The Problem With Work

Maze by James Jean
Maze by James Jean
Work sucks. I'm sure if we all had the choice of kicking back on the beach or going into the office, 99 out of 100 people would choose a day in the sun. That other guy that choose the office probably has a fear of sharks or something.

If we didn't have to work then most of us would probably choose not to. But it's a necessary part of life, and I do respect the process of it all. I mean, if you didn't have to work for things then you probably wouldn't appreciate the results as much. For example, do you think that a high school kid that worked hard to buy a car, or a kid that was given a car from their parents will take better care of their vehicle? My guess is the kid that worked for it will appreciate the sacrifice that went into it.

While I see nothing wrong with work itself, I do see a problem with how society perceives people because of their work.

"What do you do?"

It's a pretty common question when you are just meeting someone for the first time, and almost every time the answer will be related to that person's job. But it's such an open ended question - so why do we always respond with what we do for work? Well... Because society has imprinted within us the need to define ourselves by our jobs.

"I'm a veterinarian." For many people that conjures the idea that this person is a caring, compassionate person.

"I'm a landlord." - Oh you must be the scum sucking, money grubbing, grime of the earth.

"I'm an software engineer." - Sweet! Can you fix my computer?

As soon as someone states their profession most people immediately make some sort of judgments about that person, either good or bad. I know I do. If someone tells me that they are a nanny then I immediately think that they must be a very patient person to be able to work with children all day.

But why do we let our professions define us? Some people go into careers that they are passionate about and that's great. But many people just end up doing what they are good at, even if it isn't something that they weren't truly passionate about in the first place. I first got into my profession because I liked the idea of robots and artificial intelligence (I wanted a robot army), but once I took classes on them and discovered it wasn't what I wanted to do. I realized I was already deep into my major at college and nothing transferred so I just stuck with it since I didn't know what else I wanted to do. Now I'm a software engineer and while I'm not passionate about my job, I do find aspects of it that I do enjoy from time to time. I like the puzzles of finally making bits of code work as expected or the flexibility that my job provides. But this doesn't define me at all, this is just learning to appreciate what I ended up doing.

What's wrong with this question?

Besides for being a quick way to stereotype a person into certain characteristics, there's something else that seems intrusive to this question. You might not be asking it flat out but if you know what someone does for a living then you get glimpses at answers to other questions such as, how much money do you make? How educated are you? Where do I stand compared to you in socioeconomic status? Are you rich? Will you be one day?

These are all things that most people think are rude to ask. Some couples don't even ask their partners these questions until after they are married because they are such taboo topics. So why do we ask the first probing question to begin with? My guess is that people ask because it is giving us glances into all of those socially unacceptable questions while still seeming like a perfectly innocent question. And the only reason this question has any significance is because we let work dictate our lives. Most people spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at their jobs, and that doesn't count all the time getting ready for and travelling to and from work. Most days we spend more waking hours revolving around work than we do on anything else.

To me the problem is the answer, why do we focus so much on work? Society has us so focused on job titles that make us want to sound important, to impress people we haven't even met yet, that we forget that our jobs weren't really even our passion in the first place.

I know that my job certainly does not define me. I'm a traveler, an animal lover, a weirdo, an artist with attachment issues, and so many other things before I get to my job.

To me, my job is simply a place that I go to trade my time and services for money, it does not define me at all. I actually despise conversations that revolve around computer languages, coding or anyone that mentions an "app" they want to build.


Illusions Michael, tricks are something whores do for money... or cocaine.

And by the way, no I can't fix your computer, I still don't really know how to operate a smart phone. But I can write accounting software or even build you a clinical trial for your new pharmaceutical drug if you needed it.

18 comments:

  1. I definitely think that "what do you do" is a pretty loaded question. I remember meeting new people and telling them that "I'm a stay at home mom". It was what I did. But it didn't answer those unacceptable social questions. So, there would be an immediate follow-up question of: "what did you do before?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CheapMom,

      Interesting, I wonder why people cared about what you did before? Personally I would be more interested in the answer to a question like, "what do you do for fun?"

      I know that I've asked the whole "what do you do?" question before and gotten calculated answers. When someone is between jobs it can immediately make the conversation a little awkward. I've also been asked that question when I was unemployed so I usually steer the conversation into "here's some of the cool shit I've done with my time off, I've traveled here and there...."

      -Zee

      Delete
  2. This is so true, I think it's been ingrained in our society that your job tells a lot about you and defines who you are when actually as an individual you are much more than that. Nevertheless, I'm also guilty of it sometimes though, it seems like a bit of a habit when meeting new person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's pretty normal to ask that. I just think it's a shame that people put so much focus on work. I mean, it's a very open ended question and we can answer it however we want really, it's just that we choose to focus on the work aspect of it all.

      Delete
  3. The thing is, the "what do you do?" question is quite a 'safe' one to ask, without getting too personal. "What do you like to do in your spare time?" is usually after that first question but after you've decided you actually want to know that person a little better because as you say, it's far more interesting!

