What Do You Do?

In a recent BBC News piece, India Rakusen goes to Montana to interview local residents to find out why their male suicide rates are double the national average.  Missoula mayor, John Engen said the town used to manufacture and depend on the timber industry and that has gone away.  “What’s the first thing you ask a stranger in a social situation?  What do you do?”, Engen says.  “Much of your identity is wrapped up in what you do.”

When what we do goes away, who are we?  That shouldn’t even be a question, but it is and that’s the problem.  Pride and ego play their parts.  We define ourselves through our occupation and “What do you do” doesn’t help.  Mostly, we answer that question with our job title: “I’m a logger”, “I’m a yoga teacher”, “I’m a sales manager” or “I’m a nurse”.  It is the easy answer; the easy way out.

As a social ice-breaker, “What do you do” works, but it’s a bit intrusive and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.  So, now the burden is on the receiver to respond, “I’m the VP of Nobody Really Cares” or “I’m the GM for Blah, Blah, Vomit” or “I design quick exit strategies for pretentious busy-bodies I can’t seem to avoid at parties; but, let’s talk about you, which is really why we’re here, right?”

“Rob, that’s not very Yogi like.”  I told you … I am not a yogi.

In an article by Joshua Fields Millburn entitled “Life’s Most Dangerous Question”, he says the asker of “What do you do” is saying, “How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?” 

Tongue in cheek, but kind of true.

In a Chevy Silverado commercial, two guys meet for the first time at a neighborhood block party and one guy asks the other, “So … what do you do?”  That’s when the other guy runs through his head, everything he does: a romantic dinner with his wife, barbecues for the family, catches fish, works on a construction site, rides motocross cycles in the desert on weekends, sings to his kids in the car, plays chess with his father-in-law, etc.  He’s doing the whole man-worker-husband-dad thing.  So, at the end, he can’t really answer in words and says, “I, eh …”.  And the narrator cuts in, “For those that live life for a living”

Yes!  Maybe we adopt that line verbatim: “I live life for a living”.

Done.  Now grab a beer and play some corn-hole.

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

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