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What to say to ‘What do you do?’

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

In Australian this question is followed immediately by asking your name. In Europe, you could know someone for months before this questions comes up, (possibly because of higher unemployment) or could it be as civilisations mature their questions do too.

Either way, we’ve been trained to label ourselves.

‘I’m a designer, an architect, an accountant,

a rocket scientist, a teacher, a philosopher, a COO.

I used to be a project manager, now I’m a stay at home Mum.’

Roddy Doyle of the Commitments fame

said it took him until well after he won the Booker Prize

to answer he was a writer.

Even after publishing several novels.

He says he would still answer ‘I used to be a schoolteacher.’

This must be one of the most frequent questions asked

and (the most boring) to either ask or answer.

Guilty as charged. I’ve certainly asked it myself.

It gives them room to breathe and it gives you room to play.

What if you left the ‘what do you do’ question until after you discovered the name they’d prefer to be called or what work they’d choose if they weren’t doing what they do at present, or if they were to be abducted by friendly aliens what kind of planet would they go to and what might go on there.

A friend recounts that her friends with ‘sexier’ job titles are greeted with warmer responses and more interest than she, and that people’s eyes glaze over when she says she’s in IT. She feels dismissed as not the one to talk more with. When I had my branding agency it was so much easier. I fitted into quite a neat box myself. And no matter how neat the box is, it is but a sneak peak at the multidimensional puzzle we all are, because ‘what we do’ is so much less important than how we do it, how much of us we bring to it and who we are being as we do it.

I’m a CEO for  (insert company name here) ‘I’m a grumpy bastard who feels everyone has a better deal than I, so I make life miserable for everyone I encounter.’ or, it could be ‘I feel I’m having an impact in my corner of the world. It’s wonderfully engaging and rewarding.' or, it could be ‘Right now I’m in the middle of my biggest ever personal crisis so I’m in deep pain and what I do matters zilch.’

And, with the onslaught of technology making many traditional jobs redundant it is becoming a harder and harder question to answer.

I have been having a deepening awareness that while I am brilliant at answering this question for others (I’ve had a lot of practice 🙂 I’ve been pretty hopeless at doing it for myself.

Did you know I design jewellery?

Or did you think my jam was visionary brand identities?

Or did you believe I was yoga and meditation teacher?

or maybe an app developer?

a florist or a moonologist?

Well you see I have done and do all of those and more . . .

I know you’re a multi dimensional and multi faceted human being too

And the truth is, no matter how we answer. It still only tells part of the story and its the sum of the parts that brings our unique magic to it.

When you ask me that question what you really need to know is

‘I help you create the vision you want to grow into.’

So a better question to ask might be

‘How does what you do help others do their thing better?’ or

‘What impact does what you do have?’

My answer is that people walk away with the confidence to have what they say they want, to do the work that matters to them, and to become the change they want to see.

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below. Maybe we’ll discover how we can help each other. And if you want to work with me. Schedule an introductory session here. You’ll discover I do business differently. And if you’d like to work in a group this course being creation starts this Friday, because you are creation whether you realise is yet!

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