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When People Ask Me What I “Do” May 7, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Less IS More, Mindfulness, People.

Woodstock-&-Snoopy3When people ask me what I do . . . it’s often because  they want to put me in a box, with a label affixed to my forehead for ready classification.

It’s convenient for them to know whether I am (or have been)  Doctor,  Lawyer, or Indian Chief.

Occupation gives them a frame of reference.

Since I’m not one thing . . . or another . . . I tend to sidestep their attempts to categorize me . . . to pin me down . . . as if I were a Monarch Butterfly destined to be netted and caged by their expectations.

People have so many roles in life, associating oneself (or others) with any one label, while ignoring the rest, makes little sense.

Among other things, I am (or have been):  writer, musician, painter, blogger, published author, yoga enthusiast, artist, grant writer, guitar player, songwriter, vegetarian, environmentalist, poet, actress, attorney, editor, movie goer, baby boomer, pet owner,  activist, consumer . . . and the list goes on. 

I am also an  a-social, a-political, spiritual introvert, who is occasionally the life of the party.  I have been both student and teacher, leader and follower, director and directed.  

I have never been an Olympic gold medalist. 

The roles I have “played” have little to do with  the totality of who I am at this moment.

They are just labels, which do not define the essence of ”me,” nor are they written on my forehead with indelible ink. 

I don’t have to wear labels just because it’s  “convenient” for them.

I can just be ME . . . with all that entails.
And so can you.

We are not the labels we wear.

Aah . . . that’s better!


1. Maggie - May 7, 2012

I hate that question because they will undoubtedly judge you for what you say (or don’t say) that you are. The question only simplifies a much larger question… “who are you?”

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Yes . . . often it is asked so they can do some quick “math” and judge us by our response. Since I don’t much care what people like that think of me, I sidestep with:

Oh, what do I do?

* As little as possible.
* I go with the flow.
* I embrace uncertainty.
* I allow the path to unfold before me.
* Hmm, these days, I’m more about BEing than DOing.

Then I judge THEM by their reaction. 😉

2. William D'Andrea - May 7, 2012

I always hated that question, because I usually had low paying, unskilled jobs that I didn’t want, doing work I didn’t like. I was embarrassed to tell people about it.

Now I’ve reached retirement age. I tell people that I collect social security payments, food stamp credits and Medicare pays for my doctor’s services. Nobody thinks there’s anything wrong with that.

Now that I’ve published two books, I can honestly say that I am a professional writer, and that is an occupation that people look up to. However, so far only one copy of each has been sold, and that’s given me a sense that I’ve failed again as always. On the other hand, things may always improve, so I’m just continuing to live frugally, while waiting patiently.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Two articles you might be interested in:

* How To Promote Your Book For FREE! http://nancycurteman.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/how-to-promote-your-book-for-free/

* How To Write A Press Release For Your Novel http://nancycurteman.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/how-to-write-a-press-release-for-your-mystery-novel/

William D'Andrea - May 7, 2012

Thank you Nancy. I’ll give them both a look.

clarbojahn - May 7, 2012

Here is a link of a month of Marketing for free. I Found it in my inbox from an angel who knew I was overwhelmed with it. Here is something you can do every day for free. http://www.mridukhullar.com/journal/category/marketing/

good luck

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Thanks, Clar! Many writers become frustrated BEFORE publication by not being “published” . . . and once published, they are frustrated by the need to market their words.

Karen - May 10, 2012

Hey, William~
How about linking to your books (both an ‘About’ page and a ‘Buy Now’ page) *here* – and elsewhere when you leave a comment? It can be in the body-copy, or in your sig-line – “name ’em and claim ’em” – and give us a chance to check ’em out… ya never know when you’ll get a chance to bump those numbers!

nrhatch - May 10, 2012

Good advice.

William D'Andrea - May 14, 2012

Very well. Here I go again.

1. “We the People Are Good to Eat”

“In a fatally overpopulated future Earth, all that the people have to eat is each other and they thank God for every meal.”


