This is a typical line asked my so many people when someone is introduced to a new person. Or it may even be shorter “What do you do for a living?” But why do we ask it? It seems that whenever I am introduced to someone new, that’s the first thing they ask me. But what I do has very little to do with who I am, even if I actually loved my work (which I do).
Are we looking for something in common with that person, so we can start to talk about what we may perceive as shared experiences or interests? If we are, why doesn’t the conversation drill down to that level after we answer it? Are we looking for some people that we might both know? Do we want to categorize that person, so we can feel some sense of comfort. Labelling someone eases the mystery because they are now in a category; defined and sorted.
Do we want to find out if they make a lot of money? Have a better job than we do? I don’t think most people are really conscious about why they ask it, it’s just a very easy question to answer. But what if they don’t work? Are we putting them on the spot, or making them feel bad for not conforming, or by being in a situation where they are our of work? What if they choose not to work, or can afford to stay home and take care of their children?
What does it matter anyway? We are trying to get to know someone new, right? So why do we ask what they do, as if that somehow defines who they might be? How many people are in jobs they despise? Many. How many people would like to change jobs, if they could? So many.
A recent news article in The Guardian indicated that 75% of people in their 20s and 30s did not use work as a descriptor when asked ‘Who they were’. Instead they would emphasize narratives on personal growth. That’s a shift in how populations in North America have defined themselves.
Hmm, so why don’t we ask a more revealing question?
I propose several alternatives.
“Do you have a life passion?”
“What are some of your interests?”
“What might you be defined by?”
“How would you introduce yourself to a stranger?”
“What is your 30 second description of self?”
“Have you ever tried meditation?”
“What is your favourite colour?”
“If you could do what your heart desires, what would that be?”
Or we could trying sharing a bit about who we are before the big question, like” Hi, my name is Paul, I am an unpublished author, self improvement junkie, avid hiker and cyclist, and deep thinker about life. Who might you be?”
I am just trying to find some different ways of saying something easy that will both stimulate a response and tell me more about who the person is. What do you ask people when you first meet them? What would you like to know about someone right away that is widely appreciated and acceptable to ask? What would you wish people asked you?
How you might answer that question probably say more about how you might frame the story that is your life more than the person asking it. Perhaps you could pause, and when the attention is on you, you could calmly and with sincere intention, give them the version of who you really are and what is meaningful to you. I’m sure this might give them pause, or be more than they really intended, but they will get a more truthful answer to their question!
Something to think about the next time you are introduced to someone. What will you say?