How to Respond to “What do you do?”

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I never realized how many times I would have to explain my life to strangers (and sometimes family).  I am always caught off guard when faced with ‘the question.’  So, I did some brainstorming (along with a very tiny amount of research) and I’ve determined there are three possible answers for “What do you do?”:

 

Q. What do you do?

A. Of the 168 hours in a week, I spend 40-80 of them [blank]

Of course, a description of my job is the expected, but thoroughly boring, response.  Some suggestions for filling in the blank:

  • typing words, then sending them into the void
  • breathing into a phone or headset as I listen to another unproductive meeting
  • looking at many, many spreadsheets
  • sitting in a conference room/lecture hall and pretending to know what is going on

 

Q. What do you do?

A. Unimportant, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you wait…

This is my favorite because it provides the opportunity to simultaneously quote Hamilton and express ambiguous ambition.

 

Q. What do you do?

A. I’m passionate about [blank].

This is the method recommended by the Minimalists.  I suppose it is a good way to foster an interesting conversation, but what happens if I can’t say I’m passionate about anything?  Or worse, what if the only things I am passionate about are sleeping and reading so many books that I can’t even remember the specifics of the individual stories (much less their titles)?  Especially since I like both of these activities more because they allow me to escape, than because they add value to my life.

I like the idea of writing, but while wrestling ideas from my brain and onto the page, my feelings tilt towards the negative end of the spectrum.  I love animals but I am also perpetually terrified that the animals won’t like me as much as I like them (also animals are a thing, not exactly something “you do”).  I like going on walks outside, but since I weigh twice as much as I “should,” this isn’t something I want to mention to a stranger (and I’m certainly not passionate about it).  This is why my strategy is avoidance.  If I don’t leave the house, I won’t run into people who might ask any uncomfortable questions that send me into an existential crisis.  Now, I’m off to ponder what I might be passionate about…

Office Park

Work

I have been working at my current job for one year and three months (minus seven days).  In that time, I have made a few observations about corporate life.  One of my most profound observations about working in an office park can be summarized in the following Haiku:

Goose poop everywhere

On the sidewalk on the stair

I stepped in goose poo

Clutter

On January 16th, the Brumbaughs visited the Mansion on O Street.  This Museum boasts more than 70 hidden doors and a collection of more than 20,000 books and other donated items.  The museum was opulent, cluttered, and very, very interesting.  Some of the museum was beautiful, I had a lot of fun exploring it, and I admired a few of the items.  But three weeks later, all I can remember is a whole lot of junk.

The feeling of being surrounded by junk stuck with me.  When I came home, I saw a few valued items cluttered by a bunch of insignificant junk.  For the past two weeks, I have been ruthlessly removing things from my life.  The things that remain are treasured gifts from family and friends, items I have used in the last year, and mementos.  So far, I’ve only made it through my drawers and surfaces, but I already feel like I’m taking my first clear breaths in years.  It’s amazing how fast things accumulate and how little I care for most of the objects littering my spaces.

Edit: I just finished going through my clothing.  What I used to own could have clothed an army:

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My books will be the hardest items to part with, but if the O Street Museum taught me anything, it’s that things I consider junk are things that bring other people joy.  While I won’t ever consider my books junk, I am aware that many of them are not bringing value to my life.  I hope that by parting with them, I am contributing value to someone else’s.  I will mourn my books, but rejoice in the opportunities they represent for others.

Failure to Launch

You know the Matt Nathanson song, ‘Headphones’?  He sings, “Ain’t too proud to swim or drown… Ain’t too proud to sink or see it through.”  Well, if you dropped the “ain’t” this would perfectly describe me.  I am terrified of failure.

At 15 years and 9 months, I took Driver’s Ed and then got my Learner’s Permit.  The thing is, the number of mistakes someone can make while driving are astronomical.  It could be something as small as not signaling when changing lanes, or the mistake could result in someone’s death.  To make things worse, the risk of vehicle crashes is highest among 16-19 year olds.  Rather than risk causing one of these accidents, or ending up with a ticket, or even getting a dirty look or mean gesture, I postponed driving.  I avoided driving so thoroughly that my Learner’s Permit expired after a year of inactivity and I had to start all over.

There is a strong similarity between my driving reluctance and the delayed departure from my childhood home.  Taking the appropriate precautions (mainly in regards to budgeting) I could gain the freedom of living on my own, but there is the chance things wouldn’t go smoothly, so I waited to move until I felt more comfortable financially: When I thought I would have a higher chance of success.

SafeThe problem is, I doubt I will be more comfortable financially until I am in my 30s.  I had the great fortune to attend a fantastic College, studying abroad in two foreign countries over the course of a year, and then complete a Master’s degree in Environmental Resource Policy.  The result is astronomical student loans which demand almost half of my take-home pay each month.  This will continue until I am 35 (although, hopefully the proportion between the loan payment and my paycheck will decrease as time goes on).  When I justify living at home, I reference these loans, but the truth is, moving out would be less comfortable than staying at home.

Well, I’ve made the commitment to get out of my comfort zone in order to progress in my life.  I am going to spend the next several months organizing my finances and by next year, I will be launched.

Life Changing

Freedom

Yesterday, the news was all about a huge lottery jackpot that could change a lucky person’s (or several people’s) life overnight.  Of course I got caught up in the hype and bought several tickets.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning with no more financial worries?  Everyone who spoke of the lottery mused about what they’d do if they suddenly had millions of dollars, I, too, couldn’t help but imagine what I would do with a huge windfall.  I would pay off all of my family’s debt, buy a nicer car, travel extensively, force mom and dad to put solar panels on the roof, donate generously, quit my job and spend my newly acquired time exercising, practicing guitar, or writing… Regrettably, I did not win, but I did strike a jackpot.  I realized that most of my post lottery dreams are entirely achievable right now.  Granted, I still have debt and I have to keep my job, but those two things aren’t really standing in the way of my happiness, I can still do all the things I want to if I stop wasting my time and money.  I didn’t win the lottery last night, but I did wake up today to an entirely different life thanks to nothing more than a change in mindset.

Yesterday, my life involved driving two hours a day, going to work (doing an unfulfilling job), spending all of my free time escaping reality through computer games and books, and then complaining to anyone who would listen that I was unhappy with my life.

Yesterday is no more.

Today, I have a new outlook on life.  I am going to do things that make me feel fulfilled and happy.  I am going to figure out what I want from life and work towards it.  This post is my first step.  I want to engage my creativity, I want to write, so I am.  I am going to stop escaping the life I have right now and start working towards the life I want tomorrow.  Maybe one day I’ll wake up and find that my life has changed again and my work has paid off.

I bet you have a list of things you would love to be doing someday, a few of which probably don’t require winning the lottery.  Join me in reprioritizing so we can make “someday” today.