I dream of a day when, in response to the question “What do you do?”, people have such replies as:
I build model airplanes, study ancient civilizations, and take long walks every day with my partner. Oh, you mean how do I make money? I’m an accountant.
I tend to my huge backyard vegetable garden and write novellas. And to pay the bills I am also an x-ray technician.
I salsa dance, run marathons, and am learning to cook Indian food. I also work as a public defender.
In the west, we’ve become so obsessed with figuring out how to categorize and classify people, that we need to know RIGHT AWAY what someone does for work. So, this is often one of the first questions out of our mouths when meeting someone for the first time. The answer will help us to know how much money they make, how educated they are, and how we are “supposed” to interact with them (i.e. how they are expecting to be treated). Informative? Perhaps. Helpful? Not as much.
Responding in the ways offered above, by describing the things we do that we enjoy, that bring us pleasure and challenge, that we have chosen to commit time to regularly, we are presenting a much fuller picture of our lives and our selves. And this would lead to much deeper conversation about the things that matter.
Of course, there are people who do work that actually encompasses the activities and interests about which they are most passionate. And this is really the dream, isn’t it? But even in these cases, I do not think that telling someone one’s job title alone provides a sufficient picture of who they are. You’re a financial planner and you absolutely love going to work every single day? Terrific. But this is still just one component of how you spend your time. How different our interactions with one another would be if we didn’t stop at finding out how someone earns a paycheck, and quit assuming that we know who someone is based on their job title. Perhaps a better question might be:
“So, how do you spend your time?”