When I worked in finance, I always had a succinct answer to the standard small talk question “so, what do you do?”.
I would list my role and the organization I worked for and we’d move on in the conversation. But likely not before that person made ten assumptions about me that may or may not have been true.
These days the answer to the what do you do question doesn’t fit into a standard mold. Even when I do explain what I do in my best elevator pitch, when it comes up again at a later date I usually get a “I’m sorry I can’t remember [or, I don’t understand] what you do for work.” It comes with a little nervous laugh and a hand wave or a waggle of fingers at my head as if I am somehow off my rocker for not carrying on in a traditional career.
Let’s ditch the “what do you do” question as a means to understanding people. We are complex beings with loads of other interests. The next time you find yourself at a cocktail party making small talk, why not try these questions on for size:
- What makes you happy?
- What do you do for fun?
- What’s one interesting thing that happened to you today?
- What music / art / movies do you like?
- What problems do you enjoy solving?
- What makes you curious?
I guarantee you will have a more heartfelt conversation and know more about that person than what his or her job title is.
If you still feel I have to define myself by what I do for a living then go ahead and ask the question. I am happy to tell you this: I have a portfolio career. I am a sole proprietor who primarily provides consulting services to small businesses in the adventure tourism industry. I guide canoe trips. I take pictures. I write. I teach outdoors students about traditional marketing, tourism, social media marketing, small business, and financial management. And nine and a half days out of ten I love what I do.