2. “A Gatored Community”

“Pearl thieves and environmental terrorists attack a pearl farm, where an alligator is used for security”


3. Andra Watkins - May 7, 2012

The comfort that others draw from labels has always amazed me.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Both in the giving and the receiving. 😀

I see folks filled with angst as they desperately attempt to define themselves in ways that others will understand and comprehend.

When, of course, what “they” think matters naught.

4. Crowing Crone Joss - May 7, 2012

this reminds me of Oriah’s poem The Invitation.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Don’t know it. Can you hum a few bars? 😉

Crowing Crone Joss - May 7, 2012

heh heh. The Invitation poem is on left hand of site

I have a copy framed here and often stop to read it.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Thanks, Joss! I’ve been running from cyber-portal to cyber-portal all morning and was feeling a bit L~A~Z~Y!

Thanks for the link.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Loved it! Especially:

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.

5. spilledinkguy - May 7, 2012

Very interesting…
and true, I think. Seems like that’s one of the first questions people ask when they first meet… strange in a way.

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

When young children meet each other for the first time, they tend NOT to use “what do you do?” as a conversation starter.

We should emulate their lead. 😀

6. terry1954 - May 7, 2012

this is good. when people ask me what i do, i shy away, because i do not have a title or a glamorous job. i am my brother’s care giver, but in this two words, it is filled with my experience and new education

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

And that’s just IT . . . we don’t need a title or a “glamorous job” to be worth knowing.

The sooner we (collectively) stop asking (and answering) this incredibly INANE question, the sooner we’ll start to communicate about things that really “make us tick” and click.

Like . . .
What’s the last time you laughed so hard you couldn’t breathe?

7. Richard W Scott - May 7, 2012

Some people, when you ask them who they are, fish out a business card and hand it to you.

If who you are is what you do, then, when you don’t, who are you?

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

That is the quote I should have pasted on the bottom of this post. Thanks, Rik!

8. suzicate - May 7, 2012

😦 I’m not an Olympic Gold Medalist either!

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Yup . . . and it’s safe to assume that that boat has sailed.

Except maybe for Curling ~ lots of over weight and out of shape folks seem to excel at pushing brooms across the ice . . . while drinking beer and wine between sets!

Wanna join my team?

suzicate - May 7, 2012

That kind of exercise actually sounds like fun…I’m in!

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Great! We’ve got two years to “train” for the Winter Olympics.

In the meantime . . . more wine? 😉

9. sufilight - May 7, 2012

When I first moved to Oregon 7 years ago, a local resident asked me, so what do you do, do your work? I said, I have an online business and he had a blank look on his face. LOL. I assume he expected me to say I work for a company or give him a title. Nowadays, I too am free from labels and it’s so freeing, I am also BEing. 🙂

BTW, thanks for the links on book promotion. Will check it out. 😉

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Turning off the label makers is freeing.

Hope you get some good ideas from Nancy . . . both in the post and the comments.

10. souldipper - May 7, 2012

I just had an “aha” moment. Is this why some people love citing the brand names on the labels of their purchases?

Do designers make the person? OMIGOD! I’ve missed the point all these years.

When someone asks me if my shoes are Gucchine Mahvinellis, I’ve just said, “No, they’re mine.”

No wonder the conversation ends abruptly!! ;D

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Ah, yes . . . the consumeristic desire to gain status (and bolster fragile egos) by relying on the labels of designers.

What someone WEARS never impresses me . . . although fashion statements have been know to depress me. 😀

11. Jackie L. Robinson - May 7, 2012

How I love this post! I, too am so tired of that question – what do you DO? As if who I AM inside is not enough, I have to have a list of where I’ve been, what I’ve accomplished, how I’ve lived my life and what I can offer to YOU in this moment in order for you to recognize and accept me. Ok, I’m ranting.

You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one, Nancy. I am me. I DO me. That’s enough. And yet, there are still moments I’m caught off guard by the question, the timing, the phrasing and have to compose my interior self quickly enough to respond with truth.

