creative answers to the big question

The hubs and I have recently removed ourselves from our comfort zone and begun to put ourselves in some new social situations.   Because we seem to be nomads by nature, meeting new people is no problem for us.  But I’ve noticed over the last few years that I’ve learned to adapt how I like to identify myself, i.e., not by my vocation.

It’s the dreaded standard question that is the follow-up after exchanging names, “So, what do you do?”  And since I am someone who does not like define who I am by my 9-5, I’ve had to come up with some creative answers.  (Who am I kidding, I’m totally that obnoxious lady who won’t give you a straight answer!)

It’s not that I don’t love my 9-5, because clearly I do, it’s just that I don’t want to be labeled and that’s really what we are doing when we ask that question.  We are essentially asking, “Where do you fit into my preconceived notions and which box will you neatly fit into?”  However, it must be said that since our profession is usually the place that we invest the most waking hours of our day, it stands to reason that it would be an important part of who we are (or at least the choices we make.)  But, if you’ve ever been without a job or between jobs or just not in the job that you want, this question can seem so… well, irritating and a little hurtful.  (I know, I’ve been there.)

So in the last few weeks as soon as someone gets to the question first, I tend to respond with a question.  It goes a little something like this:

New Person: “So Carrie, what do you do?” | Me: “When?” Just kidding (sort of!) Smiling I say, “…for business or pleasure?”

Just a simple qualifier tends to break the ice and can spark a different pattern of conversation. For most people the light immediately goes on and then they become more curious (and actually engaged) because there is an obvious difference between the two.  Sometimes I’ll answer with a sincere, “…well I wear many hats.”  This too can usually take the conversation into an unexpected direction.

On the flip side, it can be as equally difficult to not ask the question.  But we’ve come up with a few standards after names exchange.  I loved that on Saturday Brad was talking to a new-to-us-lady, and I overheard him say, “So, Addie, how do you like to spend your time?”  She smiled and said, “Well, right now, I’m really into quilting!”  I love that we probably wouldn’t have known that about her if we had just asked about her profession (which was very interesting too, but clearly not what defines her either.)

It seems that my most recent standard is “…so, are you from here? Born and raised?”  This usually opens a whole other door for people to share a bit of their story: where they’ve lived, how they landed in the 4th largest city in the country, or sometimes where they want to live and where they’re headed.

And if I get a vibe that this new potential friend will be a good conversationalist, I won’t throw such a softball, but rather say, “… so, tell me something about yourself.”  This is the mother-load of conversation starters because you have no idea what you’ll get; but I always find it fascinating to hear the response.

I can’t say that I’m always this present and intentional; usually if my INTJ personality is just worn out I will out of habit stick to the question.  (Ok, or if I’m getting the vibe that you’re a jerk and I want to validate myself for having mentally guessing your profession correctly!)  But it does take some practice (or the gentle reminder of sticking my foot in my mouth and asking someone who’s unemployed that question.) But one thing I know for sure is that folks like to talk about themselves! (Um, hello blog-world, me included!) Just give them the opportunity to be known and it’s an unending spigot of information.

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