This question is one that always comes up when you’re meeting new people or reconnecting with friends and family. It either comes up directly or some variation of it. Personally, I hate answering, “what do you do?” And it’s not that I’m not proud of what I’m up to or even unemployed – it’s that I don’t know how to answer it. For those who live a fairly linear lifestyle, living in the same place or a while and going to the same job each day, it’s a fairly easy question to answer. But even with an answer, I still don’t like the question.
So, what do you do?
I take various issues with “what do you do?” Firstly, I find it classist in nature. This is because it is understood as “what do you do for a living.” The asker is assuming a sense of permanence and stability and the responder is forced to tie their identity to a job. That is, also assuming that they have one.
Perhaps your day job is not what you want to do, but more what you feel you need to do to get by. As for myself, I often just don’t know what to say. Currently, I teach online and was teaching ESL for a couple of years. But I wouldn’t describe myself as a teacher. I’m a writer – for this blog and guest posts on others, and I offer freelance writing services – but I wouldn’t say that’s who or what I am. I’ve modelled and been paid for it, had done it on and off for years, but am by no means a professional model – or at least I wouldn’t say I am.
All of this despite the definition of professional being (according to Wikipedia) “a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and complete them for a fee.” All these above things I have been paid to do at some point or another and I engage in regularly. This answer, however, is far too long for a simple “what do you do?” And many of those things I don’t wholly identify as.
For those remote workers, digital nomads, and freelancers alike; this may come as a recurring issue for you. You may not have a current project or may have many. Or maybe what you’re doing may need an explanation beyond a standard one-sentence answer.
Answering “what do you do?”
So for those in the position of answering the question and are a little stuck, interpret it as if it were asked (regardless of how it was actually asked) as “what are you working on?”
This allows for an answer that is more open-ended. It is also inclusive than traditional ‘work’ and allows you to go anywhere with it. Whether it be personal projects, paid projects, short or long term, whatever you deem fit for the audience and conversation. It also makes it easier to include goals as to what you’re working towards. Particularly if you’re trying to impress someone or appease a family member that doesn’t quite get you’re doing.
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