Thank you for the conversation. ‘Got me’ with this one! xo

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Maybe we can reverse the trend by saying:

“What do I do? . . . Lots of things. Why do you ask?” 😀

12. SidevieW - May 7, 2012

aha, so you are a human, and maybe even an Olympian, though not a gold medal winner

Actually I’m looking forward to June, catching up daily on what has happened, the joys and sorrows, the achievements and stories that go on with everyone who makes it there to represent their country

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

I love watching the Summer Olympics . . . gymnastics especially.

SidevieW - May 7, 2012

Me too

13. Piglet in Portugal - May 7, 2012

When we were younger and moved to a new area we joined a dinner party circle. Bad move. The first question was always “and what do you do?” grrrrr my husband was in recycling but he told eveyone he was a rag and bone man (scrap metal) and was a gangster in the East End of London. It was his party piece as he watched their faces turn to horror and discomfort LOL 🙂

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Bwahaha! I’m going to do that NEXT time. I shall be outrageous and flamboyant in my response. 😀

14. 2e0mca - May 7, 2012

LoL Nancy – When my manager asks me what I do i just say… Isn’t knowing that part of your job description 😉

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Bwahahaha! That’s perfect, Martin.

15. Lisa Wields Words - May 7, 2012

And yet another time where my only response to this can be a resounding AMEN!

Lisa Wields Words - May 7, 2012

I am just making an extra comment because for some reason lately, the box notifying me of follow-up comments checks itself, and then I am inundated with e-mails. The only way to fix it is to comment again, I think. Feel free to delete this one. 😉

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

There is another way:

Dashboard -> Blogs I Follow -> Comments . . . unsubscribe to any posts you no longer want to see in your in-box.

16. katecrimmins - May 7, 2012

I always thought people asked that question in case I could be useful to them. You know….I am a doctor….Oh, let me show you my booboo! That sort of thing!

nrhatch - May 7, 2012

Wait! What?! You think that people ask this for “selfish” reasons? Because they want to know what YOU can do for THEM some day?

I expect you are absolutely 100% correct. 😀

17. Jas - May 8, 2012

Loved the conclusion… I can just be ME….

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Yes. You can be the biwi with pom poms! 😀

Jas - May 8, 2012

ha ha :-))

18. Three Well Beings - May 8, 2012

Very well stated, Nancy. I really agree with you. I don’t mind talking about roles I play if the conversation is connected to why I am passionate about something or very involved, but I have no interest in trying to change another person’s perspective of me by rolling out credentials. I love to share ideas, and have much less interest in roles that someone else will use as a label. I don’t want to get in that box either! Debra

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Yes! Just like with stocks and bonds, past returns (historical accomplishments) are not a predictor of future returns.

Some people are “has dones” who want to keep raking in accolades and applause for past efforts . . . puffed chests and all. I prefer to following my passions to see where they might lead.

19. Victoria-writes - May 8, 2012

Well said, Nancy. Just be you!

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

I shall just be as I let it be. Aah . . . that’s better. 😀

20. sweetdaysundertheoaks - May 8, 2012

That never really bothered me when people asked that, about what I did. Now it’s easy~retired. Bothers me when people asked about my kids, I say none and they say “Why not?”. That bothers me.

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Yes. There is an unwritten expectation that “growing up” means getting married and having kids. If we don’t follow that socially sanctioned prescribed path, certain “sheep tenders” feel they have a right to question our choices by looking at us askance while bleating out WHYs and WHY NOTs.

We don’t have to answer them. Baaaa . . . .

21. jannatwrites - May 8, 2012

I like this post. I can tell you I’m not a professional bowler. (My high score on Sunday was a 72 – with bumpers 🙂

I don’t give my job title because it prompts another question because no one knows what that is, so I start out vague. Further inquires are met with shorter answers so it usually doesn’t go very far. Maybe I should just tell them I “live, laugh and love.”