    A worse question could be "Do you have children?" Ok, for young folk, this might not be a common question but for women (and men) over the age of 30, this is a common question that is asked and is quite personal, eg what if that woman had been trying and can't conceive, what if she's lost a child etc?

    Or how about when you ask "Where are you from?" meaning country or place - that too could have people making judgements.

    Social etiquette....it's a minefield haha!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. weenie,

      Yeah social etiquette is quite a minefield. I guess for me it's not necessarily about asking something offensive though. For me the idea of the question, "What do you do?" is so open ended that it could really be answered in a million different ways, and the problem to me is that everyone focuses on work as the answer, not what they love doing (ok, ok, for some people this might be the same thing but probably not for all people).

      -Zee

      Delete
  4. Interesting post - I've never really thought about this topic before. In fact, this post got me thinking and I realize that I can't remember a time where I've ever asked someone what they "do". To me, I don't really care what you do, because the stuff you do for a living probably doesn't define you as a person, so frankly, it's of no interest to me.

    But you're right that the question "what do you do" is asked quite often in this country, and yes, the answer usually does revolve around your job. I suppose that's because the question is really a shorter version of the true question, which is "what do you do FOR A LIVING" which, of course, is a direct question about the person's job.

    Like you, I'm a software engineer (actually, now I'm a "big data" database architect). But also like you, my passions like outside of what I "do" for a living. This "job" thing for me is merely a means to an end.

    But maybe from now on, whenever someone asks me what I do, I'll respond with what I actually like spending my time doing, which is photography or blogging. Maybe I'll just combine the two and say, "I'm a photo blogger".

    Yeah, I like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve,

      It's funny how there seem to be a lot of engineers that don't really love what they do, or are even in some cases not very interested in their own work. Maybe it's the long hours, unforgiving clients, of never ending workloads... Maybe it's none of the above. One thing about engineers, is that we usually try to find the quickest, most efficient way to complete something and this is how we treat our working careers. We just find the job that will pay us the most so we don't have to do it as long as everyone else.

      Either way, I think the idea of coming up with your own answer to the question of "what do you do?" is probably much more interesting. If you told me you were a photo blogger I would be much more interested in asking for more details than if you said "big data" in which case I would have said, "ok cool." and probably just let it end there.

      Let me know how your "photo blogger" conversations end up, I'm betting a lot more personal and interesting.

      -Zee

      Delete
    2. I'll let you know. In fact, you've inspired me to write about this topic over on my own blog. Of course, I gave you a hat tip for the idea:

      http://www.thinksaveretire.com/2015/what-do-you-do-are-you-a-plumber-or-a-hiker/

      Delete
  5. I think such questions are often a matter of people wanting to gauge where someone is financially in comparison to others. Which, to me, is not important.

    Now, it could help to know what others do for other reasons, as we can often help each other in different ways. For example, if you're a small business owner, and a friend is great small business accountant who saves clients money, it could be good to introduce them. So, for mutual benefit reasons, it can be good to know.

    But for judgmental reasons, I'm with you that it doesn't matter. I like your reply above to another comment when you noted that it would be more interesting to ask what someone does for fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tie the Money Knot,

      While I do think that the answer relating to jobs is somewhat revealing as to other things about that person such as how they are doing financially and such, I don't think that most people realize that they are asking for this information. I think most people simply ask because they think it's normal to be a work centric society.

      -Zee

      Delete
  6. I had a hard time with this when I left the corporate world to blog full-time. When people asked me what I did, I had a hard time explaining to them. When I finally just said blogger, they asked a few questions then assumed I sleep in until noon, and then watch movies all day. It actually got annoying because I bust my butt all day and most nights trying to be successful. It really taught me to not judge people based on their profession.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jon,

      I can imagine that would be hard, a lot of people don't understand how much work it really takes to run a blog, let alone run a blog that is actually profitable! Now that I actually do it myself and know how much work goes into it and I know I would never take people for granted that do that full time. But I completely understand why this would be difficult when explaining it to people. Everyone just thinks that the entry level to starting a blog is so easy that anyone can do it. Which is true, but not everyone can make it profitable which is a HUGE difference.

      -Zee

      Delete
  7. Unfortunately the "what do you do" question is one of those typical small talk/first date/first encounter questions. 99.9% they are referring to your profession because really, it's what you do most of the time. However, as you mentioned, your profession shouldn't define you. I completely agree. I don't understand why people seem to think that. My fiance is a design engineer by profession, but he also builds/fixes computers, works on his cars and does home renovations. I work for the government but I prefer/enjoy travelling, baking, personal finance, investing,fitness, blogging and just a bit of HTML coding. I think people should try and rephrase the question and say, "What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?" or "Aside from working, what else do you do?" Unless you are working your dream job, you need to find things outside of work to make you happy.

    Btw, I totally thought you could fix computers. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karen,

      I actually don't mind the fact that it's basically in the top 2 or 3 questions asked when we meet someone new. But I wish people's lives didn't revolve around work so they felt that was the obvious answer. For example I know some people that have recently retired and when they are asked that question they just say they are retired and maybe spout off something else. But usually a follow up question is "What did you used to do for work?" which is ridiculous since they no longer do that anymore.

