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"What do you do for a living?"

Jake Bunce

XenForo moderator
Staff member
#1
I am not asking the question. Rather this thread is about the question.

This article shines a light on something that goes unsaid. It's one of those unconscious social gestures:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/25/opinion/granderson-what-do-you-do/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

My experience is the same as the author's. You can't escape the question when entering into a new social situation, and your answer affects how you are treated.
 

Danny.VBT

Active member
#7
I don't find anything revelatory about the article; it's been happening for centuries.

I disagree with the author's sentiment that


Since the end of the 20th century, "What do you do for a living?" has ceased to be an inquiry about how someone spends their time during normal business hours and instead serves as a slightly grating, socially acceptable manner in which we remind each other of the stuff we don't have or will never get."
Our social structure is immensely more flexible than even a century ago, where social status was not even a method of inquiry but an assumption based on clothing, elocution, and other biased factors.

My outlook is why bother with people who judge a person's potential based on their current employment status. I don't want to be friends with those kind of people.
 

Sadik B

Well-known member
#8
That question has been a serious problem to me ever since I quit my job to run my sites full time. In a country like India, where internet usage is still low (in spite of the millions of developers we have) I have great difficulty explaining what I do. And the author is right, when I was working for one of the world's best known consulting companies it was a look of awe and admiration when I replied to the question, followed up great interest in myself and everything I say. Now when people can't place me on a payscale, I no longer receive the erstwhile special treatment, which is amusing really.

Here's an example of something that happened some days ago. Me and another friend, who is a banker with Standard Chartered were at a common friend's house, where there were other guests at well. Another Guy, let's call him "G", starts a conversation,

G to Me: "So what do you do?"

Me: I run web sites, and freelance, if I have time left.

With a bewlidered look: "websites? but how does that make money" (Note how little time it took to get to "money")

Me: "Well, it's pretty good actually, I own a very popular tech site, does well..."

G does not really look convinced since he does not have a frame of reference on the payscale where to place me, G to my friend: "And you, what do you do?"

My Friend: "I work at SC"

G: "Oh Standard Chartered!" (he's already figured his payscale and so his face lights up!)

......

Well... such is life... :)
 

EQnoble

Well-known member
#9
I don't find anything revelatory about the article; it's been happening for centuries.

I disagree with the author's sentiment that




Our social structure is immensely more flexible than even a century ago, where social status was not even a method of inquiry but an assumption based on clothing, elocution, and other biased factors.

My outlook is why bother with people who judge a person's potential based on their current employment status. I don't want to be friends with those kind of people.
This is a good point but grossly under-analyzed in certain important aspects that aren't very blatant.

Yes this has been happening for centuries, it is classism and since there has been written history, there has been a mass subordinate group to a small dominant group.

And yes you are 100% correct that people do and have based assumptions according to one's appearance and apparent power and wealth. This is a societal thing that has been bred into and hardened into an established way of civilized living.

The problem with ignoring all of the people who bring up that question is they may very well have excellent qualities and you may be ignoring all of those based on an assumption as well while the person asking the question may just be trying to "break the ice" by establishing a conversation based on common ground (we both have to eat to live, how do you make a living) and in their mind are not even aware of doing anything particularly taboo....as this is the society they were born and raised into.

When someone asks me what I do for a living, I return a quick statement and report to them...nothing as interesting as asking people what they do for a living. If they insist upon what I do I just tell them bluntly in a mild but serious tone...meh if we were to one day sit and break bread together we could have such a conversation.

An alternative when someone asks what do you do and I don't want to just give 'em the cold shoulder would be to respond instantly with, "Why, are you hiring?" That usually stops the money based conversations, which will allow me to judge their reaction to my response and try to start a conversation outside the realm of wealth. From there if they bring it back to money they are a money based person, but if they don't I may end up having a good/relevant conversation.

All of that being said, I don't like the fact that class based assumptions exist but they are not going anywhere especially if you ignore them, so you either try to make friends, or start counting your enemies.
 

Kim

Well-known member
#10
LOL yeah, I have to say that when I tell people "I make themes for Forum Communities around the world" most people are pretty bewildered!

Some want to know more, and others are very dismissive/confused... it is quite amusing.