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Join Suzi and me on our Curling team . . . we drink wine and eat chocolates to train! 😀

Sometimes “what we DO” is a “conversation starter” . . . other times, it’s a conversation ender.

22. Tammy - May 8, 2012

So true Nancy and I really like you as you are.

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Thanks, Tammy! Right back atcha! And I say that because of what I’ve learned about your thoughts on food, and travel, and diversity, etc. . . . not because of any titles you’ve held. 😀

23. William D'Andrea - May 8, 2012

If you don’t want to tell people what you do, maybe you should begin the conversation by asking, “What do you think about…Something in the News, or anything else going on that people find interesting.” I’ve found that to be much friendlier, than any personal questions, and no one is uncomfortable when it comes to expressing his or her political opinions.

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Oh, I never have a problem turning conversations in a more pleasing (to me) direction. But I wonder why it’s so often the FIRST thing people ask. Probably just habit.

24. Sandra Bell Kirchman - May 8, 2012

I do think that some people ask the question to be polite. It’s better than commenting on the weather…again.

However, I also believe that most people are trying to flick you into the right slot so they are more comfortable knowing “who you are.” I have been and done so many things that, when I am asked the question, I am paralyzed, as too many things crowd to me mouth all begging to be let out at once. I usually finally say something like, “Oh, everything under the sun and then some. How about you?”

That’s what I usually do. When I’m in a bad mood, however, I sometimes tell them that I am the marketing arm of a white slave trade investment opportunity and are they interested in investing. They quickly drift away.

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

Bwahaha! I love some of these creative answers . . . “white slave trade investment opportunity.” 😆

Some people may ask because they feel it’s “expected” of them to make the standard inquiry. And some may not even LISTEN to the answer.

Sandra Bell Kirchman - May 8, 2012

Imagine an ensuing conversation.

Joe: Did you hear what that woman said her occupation was?

Marsha: Yeah an investment trader, I think. She seems like an awfully nice person.

Joe: *meep*


nrhatch - May 8, 2012

That’s hysterical! 😀

25. Paula Tohline Calhoun - May 8, 2012

I think it is very fortunate not to be what I do. . .otherwise there are times when I could be called “Professional Toilet Sitter,” (to put it politely), or “Professional Insomniac.” (I rather like that one – think I’ll use it! – Might as well make some lemonade out of that sour fruit.) I.E., Don’t just be an ordinary Insomniac – get your Professional Insomniac Credentials! Impress your friends and neighbors! I can imagine it all now. I hope somebody asks me soon what it is I do. I’ll say, “I don’t sleep for a living.” To which they reply, “Well, I didn’t imagine that you did, but what IS it that you do?” I’ll answer, “I DON’T sleep! I’m a professional NON-Sleeper!” I want to watch the look on their face as I walk away. . . (but I’ll have to get some eyes in the back of my head).

Now, where was I? Oh yes – We are complex beings capable of doing many things, but capable of being only one thing, and that is to be who we are. As many have said over the years, “You might as well be yourself – all the others are taken.” Cheers, my friend! 😆

nrhatch - May 8, 2012

BeeBlu did a lovely poem about the beauty of insomnia. Right up your alley, PTC. And it had a gorgeous video to demonstrate a night in the life of a Professional Insomniac/Videographer. 😀

Here’s the link:

bluebee - May 9, 2012

I just saw this linky – thanks 😀

nrhatch - May 9, 2012

You’re welcome. I thought Paula, a Professional Insomniac and Poet, would enjoy it tremendously. 😀

Paula Tohline Calhoun - May 9, 2012

Thanks for the recommendation! I love it – and that video is amazing!

26. bluebee - May 9, 2012

I saw somewhere recently (might have been here on your blog, Nancy) that a better question to ask if you want to try and establish some common ground (which is often why people ask THAT question) is – what are you passionate about? Then it’s not so narrow

nrhatch - May 9, 2012

It might have been, BB, We skirted the issue here:

I see our obsession with the “what do you do” question as an on-going effort to define, judge, capture, encapsulate, and label each other. It NARROWS our focus to one facet of life rather than EXPANDING it to encompass the totality of who we are.

