Thursday, August 18, 2011

Your Job Description is not your Life Prescription

Among the staple questions we tend to ask when wanting to know more about someone we are meeting for the first time is (after getting their name, of course): 'What do you do?' or, a variation, 'Where do you work (and by implication: what do you do there)?'

It's a fair question, and innocuous enough. You might be surprised though that, in certain cultures, being asked that question is frowned upon, thought weird, and a tad bit invasive.

Anyway, in the Philippines, that is rarely a problem. Except perhaps if you are asked that question and you have nothing to answer for it. Why would that be? Here are 7 reasons why one would find oneself grasping for answers to that simple question:

(1) You are unemployed.
Basically, you are a bum. You may just have come off from school and still looking for employment (which you discover is hard to find). Or you just got fired (the company was downsizing; or is outsourcing your job to a third world country) or you had just resigned (the boss was a $@#%; or office politics just ain't your thang; or the free iced tea was making you gain weight). Or you simply can't find a job that you feel you can connect to on a very deep level, you know? :)

(2) You are a stay-at-home mom/dad
You're married (or whatever) and you think that the best use of your time is to be right there with your kids to watch them grow and see to their needs. Of course, this is not a 'job' (you are happy to do it, right?), but as you would say though, It IS a full-time job! But it does seem a little weird to make this your answer when asked what you do because, obviously, the question seems to expect some sort of an employment as a reply. Nevertheless, those who have mustered courage and find no shame in their chosen role, are able to express it with no issue. And that's a good thing! We have come a quarter of a way from 'Oh, I'm just a plain housewife/houseband!' Still many others find themselves queasy saying that.

(3) Your job is confidential/secret.
You don't want the person making small-talk with you suddenly scampering away if you were honest enough to say that you are a gun-for-hire, right? Other than that, your job might just happen to be the classified variety, like a secret agent or a private investigator, or a James Bond-type. So then, what do you say? You'll probably change the topic, make something up, or at least give the other person a warning: "If I tell you, I'm gonna have to kill you."

So go make something up instead!

(4) It's complicated.
That is, your job title does not belong among these professions that need little-to-no elaboration: teacher, salesman, lawyer, doctor, etc. So you're a 'Senior Software Engineer' and, while that easily makes sense to you, apparently it begs a little more expounding, so to avoid that laborious process, just say, "It's kinda like a programmer." And then the question marks in the person's face disappear. (Or so you think.) This is different from having a really simple job whose title is merely embellished, like 'Chief Landscape Engineer' - a fancy name for 'gardener'. Although, yeah, it does complicate it still.

The late Randy Pausch - the Carnegie Mellon professor who before succumbing to pancreatic cancer a few years ago, got famous through his 'The Last Lecture' video which went viral on Youtube - shared in his book 'The Last Lecture' (an offshoot of the viral video) that while he is addressed professionally as Doctor (owing to his Ph.D., not an M.D.), when his mom introduces him to people, she says: "He's a doctor, but NOT the kind that helps people."

That's what happens when job titles are not self-explanatory!

(5) You're a C.O.O.
You know, Child Of Owner; as in, heir to your parent's vast business holdings. All you need to do is turn 21, or wait for them to hand the reins on to you once they think you're ready. If they die, it's still falling on your lap. So, in the meantime, you're sitting on your bum, and... whistling a happy tune.

(6) You're living off of your parent's trust fund.
And therefore, why bother working? Still, when asked what you do, you're at a loss for words. You don't actually want to reveal how wealthy you are; or just how idle (read: lazy) you've become just because your infinite well of riches (a.k.a. your trust fund) is financing all that you'd ever aspire to do or buy.

So in this instance, what do you say? Ah yes, that business you've been thinking about for a long time now.

But of course!

(7) You're into a LOT of things.
You could simply introduce yourself a serial entrepreneur, but you think it's limiting, because your interests are really vast and your endeavors are many. You want to be able to share them all, but the curt question 'What do you do?' does not seem to invite a kilometric and animated monologue. And because they're just so numerous, you don't know where to begin - like all your interests are racing to be uttered first! At the same time, to say that you are doing countless things might invite judgement: Ah, she's a spaghetti-brain! He does not know what he wants! She has ADD!

BUT...Why this shouldn't bother you:
Whatever it is, whatever the reasons may be, for your inability to come up with a respectable response to the plain question of 'What do you do?', it's alright. As they say: No biggie. Answer it anyway, either in the most honest way you can, or in the most creative way you can devise. Leave people to their judgements, and just be who you are.

The truth is, and you'll notice this, the answers to the question evolves as time goes by.
As you move from one job/profession/project to another, from nothing (unemployed/COO) to something (a real job maybe), from something (a stressful, unfulfilling 9-to-5, 6-day-a-week job) to nothing (a life, FINALLY!); as you strive to make something else of your life - maybe something more meaningful to you (a vocation, like priesthood, or NGO work), something legal (gun-for-hire doesn't pay, you'll find out), something healthier (that allows you to get some sleep for a change!), something you actually like (not what your parents like for you - sorry parents!); as you make conscious choices to get your life under control, living life on your own terms and living life to the FULLEST -- you.. will realize that the answer to 'What do you do?' should not be something you allow yourself to define who you are (like a job description) or be restricted by (like a four-cornered cubicle).
After all, what you do, is just one of the innumerable other things that comprise your identity. You don't have to be just one or the other. You can be ALL of it. You can be anything you want to be - now, or later, or all at the same time. No matter, it's all up to you. The moment you begin to believe that is the moment you begin to discover all your possibilities.

See you at the top!

"The simplest questions are the most profound:
Where were you born?
Where is your home?
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Think about these once in awhile, and watch your answers change."

Book Recommendations:

No comments:

Post a Comment