’m going to have to come up with some new answers to the “What do you do?” question to change things up a bit, try some of them out and figure out which ones trip up people the most. Things like:
· I take the trash out on Monday.
· I listen to music really loud when I drive.
· I occasionally take the long way instead of the shortcut.
· I root for the underdog, unless they’re playing “my team”.
· I observe people so I can use their quirky habits in the stories I write.
· I laugh out loud at nothing sometimes.
· I’m a bit klutzy so I randomly trip over stuff.
· I take the last brownie.
· When someone says “Don’t even think about it!” I think about it.
· I forget stuff a lot... Who are you?
· I tell my wife and kids I love them everyday. Multiple times.
These are all things I do and there is a bunch more that are more of who I am than the job I do, even if they’re not the kind of things someone is looking to hear, small talk or not. How someone chooses to categorize me after hearing any of those lines is up to them.