27. Booksphotographsandartwork - May 9, 2012

Oh I hate that question! Since I do “nothing” in the sense that they mean. Now if I was a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief I would glad to say so.

nrhatch - May 9, 2012

As soon as a neighbor of my mom found out I had stopped practicing law, without starting a new job, she gleefully gave me a new label . . . “housewife.” 😀

Karen - May 10, 2012


nrhatch - May 10, 2012

I know, right? I wish you could have seen her face . . . as she gleefully STUFFED me into the BOX of HER choosing.

Then she cackled. Like a witch. Or a bitch. I’m not sure which. 😆

Karen - May 10, 2012

I hope she was kidding – *and* recognizing just how gross that label really is!

Sandra Bell Kirchman - May 10, 2012

How about witch bitch? Purveyor of pointless opinions? Floozie with the Floy Floy (no, I’m not really THAT old – just observant lol)

nrhatch - May 10, 2012

Her rush to label me said more about her than it did about me. I smiled and said something along the lines of, “You think I’m married to my house? Poor house. I don’t even know how to use a vacuum cleaner” 😀

28. Karen - May 10, 2012

Love all of these! I’m currently “writing myself a check from life insurance proceeds” – but that’s not going to last much longer.
Thanks for the delightful conversation about “do” vs. “be” – I love your people, Nancy!

Bright Blessings ~ Karen J

nrhatch - May 10, 2012

Thanks, Karen. It’s quite a FUN group, eh?

Enjoy your “freedom” while it lasts.

29. wightrabbit - May 11, 2012

Your list has got me thinking, Nancy, I’m going to write one of my own – just for fun. I used to ‘be’ a manager in Social Housing and have the pieces of paper to prove how highly qualified I am for that role. But I gave it up to be a part-time cleaner – and that gives me so much freedom. Others, not knowing my background, don’t expect anything from me – as long as I clear up the mess! 🙂

nrhatch - May 11, 2012

It’s nice, isn’t it? Only meeting our own expectations instead of trying to satisfy all the others we encounter on a daily basis.

30. eof737 - May 13, 2012

I dance away from it and say something like, I am a lady of comfort and bliss… and on. 🙂

nrhatch - May 13, 2012

Excellent approach!

eof737 - May 13, 2012

Right, and then I think to myself… I wish, if only! 😆

31. cuhome - May 15, 2012

My avocations or vocations are just what I do, not who I am.

nrhatch - May 15, 2012

David (Raptitude) wrote an interesting post today reminding people that what they do, not who they are, determines where they’ll end up. He emphasized that when we change what we do . . . we change who we are.

cuhome - May 15, 2012

And, I think I see it most oppositely . . . I Am is “me”. My title or occupation is just what I do. Perhaps it’s just semantics? But the I Am remains, no matter what we do as an occupation. 🙂

nrhatch - May 15, 2012

As an example, he avoided dancing . . . because he wasn’t a “dancer.” By challenging himself to dance, he became a “dancer.” Same with singing, writing, cooking, playing the piano . . . it is in the DOING that we become.

But I agree with you . . . we are not the labels we wear. 😀

32. CMSmith - May 16, 2012

This was a particularly difficult question for me when I first quit work to stay home full time with our first son. In the eyes of the professionals I really wasn’t doing anything. I’m okay with it all now. Life is too short to worry about it. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to spend the time with my kids.

You weren’t an Olympic medalist? Now I’m really disillusioned.

nrhatch - May 16, 2012

I actually liked being asked this question right after I stopped practicing law . . . I would grin from ear to ear and say, “I’m a recovering attorney!”

I am sorry that your illusions have been shattered by my confession, Christine. Suzi and I hope our Curling Team will medal in the next winter olympics. 😉

CMSmith - May 16, 2012

I’ll be sure to watch.

nrhatch - May 16, 2012

Let us know if you want to join the team. 😀

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