What Do You Do For a Living?

joe —  Sun 28-Nov-10

Do for a Living.pngIt’s a mutual friend’s Christmas party and I’ve just been introduced to you. After a few minutes of conversation I ask you “What do you do for a living?”

How did you respond?

How do you describe what you do for a living? I always wrestle with that. I’m a degreed electrical engineer that became a software engineer and haven’t written a lick of professional code in 15 years of engineering management and leadership. Yet none of those are the right answer.

It really dawned on me this afternoon that I have been answering that simple question wrong all of my life – mostly because I wasn’t listening to the question. What I do for my career is not the same as what I do for a living. I know that people are expecting me to say “I’m in engineering.” but what would happen if I honestly answered that question?

  • Friend: So, Joe, what do you do for a living?
  • Me: I am my wife Beth’s husband and the father of my two children.
  • Friend: Ah, so you are a house husband?
  • Me: No. That’s what I do for a living. My job is in engineering management.
  • Friend: Do you know if this is an open bar or not?

The answer to that simple question can say volumes about one’s priorities. I know that if I ever hear someone answer with something other than their job description I will be quite impressed. At the very least they have thought about what it means and not simply rolled off the easy answer.

Tombstone.pngOur words are very powerful indicators of our current state. They can both describe today and enable tomorrow. Unless you are a politician, what comes out of your mouth is either some indication of what you believe or is just some stock answer that you haven’t thought about.

Vocabulary can also enable tomorrow. Our words give us permission to believe something. By communicating outwardly what we internally believe we are in essence letting the world know what we think and value. We are giving our friends permission to throw a yellow life penalty flag if we do not act accordingly. An aspirational vocabulary gives you permission to lead an aspirational life.

So go back to the original question of what you do for a living. What is the best answer to that question?

I have a thought – think about what you want to be written on your tombstone when you die. If that is what you are dying for then that is likely what you are living for. If you know what you are living for then you surely must know what you do for a living.

Question of the Day
What do you do for a living?