The Worst Answer To An Age-Old Question (and yes, you give it)

White convertible on a country road

So, what do you do?

I bet I get asked that question at least fifteen times in a normal week, maybe twenty to thirty times if I’m traveling (I chat with strangers a lot) and at least a hundred times if I’m attending a conference.

My standard answer to that question used to vary depending on who I was talking to, but it always focused on work:

I run an amazingly creative meeting space for executive retreats” or “I’m a writer and a speaker (who also, by the way, happens to run an amazingly creative space for executive retreats)“.

At least those were my answers up until a couple of weeks ago. And I’ve discovered that those are the WORST answers I can give. On two separate occasions in the span of a single week, I was challenged to think of a better answer to that question. Once was on a podcast I was listening to. The other was in a short blog post written by my friend, Erica about picking and pursuing a small handful of  activities that light you up.

I’ve heard a rumor that we are the only country in the world that defaults to a work-related response in answer to that question. Does work really define us that much? Should it?

Yes, we work a lot. In fact, if we’re lucky and we live long enough, most of us will work 100,000 + hours in our adult lifetime. If we’re awake 16 hours a day — and work consumes 8-10 of those hours — it does explain why it may be hard for us to think of another answer to the question, “So what do you do?”

Work only defines you if you let it. You are so much more than your job. Think about everything else you are in your life: a wife, husband, father, mother, son, daughter, friend, volunteer, singer, poet, artist, builder, landscaper, chef (ok, short-order cook most days), traveler, student, handyman/woman, hobbyist, neighbor, fashionista, church-goer, spiritual seeker, coffee-snob (ok, maybe that’s just me), and the list could go on and on and on.

What else defines you besides work? What if you could answer the what-do-you-do question with an activity or role that really, I mean REALLY defines who you are, or at least who you are right now at this moment in your life?

Imagine the kind of conversations you’d have. Imagine how much more quickly you could establish common ground with someone. Imagine how awesome it would be if you got to be the REAL YOU instead of the fake you that most people present to the world. And by “fake you”, I mean the you that’s defined by work. If it’s true that 80-ish% of people aren’t truly engaged in their work, why would they even want to define themselves by their job?

I’d be MUCHO more intrigued by someone who responded with “I scour antique shops in search of mint-condition mid-century furniture” than someone who said “I’m an underwriter for a large insurance company.”

Wouldn’t you?

After careful consideration, I decided that my answer to the question will be different from now on, and I’m intentionally keeping it short and sweet to see where each conversation leads.

“So, what do you do?”

“Me? I’m an explorer.”

That’s me at my essence. I love to explore. Ideas. Places. Friendships. Those curvy, tempting roads in the country that branch off the really boring main roads. You name it. I love to dive into (and drive into) things I’ve never experienced before. That is a so much better answer than the “I’m a writer and speaker” snoozefest I used to give, don’t you think?

You know I’m going to ask, so you might as well start thinking about it right now:

What will your answer be the next time someone asks “So, what do YOU do?


P.S. Here’s your chance to practice and test it out. Reply with your answer below.


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