This question fills me with fear. Not because I sit at home doing nothing, but because I feel like anything I say will somehow not meet the expectations of the person asking me this loaded question.
“What do you do?”
In many societies across the globe, “What do you do?” implies: “What is your profession?” And not just your profession, but what you get paid to do. Because I get paid to teach English Language, the world likes to label me an English Language teacher. Because I don’t get paid to write, I cannot be a writer. Because I used to get paid to sing and play piano, I am no longer a singer or a pianist. As though these talents that I have worked on for the majority of my life become null and void.
For things like carer-roles in society, it becomes even more complicated. I helped my Father a lot when he was ill with stage four bowel cancer. No one gave me money to do it. It took up so much of my time though, was I a carer if I didn’t get an income from it?
When I tell people I’m a student, it is also an unsuccessful answer, because the ‘student’ answer implies that I am on the cusp of doing something… When I tell people I am studying literature, there are many sighs, looks of confusion, and sometimes down right disgust. When I tell people I want a career in academia, I get the side-eye.
When I tell people, I want to perform again, or write for a living these are received as empty dead wishes. Society constantly tells me over and over again, to stop the Peter Pan dreams, wake up, and go into sales (no offense for those who love a career of selling stuff…).
When my, “What do you do?” answer doesn’t fit into a nice box with one answer – teacher, lawyer, dentist, etc. – I push against the norms society tries to push on me. The rebellion can feel invigorating, but it is also exhausting to justify my existence, my passions on a daily basis. I don’t fit the box, never have. And I’m tired of being punished for it.
For those of you who have gotten to this part of the article that might be thinking “But what about those no-good ‘dreamers’ who are wasting tax payer money doing nothing?! WHAT ABOUT THEM?” I believe that everyone has to work (regardless of weather they are ‘contributing’ to the community) because our societies are built in such a way that without money we die, or live an existence on the border of life itself. Of course people have to make money, to eat, to have a house, to pursue their passion for the ukulele… But what someone does to make money, DOES NOT DEFINE THEM.
Our society has become so caught up in simple straightforward one profession responses to the question “What do you do?” that we can no longer see the beauty that comes from being more than a teacher, a bus driver, a consultant, a pharmacist, a saxophonist… While professions can often give us a compass to help navigate our identities, they are not our soul definition (pun intended). In the Renaissance, being multi-professional was encouraged. To be just one thing, one profession was not desirable. And whilst I am completely against a new cameo of the plague, would it be so bad to go back to this Renaissance idea of being more than just one thing?
So in celebration of being more than just what we do, I thought I would list some of the things I am, and some of the things I do…
Has this question ever bothered you? How do you respond when asked this question? And most importantly, what are all the things that make up what you do? As always, share the reading love.