The question came from behind, casually tossed towards my shoulder by the young man in the suit. Rum and Coke in one hand, the other thumbing a smart phone, he reiterated. “What do you do?”
As if I’d missed his meaning the first time…
“Whatever the hell I want.” Flipping my hair in his general direction, I hoped this adequately conveyed aloof confidence – and I once again wished that they made business cards for the long-term traveler.
We were both in line for the open bar at a wedding. My ‘date’ was a close female friend, and I did not have any fresh babies in tow. Naturally, this young American professional thus assumed that the smoothest entry into conversation was an ‘open sesame’ inquiry about my occupation.
Unfortunately, I do not have one.
Nor have I ever liked the idea that employment could define me. Self-worth is not dependent on a well-kept portfolio of earnings, nor the initials following your name.
So as the line moved forward, I dredged the remains of my drink and reminded myself why I was here. Not just here at the celebration, but here in the States.
Because I’d used up my foreign visas and needed cash. Not because I wanted a two-year contract.
Someone once told me that in England, societal judgement is passed according to what school you attended. In Australia and New Zealand, they cast stones depending on what countries you’ve visited. And in the US of A, characters are admired or assassinated based on jobs.
This was something I’d prepared myself for when I decided to return home. “Where are you working?” I could handle this question with the simple name of a business establishment. But “What do you do?”
I’d tell you, but the list no longer fits on my business card.
As a writer, I especially like your last card. As a travel, I appreciate the first one. Might have to print up a few dozen that combine the two into one. Good post.
I figure people with real jobs get creative titles on their business cards; why can’t we?! Thanks for digging these few options…if you think of any other good ones, let me know!
Oops, I meant as a traveller.
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I love this post Kel…and the cards! Hi there too:-)
Love the business cards! Reminds of this post: http://www.hecktictravels.com/hiking-german-alps – which talks about how North America is preoccupied with careers and we-are-what-we-do in contrast to say Germany, where hobbies and interests are discussed before careers.
How great. I too always feel awkward as my Masters in English Literature landed me nowhere. Before I moved to Sweden I was a dental assistant for 8 years, so I was able to answer that question even if I wasn’t happy with the answer. Now it’s all stutters, explanations, and excuses instead of, “English major that does freelance editing and tutoring while learning Swedish and looking for a full time job.” Ironically, I bought a beautiful business card holder and always love professional looking office items, because I always thought I’d be something by now. Maybe I need some of your cards in the meantime so I can start using my pretty card holder!
I completely understand, I’ve also held a few jobs that people mistook for occupations.. if you’ve got a special card title for yourself, I’d love to hear it!
In response to this post’s inquiry, I normally answer pretty straightforward (travel writer & book designer), but my favorite response is to immediately begin complaining about my boss, and how much of an asshole he is. When they eventually repeat their question “What do you do for work?”, I reply thusly: “Oh, I’m self-employed.” It usually gets a long pause and a look of shock, and then they stop talking to me.
Loved this post and the creative “business card” interjections…reminds me of the Scrubs episode where the janitor has a business card for everything 🙂
Ha, ideal response to those pesky questions! I haven’t’ seen that episode of Scrubs, but I’ll have to look for it…
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