So, What Do You Do?

December 22, 2014
This is what happens to my brain when you ask, "what do you do?"

I need help. I have no elevator speech. The question I dread most in the world right now is any variation of “what do you do?” I’ve always hated it, even if I understand its usefulness as conversational shorthand. What someone does for a living only rarely tells you much of anything about them. That was certainly the case for me, particularly in the job I left in July. I never knew quite how to explain what I did, and part of that came from not feeling terribly excited about it.  I usually just said “I work in IT at Target.”

Only on rare occasions did I have to get more specific when someone interested in either technology or Target would want to know if I worked on something cool like the website or the Cartwheel app. People didn’t realize, and they certainly didn’t mean anything negative by it. But in those sad instances I had to get more specific and say, “nope, I do process improvement.”

On the bright side, it’s a great way to change the subject in a conversation. Nobody wants to hear more about IT process improvement.

My reason for disliking the question has changed since my writing experiment began. Now I worry about being asked what I do because I do care about it, but I don’t quite know how to explain it in a way that captures where I am in the process. I lack the confidence to just say “I’m a writer.” That seems to imply someone has paid you for it, which to date remains untrue in my case. On the other hand, I don’t like ending up in a rambling, half-apology for what I’m doing just because I don’t know how to explain it in thirty seconds.

To be fair, I’ve gotten better at this, but it still takes me longer to get to the point than I’d like. I guess I’m not into the whole brevity thing. I end up saying I recently left my job to pursue a career as a writer. That part works okay, but unlike IT process improvement, people actually want to know more. “What kind of writer?” they ask. And that’s the part where the wheels start to come off.

“Uh, well, fiction mainly. But other stuff interests me, too. My brother does travel writing. So that maybe. Uh, I don’t know. I’m kinda figuring it out. We’ll see. It’s fun. I’m not sure where it’ll go, but I’m enjoying the process. Hey, where are you going? Oh, the bathroom and then to get a snack and then to hide from me? Got it. Well, enjoy the party. Thanks. I’ll be over here self-flagellating about how I made this conversation awkward. Toodles!”

So yeah, still figuring that out. I need an elevator speech so I can be fun at parties again. I am making the assumption that I was, at some point, fun at parties. I have no evidence to support this, but fortunately I do not have much to refute it either. Finishing a novel draft should help. Then I can say, “I wrote a book! When I finish revising it, you should buy it.” Yeah, that would help. I should probably go work on that…

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