For as long as I can remember, I have never enjoyed conversations that are geared toward “work”. Allow me to explain what I mean.
“So what do you do?”
“Where do you work?”
Those questions have had a tendency to put me on edge. I begin to sweat the way I did 20 odd years ago when I found myself in a crowded room at Chicago State University, taking the ACT. The questions make me feel as if I have to prove myself to the person asking. And I don’t say this because I find myself on the far end of 30 still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I say it because the questions have always made me feel uncomfortable. And I once had a career. After graduating from Xavier University of New Orleans with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, I worked for the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts in New Orleans. Once I returned to my hometown of Chicago, I began working as a Work First counselor at the South Suburban Counselor on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. So, I’ve had jobs and have been able to answer the questions. I just have never liked needing to.
Though in the past I could not quite grasp why, those “So what do you do?” “Where do you work” type questions grated on my nerves, I can say today, I have figured it out. I don’t like them because I couldn’t care less about what someone does. When I meet a person and I’m interested, I want to know about the person. I want to know about that person. I mean really KNOW. I want to know what makes that person come alive, where their passions lie. I want to know the content of their soul. And telling me what they do just doesn’t necessarily answer that for me. I mean just look at what I’ve shared thus far. Telling you about my education and work history gave you no real insight into who I am. None. It just gave you surface details about me. But it didn’t tell you what makes me tick. And for me, that’s the stuff that gets me excited when I meet a person. I want to know what makes you tick.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with asking such questions. They can be great ice breakers. And I also understand that we human beings need to work to earn money in order to survive in our world. And I understand that there are things people do (and need to do) to earn money and “make a living.” But I have never identified with my source of employment. I’ve never And I’ll go ahead and admit that in spite of what I’m saying, I have been excited to get the job. I’ve been grateful to be able to say that I work. But after the nostalgia wears off, I’m left with a kind of “What next?” feeling. And I now know that I feel this way because one does not make a living by earning money. If that were true, one would die the minute one found themselves without a job. In the same vein that India.Arie exclaimed that she is not her hair, I must exclaim that I am not my job. And you know what? Neither are you!
I say all of this wholeheartedly believing that most don’t ask this question with ill intentions. It’s simply small talk. It’s seen as an easy way to get to know a person. And it can be. But sometimes it can be used in a isolating manner. It can be used to figure out what box to put another in. They can sometimes be questions that scream (even unintentionally), “Please help me disconnect from you in the most efficient way possible.” And I don’t believe most truly seek out ways to disconnect and isolate themselves from others. It’s just pure old fashioned social conditioning. Asking the questions helps one figure out what category to place another. Same as the “Are you married?” “Do you have any children?” questions. Harmless enough. Right?
Well, now I answer those questions quite differently. I get weird looks sometimes–and it has even ended a conversation (before the conversation actually began) here and there. But like the old cartoon characters who professed, “If I do this, I get a whipping . . . I do it!” right before they do something they know will rattle another, I do it anyway. Now when people ask me what I do, my answer is simply, “I live and love.”
“We must not be defined by what we do, but we must be what and who we are, then only happen to do what we do!”
― C. JoyBell C.