It is such an American habit to constantly ask anyone we meet what they do for a living. It’s usually the first or second, and certainly the most often asked question at most social gatherings. But, no matter how long I live here and how American I feel, this is not a behavior that feels natural to me. Honestly, it actually feels kind of rude to immediately reduce a person I’m meeting for the first time to a mere job title. My natural tendency is to engage in an actual conversation, talk about art, culture, current events and even politics in order to get to know the person I’m spending time with. Interestingly enough, it’s considered rude to Americans to bring up topics like politics or, gosh forbid, religion! And yet, those types of topics are what people’ s true selves are made of.
My brain just doesn’t work in snippets, labels and bits of information. It likes narratives and connectivity. So I find the topic one’s job title very shallow and uninformative.
Take me, for example. If you walked up to me and simply asked me what I do for a living, and learned that I’m a lawyer, you wouldn’t know anything of any importance about the person I am. My job title tells you zilch about who I am, where I come from, how I think, what I value, what my goals are, or even what my professional aspirations are. You’ve simply found out what my profession is. And that’s not a whole lot.
For some, their profession may be all you need to know in order to know who they are. There are some people who define themselves with their job titles. But, I suspect that there are very few people in the world for whom this is the case. And if you really want to know anything of value about them, you’ve got to do a little more than, “so, what do you do? ”
Work isn’t meant to define us. It’s supposed to give us the financial ability to LIVE a full life, beyond work. Work is not the end, but the means to an end. Or, at least, it should be.
That’s why I love the French and their way of looking at work and one’s profession. It seems that the French put work lower on their list of what matters in life. For them, living is the goal not working. Work is simply necessary in order to be able to get to what actually matters: the experience and enjoyment of life. Joie de vivre! What can be healthier than that?
That’s how I choose to live, even in my very American life with my very American husband, whose opening line with everyone is, “so, what do you do? ” I refuse to reduce myself or anyone else to a job title. I want to know who they are, how they live, what they value and how they go about enjoying life. That’s how I’m made and I’m going to honor that, no matter what.
So, if we ever meet at a cocktail party, do us both a favore and start by saying something other than, “so, what do you do? ” Let’s actually talk.