What do you do?

(originally posted Dec 20, 2011)

“What do you do?”

You might be surprised to learn that this seemingly simple, innocent, cocktail-party-conversation-starter has been making me squirm for as long as I’ve been getting the question.  For me, and perhaps for many of us, this began right after the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up” stopped getting asked, because, well, I was starting to look sort of grown up.  You might be surprised to learn this, because you are after all, reading this journal post on a website devoted to the music I make.  You might imagine that the answer “I’m a musician” would fall easily from my lips… 

While the question has been making me uncomfortable since my late teens, it’s only really now as I approach my 30’s, that I am realizing that the reason I’m uncomfortable with this question, is because I don’t identify myself by my career. 

It often feels to me that when you ask me, “What do you do?”, really what you are looking for is a little window into who I am, a way to begin to understand what’s important to me, what circles I walk in, what things we may or may not have in common…What tribe I belong to.

When I give you the answer “I’m a musician”, I feel like I am squeezing myself into a box that doesn’t have room for all of who I am.  I feel like the parts of me that aren’t Musician-identified, are dressed up in costumes that don’t fit.  I feel like I am only giving you part of the story.

Aren’t we all multi-dimensional, whether we identify strongly with our careers or not, whether we love our jobs or not?  Don’t we all have relationships that define us, hobbies that define us, histories, cultures, preferences, sorrows, and joys that define us? 

What if in our culture’s cocktail-party-conversation-openers, we zoned in on how we earn trust instead of how we earn money; on who we love instead of who we rub shoulders with; on what satiates our deepest hungers, instead of the dietary choices we make… What if you saw what I am looking for instead of how I look? 

What if I steered away from questions about what school you go to, and instead asked you what lessons your life is demanding you learn?

What if I asked you what makes your heart pound and your eyes twinkle?  : )