How To Define What You Do

Cindy Tillory Avatar
Photo by Brett Jordan

So, what do you do? If you feel personally attacked by this statement you’re not alone. I often worry about people’s thoughts if I tell them I’m not working. or at least I was until I came up with a new game plan.

When people ask “what do you do?” What they are typically asking is “how do you define yourself?” or “what are you all about?” and when that’s the case, wouldn’t it be nice to just tell them? I’m about X or I love to do Y. doesn’t quite fit though does it?

Defining “The What”

Photo by Ann H

When people ask me that dreaded question I tell them I’m a writer and mental health advocate who often volunteers her time to support causes that are important to me. what story does that tell? how does that give light on me as a subject? Does it tell the kind of person I am?

Yes and no. it tells a story, not the whole story, but a favorable one. It’s a narrative that I’ve chosen for myself.

so how do you choose what to highlight? well, I’m glad you asked I have a small three-step model to guide you.

  1. Have expertise: are you working on a particular project for an extended period of time? do you have expertise in a certain area?
  2. Have Passion: What causes have you contributed to or other projects you work on?
  3. Have Flair: what makes you different from anyone doing what you do?

Here’s an example: Frank is married to Betty. After having a child they decided that one of them needs to become a stay-at-home parent. Betty earns more so Frank became a stay-at-home dad. When asked the question “what does he do?” Frank remembers the model and responds with, “I’m a full-time father who manages a household. I am passionate about my children’s education and I am a part of the PTA. I enjoy being there for my family and I like to teach the kids how to build birdhouses and other woodworking projects on weekends.”

that tells us more about frank than just “hi, I’m a homemaker” ever would.

Leaving It With Them

so in my example with Frank, I recognize that there would be a certain type of prejudice involved, our notions of gender expectations created by the patriarchy. Frank being the stay-at-home dad would be frowned upon and his wife Betty would be seen as a bad wife and mother for leaving her husband with the kids all day. But here’s the thing, once you can give your narrative to someone else you have to leave their expectations and feelings behind. Trust me, anyone who tries to diminish who you are is not worth your time. Not to mention, You define yourself not for the worth of others, but to make sense of your own.

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