“So what do you do for work?”
Such a common, natural, getting to know you kind of question, right?
But seriously, when did this become the driving definition of who we are? When did the source of your paycheck become your definition as a human being?
When did we stop being able to see beyond a job title to the person within?
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My very attractive, model-esque friend K takes great pride in telling people she is a lawyer, particularly as a follow-up to questions about her being a model. (This has happened more than once in my company.) “Oh, you are pretty AND smart!?!” they cannot help but utter, shock clear on their face.
Because that combination is such a surprise?
Obviously I am less than objective on this, but I happen to think I am surrounded most the time by awfully darn brainy and attractive individuals. I look for the intelligence in friendships and have managed to somehow magically find people who are easy on the eyes and challenging to the mind. How have I accomplished such an incredible feat? What’s my secret into finding this mysterious sorority of pretty smart and pretty? You want to know?
FYI, those two traits existing hand-in-hand isn’t a darn unicorn. It’s pretty commonplace, in my experience.
But we see a person’s face or dress and we make assumptions. Oh, they look like a kindergarten teacher or they look like they are in some underground hipster band. We mentally categorize people into professions before we even speak to them.
And those assumptions might not be true.
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On the flip side, when someone IS in that hipster band or has another non-traditional, non 8-5, 401k-less job, we pass judgement. Now in my 30’s there seems less room than ever for the uncommon. And that makes me a little sad.
I have a traditional, generally understood (if not always correctly) job. I say I’m an architect, people nod their heads. My job doesn’t make people wonder how I pay my rent or think I’m not a serious individual. It’s a “real job” to the general public.
I’ve dated a stand-up comedian, a writer, a night-shift machinist, and a guy trying to find himself by hiking for a month straight, to name a few. (I have a thing for non-traditional artsy types, it seems.) I have seen them try to “explain themselves” to me, to my friends, to my family and to strangers. I have witnessed first-hand the preemptive defensive stance often taken from the get-go because their financial well-being (and happiness, right?) isn’t always summed up in one universally understood title.
Who are we to judge before trying to understand? Worthy until proven otherwise, isn’t it?
Maybe there is a bit of jealousy against the non-traditional job holders pursuing their dreams and goals. Or maybe it is a concern that they will fail, a projection of insecurities. Fear of the unknown? Maybe we are simply inherently judgmental creatures, separating anything different and shunning it from an evolutionary standpoint. I don’t know.
But outside the box isn’t the same as off the edge. Heck, I find it absolutely interesting and inspiring. My dating past is clear evidence to that fact.
It’s just different. Different can be good.
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ON TRADITIONS: (And skewed feminism.)
My childhood best friend, a smart cookie, went to college, then grad school. She got degrees, pushed herself in her career and got a fantastic job helping children as a speech therapist. Along the way she met a wonderful man, married him and gave birth to an awesome little munchkin.
She then did the least feminist thing possible (all of the sarcasm, please), and decided to stop working outside the home for the foreseeable future to be a stay at home mom.
Let the outcry begin.
At what point did we shift so harshly in our traditions that this decision became a failure for a well educated person? Have you ever raised a child, spent 24/7 with them, helping they develop healthily and grow and learn and all the things kids do? I haven’t but I sure as heck know that it is absolutely a full time gig. It is not sitting around eating bonbons and getting manicures. It is work. I am more comfortable designing buildings versus positively sculpting the life of another human. It is an absolutely valid choice.
If it is for you, of course.
It isn’t for everyone and that is where my frustration comes in. Staying at home to raise your child (no matter your gender) is neither inherently good or bad, smart or dumb, easy or hard. It is simply a choice and right or wrong depending on the individual and situation.
So don’t decide that someone taking a more “traditional” role as a parent has wasted their education. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as driven or smart as anyone else in a professional environment. They just have a different client base and work space.
It is an equal but different choice. Let’s respect that.
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ON PRIDE: (Or the parental aspect.)
My parent’s have it pretty good in the “my children are impressive” dinner party game. In no negative way, I know they take pride in talking about having a news photographer, chemist, and architect as offspring.
Again it comes down to general impressions and a particular audience. Different crowds would be more impressed with a child becoming a missionary versus a small business owner. Different individuals will respect different choices. There’s no universally impressive career choice. (Although, I would argue there are a handful that are awfully safe.)
But how important is this parental currency when it comes to your own life decisions?
I am beyond blessed in my parents. I’m sure if I decided tomorrow that my new life goal was to wander Europe hand-sketching abandoned shoes for the rest of my life as my new career, they would support my choice.
(Assuming I had a viable plan, of course. My parents are supportive, not crazy.)
However, I have peers and friends with parents who do not 100% approve of their child’s chosen career path. You can be a freelancer but your parents wish you were a lawyer. You can be a lawyer but your parents want you to be a stay at home mother. You can always be a disappointment to your parents if they are looking to frame you into a particular box.
But shouldn’t our parents be proud of the human we are, outside of our paycheck source?
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This all is as much of a reminder to me as it is to the general internet. I’m guilty of judging, assuming, and applying unrelated pride to a job title.
In the vague hope of some sort of conclusion here, I think understanding is all that any of us are looking for. We all deserve that. Are some of us happily defined by our careers? Yes. I know I am. But within that I hope others realize that I am more than just my occupation. I strive to be a well-rounded, multi-dimensional person.
And I assume you do the same.
So perhaps the next time you meet someone new, and the inevitable question emerges, hold off on judgement and assumptions. Ask them other questions as well. Find out about them as a complete individual, not as an interviewee.
What you do for a paycheck IS a major aspect of who you are. It is. That is just how our world works. But it isn’t the end all be all of defining you as a person. Certainly not if you are a person worth getting to know.