“What do you do?" Not, “who are you?” Not, “what are you all about? Whom do you love and who love’s you?” Not, “what do you stand for? What do you live for? What would you die for?” NO! Just “what do you do?” That’s the question we ask or get asked, when mingling at cocktail parties, or meeting the neighbors, or being introduced to someone for the first time.
This question is so deeply troubling, in so many ways, and here are some reasons why.
First, we are addicted to doing. We have created a society that is not only on the go, all the time, but a society that literally can’t stop (do stores really need to be open on Christmas Day?). It’s all day, every day, and if we aren’t working, aren’t burning calories, aren’t responding to emails, then something is wrong. In fact, it’s worse than that. If we aren’t double-doing, we're wasting double the time. Watching TV and planning out our day tomorrow, eating breakfast and reading the paper, having family dinner and checking our texts, having sex and….OK, maybe there’s one thing we can focus on, but that’s about it. We are simply doing-addicts so “what do you do,” is like asking, “what is your drug of choice?” Cause doing is all we know how to do.
Second, as doing is now our measurement for success, it is logical that when we are not doing we are not worthy. If we do a lot, make a lot, earn a lot then we are worth a lot. And the sad reality is that even if we have a lot of money in the bank, if we aren’t out their still doing we feel like we aren’t worth much anymore (like so many of the retired guys I know). Add up the plus’s in our “doing column,” subtract the minus’s from our “sitting around column,” and the sum total feels quite literally like our net worth.
And lastly, and the worst part of all - we have confused who we are with what we do. In the words of Wayne Dyer, we are no longer human beings, rather we have become human doings. That is why we so readily respond to that question, “what do you do?” by sharing our job title. “I am a lawyer, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom."
However, we are so much more than our job title. How we pay the bills is a mere fraction of what we do, no matter how important it might be.
So the next time you are asked this question try on some of these alternatives for size:
I am a mother who brought three beautiful souls into this world to nurture them, protect them and instill within them a sense of character, love and self-worth beyond the sum total of their financial net-worth.
I am a father who adores his wife, and demonstrates it day in and day out by being faithful to her, providing for her and bringing her the best of what I have to offer.
I am a daughter who serves her parents dutifully, a brother who tends to his siblings fulfilling the promise I made to my deceased parents. I am an aunt who lovingly tends to my nieces now that my sister is gone. I am a grandparent who showers her grandchildren with love.
I am a devout Christian serving my Creator through tithing my money, or an observant Jew fulfilling the charge to fix a broken world. I am a Yogi, who shows up on her mat every day, or a Buddhist who is working through my struggles through meditation, or a recovering addict battling back his demons and sober four years and sevteen days.
As long as we’re not interested in making friends with a person who wants to reduce the entirety of our being to our job, why stop there? Let’s unleash the hobbies and passions while we’re at it too.
I am a baseball card collector, I am abridge player extraordinaire. I am biker, a surfer, a jogger, a Fanilow (don’t ask), a Richard Simmons groupie (no way there’s such a thing), an amateur comedian, a 80’s Hair Band aficionado (don’t poke fun) or a lover of fine coffee, fine scotch or fine wine.
Or how about throwing down a bit more of our poetic side? I am a dreamer of dreams. I am a lover of life. I am an artist of spirit, the world is my canvas, my soul is my paint brush and my passion is my paint (whatever the hell that means).
The list goes on. The point is clear. You are more than your job. You are more than all of your activities. You are more than the sum total of what you do, no matter how worthy your passion for “Sweatin To The Oldies" with might be. Those are all pieces of you (I might keep some of those things to myself if I were you), but they are not you (see my last blog).
You are here for all of those reasons and more. You will be you with or without them. You will be you regardless of that one fill in the blank. And make no mistake about it, your net worth is off the charts regardless of how much you make.
So the next time some poor schlub makes the mistake and asks you what you do, smile wide, remember this blog, and say, "pull up a chair, I'm glad you asked. You ever heard of Richard Simons? No? Well man do I have something to share with you.”