What do you do?

What do you do? 

Is it just me, or is it a little bit awkward when we are asked, "What do you do?" An answer feels either unambitious or boastful no matter what it is. Is university study an occupation or something to fill in spare time? 

Some people learn so much about their specialties that a simple explanation becomes a complicated jargon-filled regurgitation of a text book. What is marketing? Well, first you have this theory, and this framework, this acronym, this historical context, the 4 Ps, the 4 types of segmentation, these strategies... Is it possible to answer that question without people asking for less jargon? The answer varies greatly depending on who we are talking to. 

Put me in a group full of people twice my age, and I am the college kid trying to prove I recently (a couple of years ago) had a 'real job.' It will be a relief when I no longer have to skip an event because a super-important assignment is due and hopefully the grade will be ok because a GPA is everything. That's an attitude that I avoid using with those outside the uni world. In an attempt to sound smarter, the word 'major' gets swapped with words like 'specialty' or 'expertise.'  It just seems like a more positive spin. 

Then get me into a group of university students, and I am technically a 'mature aged student' at the ripe old age of 22. Suddenly every conversation includes the line, 'It is normal these days to take that long to do a degree.' 

Then there is the list of everything that could possibly sound impressive. That angle is my favourite for an ego boost. It goes a bit like this: Well I just got this job, am doing this course, attend these Toastmasters clubs, can play these instruments... The problem is a verbal resume can sound exhausting. 

Sometimes it is tempting to talk down what we do to avoid boastful. Maybe the word 'degree' is swapped with 'course.' I have been known to replace the degree name of 'business' by saying it is just marketing. After all: it's, like, so easy... 

Is there a right approach to that classic small talk question? Surely nobody actually cares about what we do. Surely we should just love what we do. There is something rewarding about simply being happy with the occupation we have.  

That question has too many complicated options. Maybe it's easier to change the topic to the weather...


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