When people first meet you and they ask, ‘what do you do?’, what do you say and how do you feel about it as you reply? I’ve heard young colleagues say about an ‘officer’ job, that it doesn’t sound very good and ask if they can I have ‘manager’ in their job title.
A friend of mine used to say, ‘I’m a window cleaner’ to see how strangers would respond differently to him from if he said, ‘I’m a doctor… or I work in the City’. Often it was a conversation-stopper.
Why do we ask new people what they do? Part of it is to find out who they are and whether we have anything in common. Which box can we put them in? Are they a person like us?
How would you feel about yourself if you weren’t employed? What would you say when asked about what you ‘do’?
Joe Robinson wrote about this* ‘Your job is just your social face, what psychologists call a “persona.” The term comes from the masks actors wore in ancient plays to indicate their various roles. The persona is a mask you need to function in society, but it’s not the real you. When you think it is, you lose track of the authentic person behind the mask and that character’s needs, interests and values. ‘You make yourself vulnerable to “contingent self-esteem,” worth based on a narrow domain subject to the fickle approval of others. It’s a very flimsy affair.’
But how could you respond differently to the question: ‘what do you do?’ What could you say that would be more generative and that could ‘set the stage for real persons to emerge from behind the masks.‘
What else is important about having an employed role – apart from the money? The structure it gives to your days? The feeling of being part of something? Feeling useful?
When we think about leaving an employer – retiring.. it’s important to think all this through. Get in touch if you’d like a ‘thought partner’ for this: firstname.lastname@example.org