Why we should stop asking people what they do

In less than three months I’ll be swapping in my home country for another. It’s an exciting next step that I feel comes at exactly the right time: I’ve graduated, am not completely anchored to a job and most of all, ready for a change  after living in the Netherlands for 22 years.

“Yay, London, that’s great! Already know whereabouts?”

“Nah, I’ll see”, I shrug, completely unfazed.

“Have you found a job yet?

“No I haven’t”

“Oh, but you must have something in mind that you want to be doing there, right?”

I answer with another negative, now feeling slightly self-conscious.

Having had the same talk with friends, colleagues and family over the past months, I’ve noticed this pattern occurring dozens of times. And it makes sense, because I’m obviously not going to be sitting on a bench staring at the Big Ben for the rest of my life. They want to know what I’ll be spending my time on.

Here’s what we seem to be forgetting:

A week, last time I checked, consisted of 168 hours.

A work-week, averages 36-40 hours.

“What do you do?” is probably the most frequently  asked question (excluding all weird Google searches) out there. For a question that ambiguous, we probably all have a carefully prepared answer that we are able to recite as effortlessly as the Pokemon theme song.

“I’m a manager at a local electronics store”

“I’m a student at X University, studying North-American History”

“I’m currently unemployed”

Congratulations, you have just learned how random person at houseparty A,B, and C, spend 23.8% of their time! Maybe you now have an indication of their monthly paycheck, if that matters to you.


Do I sound a little salty? Maybe, but what I’m trying to point out is that you’ll discover surprisingly little about that person, while at the same time pigeonholing them into a degree, or job title. I’m a social media marketeer 23.8% of the time, but in my spare time, I stay to stay away from Facebook and Instagram as much as possible. I don’t like talking about algorithms, influencers and Mark Zuckerberg in my free time.

Mini challenge: Next time you’re at a party and meet something new, and they ask you what you do, try and give them a honest answer (of course, only share what you want to share).

I’ll go first: I work as a (see how I didn’t say I am?) social media marketer for a small tech startup, I run and do yoga a couple times a week, and I love putting words down on paper in any way, shape, or form.

Some would be delighted to answer that question for you, however, raving on about their job, their challenges and projects. These people are either truly passionate about what they do (in their 23.8% space) or also associate their job with whatever they do in their free time. If you consider yourself part of this group, you’re lucky, because not everyone feels this way.  There definitely is a certain privilege in doing what you love

Regardless, isn’t it way more fun to talk about what you do and who you are in your free time? The time we all seem to enjoy most out of the week? Of course, talking about your job is not a taboo, a detail in our life that we must try and bury! Just know that you are so much more than that, and so are others.

Doing what you love goes beyond our 40-hour work week, so let’s focus on that.

Mini-challenge: At that same party, try to find the one thing that make their eyes sparkle with joy and excitement. Is it a book they recently read? Their pet guinea pig? Crossfit? Collecting stamps? Salt & Vinegar crisps?

By (literally) changing the conversation, we get rid of the idea that our job is the singular most important in our daily lives, and we focus on the things that give us pleasure, rather than what gives us stress.


So, what do you do?

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