I spent the entirety of my 20’s and my 30’s in the same line of work. I started working as a receptionist at a title company in Phoenix, AZ when I was 19 and with the exception of a few minor blips I remained in the same industry for 21 years. I worked my way up to Assistant, then Escrow Officer, Manager and finally Area Manager. I was good at my job but it was never my passion, never something that I even partially enjoyed. It was all I knew and all that my experience and unique skill set qualified me to do so the longer I stayed in the industry, the harder it was to get out. After several failed attempts, I finally quit the title world for good in the summer of 2018 and a year later I can honestly tell you that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The money was great but it could never compensate for the long hours, stress and anxiety that accompanied the paycheck. I work part time now at Great Lakes Pet Memorial and also do personal assistance and errands and I feel happier than I have in my adult life. I’m not stressed out and overwhelmed, I have time to read and write and see my friends, I don’t spend an hour every evening decompressing and unloading about my awful day to my husband. Life is great, honestly. So then why have I frozen up the last couple of times someone asked me “What do you do?”
I’m not in the least bit embarrassed about the choice I made to leave the title industry or about what I’m doing now. I guess the truth is that for 20+ years I’ve had a ready and acceptable answer to that question, complete with a respectable title and assumed social standing worthy of the head-nodding appreciation of the person doing the asking. Somehow when I answer the question honestly now though, I don’t get the same reaction as I used to, as if me and my answer are no longer good enough. But good enough for who?
The truth is, when someone asks the question “what do you do?”, they’re interested in knowing more than what you spend your day doing or how you make money. They’re wondering where you fit into the social ladder and how they compare with you. They’re deciding whether you’re worth their time and attention, their respect and admiration, their disdain or their pity. We’re all guilty of it on some level, this sizing up and judgment of others as compared to ourselves. But what does someone’s job title really tell us about who they truly are? And why is that the first question we ask when we meet someone?
Very few people I know are sublimely happy and deeply fulfilled with their chosen line of work, so why do we use that as one of our first identifiers? Why are we impressed by vague but important-sounding titles when we have no idea what they really mean in terms of the actual day to day work of the title holder? I was inspired to think about these questions by this essay by the Mimimalists (give it a read, it’s fabulous). When my husband, Ron tells people that he works for a large local construction company, there’s often an automatic cloud of judgment that sets in on their face. But if he were to detail what he spends his days working on, he would say that he creates and repairs underground utilities such as water, storm drains and sewers that all of us use and rely upon every single day but rarely if ever consider. His work provides clean water and sanitation so that we can live comfortably in our homes and businesses, it keeps our roads safe and navigable in storms. Surely that is more important and prestigious than regional management of a box store, right? I sure think so.
So what do I do? I spend several days a week working with local veterinary offices and individual families to care for deceased pets. I provide comfort to those grieving the loss of their pets. I cremate pets with the utmost care and respect, I trim their fur and press their paws into clay to create keepsakes. I talk with people about their pets, I hug them tight and try to ease their pain in any way that I can. When I’m not doing that work, I also help others in the community to tackle the jobs that they have trouble getting to. I assist them with filing, organizing, running errands and many other odd jobs they need help with. The work that I do for pay is very fulfilling because I know that I am truly helping people. And there is so much more that I “do” besides what I’m paid for: I read almost constantly, I write both here on this blog and also other avenues, I watch movies-anything and everything with a special love for thought provoking documentaries, I listen to music of all kinds that inspire and move me, I listen to podcasts that teach me all sorts of new things, I ride my bike and play with my dogs and cook delicious meals and cruise around Lake Michigan in my boat and talk and laugh with my friends and family. What I do is live my life to the fullest potential that I possibly can. I experience as much of life, as many people and places and ideas as I’m able to. I listen and learn and change and evolve. I look for opportunities to meet and learn from and serve others as often as I can and I try to be the best friend possible to everyone in my life. I fall far short and make mistakes and screw up all the time, but I always get right back up and keep on trying. That’s what I do.
So, what do you do?
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2 thoughts on “What do you do?”
This is the question I dread the absolute most in any social situation. I have never been able to answer it succinctly or confidently. I just never know what to say, because most people expect the answer to involve paid employment, and if it doesn’t there is usually an awkward silence. Or they expect because I don’t work that I must have some super exciting side gig or hobby that takes up all my time. But really I’m just over here living life and quite happy about my low-key existence. A happy, fulfilled life doing things worth your time will look different for everyone. Thank you for sharing.
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