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Stop Telling Everyone What You Do for a Living

Posted by George Parker on

What do you do for a living?

How common is this the first question asked when meeting new people? A Wall Street Journal article explores this topic in depth. One lady shares a story of ziplining in the jungle and being asked that question. Of all places!

There is nothing inherently wrong with asking someone what they do for a living. For most of us, it has become the opening salvo to initiate a banal conversation with new acquaintances. We could stop asking the question, but that will not prevent others from asking us. What if there was a more exciting answer to the “What do you do” question that led to more engagement?

Many years ago, I took a weeklong trip to Scotland before starting graduate school with a group of my new classmates. We met for the first time at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. There was one essential rule for the trip: no one could talk about what they did professionally before coming to business school. At that stage of our lives, not talking about what we did professionally was not easy to do. The conversation was awkward initially, but eventually, unfettered by our attachment to our professional personas, a deeper and more fulfilling conversation occurred. On the final night of our trip, we came together in a jovial “What do you do for a living” ceremony. One by one, we would stand in front of the group, fielding guesses from the others – not-so-new acquittances who knew so much about our lives except what we did for a living.

Is there a way to answer this socially ubiquitous question in a way that makes for better conversation for all?

“Hi, I am George. I am a passionate runner balancing time with my wife and two boys. I’m currently training for the Grandma’s marathon in June – we’ll see how that goes! This past weekend, I planted a micro-farm, something I have not since living in Ohio before moving to Georgia. In my day job, I run a business dedicated to helping runners chase their running goals.”

How do you spend your days?

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