My own siblings can't really get what I do after 9 years, they do not take it seriously at all, but my parents do, my father in particular gets it.

It's only if people are themselves members of a community that uses cool themes that they get it.. and that is super rare, although I did meet a neighbour at a party once who runs a big vB board, I had no idea, that was a thrill, the two of us spent most of the night talking forums! lol
 

Peggy

Well-known member
#13
Funny thing, when I was married, my mom was also living with us. Both she and my then-hubby assumed that because I was home (designing website graphics) and not out working, that I could just get up and go whenever they wanted me to.

If I said something like, "sorry, I'm working", the almost inevitable response was a laugh and " no you aren't. You're sitting in front of your computer".

(note that I am divorced, and my mother no longer lives with me)
 

Jaxel

Well-known member
#14
I just tell people "I freelance"... they don't know what that means, but at the same time, they don't care, so they accept it and move on. When someone asks me "What do you do for a living?", they don't care about the answer, they are just dealing with pleasantries.
 

CTXMedia

Formerly CyclingTribe
#15
"Computer programmer" usually does the trick.

I've tried, over the years, with various tech/Internet related titles and explanations, however computer programmer is usually the one that stops them asking any further questions - you can see the shutters coming down, the befuddled look because they don't understand computer programming and don't know what the next "question" should be? - and very occasionally they even physically turn to speak to someone else without a by-your-leave. :ROFLMAO:

Leaves me free to talk to the people I want to ... (y)
 

Reeve of Shinra

Well-known member
#16
I work for corporate america for a living and my forums are a hobby but back in the day, I used to make up answers to give people when they asked me what I do for a living.
 

Kim

Well-known member
#17
Funny thing, when I was married, my mom was also living with us. Both she and my then-hubby assumed that because I was home and not out working, that I could just get up and go whenever they wanted me to.

If I said something like, "sorry, I'm working", the almost inevitable response was a laugh and " no you aren't. You're sitting in front of your computer".

(note that I am divorced, and my mother no longer lives with me)

The very worst thing about working from home, that assumption that you can do all the housework, that you can do all the errands, that people can just drop in on you, or come and see you during the day, that you are not actually working as such, but are a very convenient haus frau available for anyone to make use of during the day.

That and the loneliness... no amount of being able to wear your jarmies all day can compensate for the lack of adult conversation, and work place stimulation.
 

Sadik B

Well-known member
#18
"Computer programmer" usually does the trick.

I've tried, over the years, with various tech/Internet related titles and explanations, however computer programmer is usually the one that stops them asking any further questions - you can see the shutters coming down, the befuddled look because they don't understand computer programming and don't know what the next "question" should be? - and very occasionally they even physically turn to speak to someone else without a by-your-leave. :ROFLMAO:

Leaves me free to talk to the people I want to ... (y)
"Website development" is another one. Even though, I don't actually do any web development... even the freelancing jobs I do are mostly site migrations and / or installations etc... People usually understand that "making websites" must mean that someone is paying me for making them. lol...

I don't think though that everyone who asks "what you do for a living" is trying to size you up. Often, it works as a convenient conversation starter in awkward situations where you don't really know what to say... Sometimes, and very rarely, when someone is interested in the same kind of work, it makes for very interesting conversations. Like I met a guy who was very interested in starting a forum himself, he'd been a member of one, and we had a very good conversation on our very first meeting.
 

jadmperry

Well-known member
#19
I had a girlfriend once who told me that one of the things that made her like me was when we first met, I did not ask her what she did for a living. It was not conscious on my part, I was just more interested in knowing about where she was from, what she did for fun, and things like that.

That said, I don't think its a particularly bad question. Though, I would say it is rude to treat somebody poorly or ignore them if their job is not what some would consider "high status."
 

Peggy

Well-known member
#20
The very worst thing about working from home, that assumption that you can do all the housework, that you can do all the errands, that people can just drop in on you, or come and see you during the day, that you are not actually working as such, but are a very convenient haus frau available for anyone to make use of during the day.

That and the loneliness... no amount of being able to wear your jarmies all day can compensate for the lack of adult conversation, and work place stimulation.
Could not agree more.