      It would be like someone asking you what afterschool activities you used to do in high school. "oh great, you played soccer. I played soccer too, 20 years ago!"

      And yes, I am a software engineer, but I can't really fix computer problems... I can get on a different computer and google whatever the issue is and see if someone else knows the answer :) That's about the extent of most of my computer fixing skills.

      -Zee

      Delete
  8. Whoa whoa whoa. While I do understand that some people may not ask their partners these questions until after they are married, this seems asinine. Personally I never really cared about getting married but I was dead set on making sure that if I did, the person would make enough money to support themselves and one other person and that I would be able to do the same. Since money was something my family had, well, none of, it was important that I was able to support myself and that I wasn't going to have to support another person either. I wanted to walk into a marriage as financial equal as possible. If we weren't financially equal, I would want to make sure that one of us wasn't over extended in our contribution to the household. I also had no desire to marry someone who didn't challenge me intellectually or a person who didn't set goals for themselves, so I need to know what's important to a person-what their goals are. I dated a guy for 6 years who didn't have his H.S. diploma and, well, it's like my dad always said, "surround yourself with people like you or those you want to be more like". I was unchallenged and it just kept me going along in life with no real direction. I could go on and on about this but my main point is I look at marriage more like a business contract between two people. One that says "here's what I can bring and here's how it fits together". Research studies will back me up on how much more effective this is for a happier-longer lasting marriage rather than one based off pure emotional attachment. Don't get me wrong, of course there is love and attraction, but for me that is not enough to enter into a marriage. Now with the original focus of the post: I agree! What I started to do when I meet people is ask them "what do you do" and pause and say, "for fun?" Man this throws people off but I have had so many people thank me for asking this. As for me, if I tell people what I do for a living I end up listening to a life story or some problem someone is having or the famous "You're analyzing me now, aren't you?" Um... everyone analyzes people, I just know the correct terms of what to call you. :D So while I may not get the "Can you fix my computer" question, I do get the "can you fix me". Fix? That's not how I look at people. But anyways, at least I have an ethical excuse as to why I won't engage in my work outside of work, unlike computer people. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rags2Riches,

      I agree with you that it's asinine to not talk about finances before marriage. I personally would do it before moving in together.... Actually, being me, I would probably ask it on the first date, wait sorry I didn't mean first date, but I would ask it before even thinking of moving in together at least.

      While I wouldn't draw the line and say that I wouldn't support someone else, that wouldn't be my ideal situation. If I knew that my significant other was working towards something that would one day produce an income I wouldn't mind, but I probably wouldn't be keen on me working and them just staying home all day with no intent on anything else.

      Your idea of marriage as a business contract is interesting. In ways I could see that working very well, but for me I need someone that makes me happy. I'm sure someone challenging me and pushing me in life will make me happy for a while but it has to be more than that for me, there has to be that connection that you can't explain, that draws two people together. I need that emotional attachment, perhaps that's how I was raised. I think of marriage as to people together as a team forever. Partners in crime. But yes it's not 100% emotional and no thought as to what that other person wants in life, but for me it's more emotional than it is logical. If someone is a logical fit for me then that's great, but I don't think I would be as happy long term in that situation.

      I know that studies show that arranged marriages in other parts of the world tend to work out better long term. You work more as a team and then the emotional bond builds more over time but I don't know if I would be able to do that since I was raised in a western world. It's a complete fundamental shift in thinking that I don't know if I would be strong enough to get over since it's such a huge decision.

      As for people asking you to fix them... Some people are broken. Some people need fixing. I'm sure I'm broken in some ways.

      -Zee

      Delete
    2. Your comment on how you were raised I think speaks a lot to your position. As for me I was raised in a household where I was taught that my emotions were not to be trusted and if they weren't happy, they weren't valued. I became reliant on my cognitive self and it's only been in the past few years I've allowed an emotional self to arise. When my husband asked for my hand I immediately responded with " what if I said no?" To which he replied " you can say no" i responded with , " I'm not going to say no" I told him from day one I married him with my head not my heart and yes, we built a bond overtime. It wasn't that my heart couldn't be trusted, it's that it hadn't ever had a voice to be listened to. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I was able to experience my own emotions from the beginning. I have a feeling my highs would be higher and lows lower rather than the constant "goid/ok" I experience. These past few years have shaken my core as I've opened up an emotional part of myself which I never thought possible. Let's just say I've only said " I love you" to a handful of people in my life ( which gets weird when friends say it and I respond with " awe". ) I'm trying to get better at this but the truth is I just don't feel my emotions most of the time so they just seem like words and not teuth so I just don't say it. it's only been a recent opening up so to marry from my heart, well, I guess I just didn't have the ability to even hear it beat for most of my life so that didn't seem possible. It still feels weird and I get scared, want to withdrawl, and end up feeling hopeless/ depressed because I can't control it like I can my thoughts and I like to be in control of myself. So I guess what I've been experiencing is a shift in my own fundamentals , if you will, and it's terrifying more than impossible I think.

      Delete