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this is what i do, not who i am

Why do we have this obsession with what someone does for a living? You meet a person and it’s practically a forgone conclusion that one of your early questions will be:

“So…what do you do?”

It’s like our default setting. We can’t help it. I find myself inwardly cringing every time I do it.  Which seems to be a fair bit. I could try and blame networking meetings but I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault. Even if they are at some ungodly time of the morning.

And we make assumptions. If we’re going to be honest about it, anyway. We see someone picking up litter with one of those grippy stick things in Stevenage Town Centre, or doling out DVDs in Blockbuster or fetching your drinks order at the pub and, for some deep-seated reason, we think that that tells us everything we need to know about them; who they are; what their ambitions might be; where they are going…or not going.

The cute barman at the Waggon & Horses in Elstree, gave me a bit of a wake up call this week. They had their relaunch recently and were raising money for the Herts Air Ambulance. It’s the second time we’ve met but last time it was a flying visit (no intentional pun) to drop off balloons and banners and buckets, so I didn’t remember too much about him. Except that you probably wouldn’t beat him off with a stick and that he worked at the pub. Somehow, this time, before we got down to the cheque-hand-over-nitty-gritty, he dropped into the pleasantries that he was about to go into his fifth year of studying Law. £20,000 per year, he enlightens us. I wouldn’t even dream of making – never mind saving – that much money, but that’s what he’s doing. That’s why he’s here, working as a barman, living above the pub, saving every penny. I was impressed, won’t deny it. And he went up in my estimation. Which I’m quite ashamed to admit. But there you go. Something in our programming?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all agreed to stop asking what people do, and ask – I don’t know – “What do you like to do?”, “What are your ambitions”, “Where are you aiming for?”, “What don’t you like?”. We’d get to know each other a lot quicker without all those dirty assumptions in the way. And conversations would become instantly more enjoyable.

I mean, “I like taking photos of pretty things that I see, writing for hours on end, eating and drinking with friends. I want to publish a book, give all my friends a photo I’ve taken for a special wall in their home, live next to water and have a black eared donkey living next door. I’m aiming to travel to lots of countries, feel happy most of the time and be surrounded by people I love. I hate standing on snails, rudeness, having wet feet and currents”. How much more informative is that, than: “I’m a Charity Fundraiser and before that I was a Radio Presenter”. You’ll probably have made all sorts of assumptions (good or bad) about me just with that last bit. Can’t help yourself right? I guarantee though, that you’ll be more interested and have more of a clue about who I am from the sentences that went before. Which have nothing to do with what I do.

So try it? Next time you meet someone new, skew your question. Ask “What do you like to do?”.

I bet you’ll find it a hell of a lot more interesting. And do you know what? They probably will too.  Because that way, it will be about who they are. Not what they do.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Pj #

    Wow! So very true … Its a very British thing though — In parts of Asia people would ask you ”if you have eaten” for example…and even sadder, if you ask most of the population ”what do you like to do” they wont bloomin know!!!! Thats another issue though….
    Keep blogging – we love it!

    October 1, 2012

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