How to Respond to “What do you do?”


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…

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