You’re at a cocktail party full of people you don’t know. This is not the most comfortable position for you to be in, but you are determined to make an effort. This is a “make it work moment”.
You look around to see if there is anyone as
miserable, I mean as squirmy as you are. Across the room, you spot a couple of people chatting who are clearly not together. Slowly, you inch your way over and nonchalantly, join their group. Eye contact is made, success! You introduce yourselves and give each other your first names.
The next question is:
What do you do?
Of course it is. This is always the second question after “what is your name”.
The person in this story is me and probably a lot of other folks. When I took my early retirement, I gave the following long-winded answer:
I took an early retirement because we lost a huge public sector contract that I was managing. Of course, this would result in layoffs. I put my hand up because I knew I was done with the rat race. Plus, I was old enough to take an early retirement. I was lucky, they let me go.
But I think I was really saying…
I left willingly. I was NOT laid off.
Why do we ask?
Why do people ask what you do for a living anyway? This happens all the time at any event or gathering where there are people who don’t know each other. What are they really asking:
- What is your socio-economic status?
- Are you worth talking to?
- What is your identity tribe?
- Who are you?
Or, maybe they are just indulging in a lazy and harmless habit that helps us find common ground. In today’s society, especially in North America, so much of our time is spent at work that “what we do” goes beyond being just employment. It starts to define who we are.
For many years, I’m sure that my role as a Sales Account Manager for a major corporation did impact my identity. But I always knew that it was just a role I played, it wasn’t who I was. In fact, at the end, playing that the role had become exhausting and I didn’t like who I was. So I was happy to go; I’ve not looked back since.
When I tell others that I have taken an early retirement, most people react positively and wish me well. But I’ve also had some rather rude and negative reactions, as in “It must be nice!” in a “how dare you” voice. I look younger than 56, so sometimes I see a narrowing of the eyes that means they disapprove of my choice. Or sometimes it’s a look of sympathy that means they assume I’ve been laid off.
I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does. And, it has happened enough times that I am now reluctant to tell strangers.
A Better Response
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’ve done some searching on the Internet for input.
Clearly, a lot of other people don’t like this question either. Doesn’t matter how old they are or what they do. Well, my favourite piece of advice so far comes from www.lifehacker.com. The writer suggests that you answer this question by telling people how you solve problems.
This example by a mens’ fashion stylist would break the ice with humour while providing fodder for small talk.
When people ask what I do, I usually flip the question and say, “You know how most guys don’t dress very well?” This usually gets the person nodding along. Then I talk about how I solve that problem. I might mention that I have a 9-year-old, and let’s say I go to take him to the doctor. Now imagine a guy comes in who is wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Am I going to give my kid to this person? Probably not. Now imagine a guy wearing a white lab coat walks in. Everyone can relate to how clothing can make a huge difference.”
If I were to use this method, I just might say:
I write about my personal experience of aging gracefully and try to provide practical tips and tools to help women in my demographic feel inspired and optimistic. And, I enjoy sharing these stories on social media with a like-minded community. A long time ago women over 50 were considered “old”. Not any more, 50 has become the new 40. Would you not agree?”
This response needs some more work but I think it’s more interesting than just saying that I have become a blogger and am doing some work in social media.
What do you say? Any other alternative ideas?