‘So, what do you do?’ is a question that most of us have been asked at one point or another. It is a question that can ignite dread, pride, or a strange mixture of the two. It is hard to know what to say, and often I just want to shout, ‘honestly no idea mate’ and run away.
So, why does this question tend to fill us with so much dread? For me, this question is unnerving because it invites judgement, and it makes me worry about what the other person will think of my response. Will they think that what I do isn’t good enough, and will they judge my poor life choices and lack of intellect? Will they think that I’m lazy? What if they unconditionally hate everybody who does the job that I do?
These are normal worries to have, because it’s completely natural to want other people to like us. However, this question can be really damaging, and it can lower our self-esteem. We often complain about our society because it sets unrealistic beauty standards and places a lot of importance on our appearance, or how much we weigh. But society can also influence the way we think about our careers and achievements, and it can make us worry that we won’t measure up to our peers.
This is silly though – because you are worth so much more than what you do for a living. You might be a friend, football enthusiast, book-worm, baker, carer, or artist. You are your personality, hobbies, qualities, quirks and talents, and so many other different things. You are worth MUCH more than your career.
Regardless of this, people still seem to love this question, and this is often because they are simply curious, or trying to make small talk. They probably didn’t intend to make us feel uncomfortable by asking about our job. When approached with this question, it can help to remember that you can choose how you answer it, and you can shape your answer in any way that you like. You don’t owe anybody details or a full explanation, and somebody who judges you based on your career alone might not be the best friend to have anyway! You don’t even have to tell them about your job role – you can always answer the question by telling them that you’re an artist or musician instead, and then talk about your hobbies for a while. You are still an artist, writer or musician if you make music or art, regardless of whether you have made money from it or not. Your job is not the only component of your identity.
Judging our self-worth and sense of self based on a few tiny aspects can be unhelpful for our mental health, because we are worth more than our grades, career, and qualifications. Often these are just numbers on a piece of paper. Having a career and being successful is wonderful, but there are other things in life that matter too. You are more than ‘what you do’, you are free to construct your own identity, and you can choose what defines you. You are not what you do for a living, you are a life!