“So, what do you do?”: An Apology

My apology comes on two fronts. First, I’m sorry to people who ask me this question.

You don’t really know me and you’re trying to maintain conversation through the inevitable lull. You pull out the old faithful “so, what do you do?” expecting a good fifteen minutes where you can just coast on me nattering about how being a vet or a lawyer or a real estate agent or whatever is just great and is really taking off for me right now and blah blah blah. You probably feel a bit good about yourself for offering me a hefty turn in the conversational spotlight.

But it doesn’t go that way. Because I’m not a vet or a lawyer or a real estate agent. I’m not even a whatever. 

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And even if you have the guts (and I love these people, please have the guts) to keep the conversational ball rolling without changing the subject or jumping out the nearest window (and even though I don’t love the people who do this, I can sympathise), it doesn’t get any better.

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Because I end up sad-bombing the conversation.

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Second, I am sorry for asking that question.

Because I know it’s bad. And I can see it in a person’s face when that was the wrong question. They go very still while they mentally navigate the minefield ahead, looking for the best route, or they give me this quick, sad look like I’ve betrayed them in some unforgivable way. It’s the same look our pet Jack Russel gave us whenever we filled the plastic baby’s bath and got out the dog-shampoo.

Maybe because they are worried that I won’t think what they do is good enough. Maybe they think they should be doing more. Maybe they just don’t want to sad-bomb me.

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And I always want to fix it.

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But I just met the person, or don’t know them very well, and maybe if I was a charismatic extravert I could go back on it, derail that train I just set in motion. But I can’t. I don’t know how. I ride it to the end of the line because I’m an introvert with social anxiety disorder and terrible at small talk.

So I’m sorry.

But I think the world would be better and people would be happier if “so, what’s your favourite dinosaur?” was an acceptable conversation starter, and “so, what do you do?” wasn’t.

52 thoughts on ““So, what do you do?”: An Apology

  1. I would love if someone used a question like that as an ice breaker. I think I may start asking questions of that nature. Ones unlike, “how’s your day?”, only to receive a typical insert-auto-response . Maybe I’ll ask my next checker at the grocery store what their favorite dinosaur is or just give them a random fact like, ” did you know the lobsters are immortal because they have more telomeres than humans!”. Oh, so, doing this!

  2. What IS your favourite dinosaur? By the way, it seems that while you are reclining you also think, philosophize, and write and draw incisive and entertaining observations about life, which some people call their job. Go girl…(I got tempted by polical correctness and almost changed that to ‘woman’, but in this context girl has a much better ring to it).

    1. Go girl is good.

      My favourite dinosaur is subject to change on a whim, but right now I particularly like the smaller, feathered dromaeosaurids (dinosaurs from the raptor family) like Sinornithosaurus. I think they’re really cool. Maybe I’ll even add them to my list of things to do a little blog post about.

      What’s yours?

  3. I’ve actually kind of thought about this before, and how people shouldn’t be defined by their jobs or what they do. Now, even when someone’s telling me about someone else, and I catch myself asking what the someone else does, I kind of cringe inwardly to myself…
    A workmate of mine from Brazil actually told me that, in Brazil, they don’t tend to ask about people’s jobs when first introduced to someone. They’ll ask about hobbies/interests instead. Sounds like they have the right idea

  4. I am right there with you on this! I am often pretty hopeless at talking to people I don’t know. Hours later I’ll think of something clever or witty to say, then get annoyed that I didn’t think of it before. Triceratops, by the way. My kids watched The Land Before Time films, so we always called them Three Horns.

    1. I loved The Land Before Time when I was a kid, but I was one of those nerdy kids who knew all the real names and who sighed loudly and corrected friends when they talked about Long Necks (… I didn’t have many friends). And it was really silly of me, because of course dinosaur names for themselves would have been different from human names for dinosaurs. They might well have referred to each other as Long Necks and Three Horns.

  5. I am all for “so, what’s your favourite dinosaur?” being the standard conversation starter (I personally vacillate between T-Rex and Velociraptor). Also, the Clever Girl t-shirt in the last drawing needs to be a thing.

    In all seriousness though, I think Pistachios makes a good point above about how we shouldn’t define people by their jobs, or lack of jobs. It reminds me of something I read recently that was arguing that someone with an illness (mental in the case of the article) should always be referred to as “the person with an illness” instead of “the ill person” because people are always people first. I thought it was a really interesting take on how subtle things in language can perpetuate ableism in a way.

    1. I’ve heard about “the person before the illness” thing before, and I think it’s great way to address some of the language problems we have with ableism.

      I’m glad you noticed the Clever Girl T-Shirt. I was quite pleased with myself when I drew it.

  6. how are we saving dine-no-sours? any-hoo, berleave it or else, I’ve axially been considering and thinking about “what do you DO?” and recently (this again is possibly implausibly true, considering “what do you do” IS the topic of consideration, or, eh, inconsideration, ne’er-the-less (is more?)): recently I’ve been answer(a)ring “I DON’T” to that question. I don’t “DO” nuthin’! I occupy time and space, which is what I think we all do, basically. beyond that I sometimes aspire to DO more, but that’s basically it.
    I’ve recently taken to asking in return — “what do you MEAN?” “Do? — as little as possible! sleep a lot. lie around moping feeling sorry for myself … oh, you mean ‘work’? oh … that!” and if I haven’t alienated or lost whoever we finally might get around to describing what it is I do at work. which, again, is as little as possible while maintaining the convincing illusion that i’m actually working.
    are you realllly too sick to work?
    soon i’m retiring and then answe(a)ring the kwestyun undurrr considdderayshun … will be even more fun!
    thank you for bringing up this topic.

    1. I like how you deal with the question!

      Yes, I really am too sick to work. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be very debilitating. I have a small amount of energy to expend each day on physical, cognitive or emotional tasks before I become very unwell and physically unable to continue. (Google ‘spoon theory’ if you want a rough idea of how energy works with this kind of illness.) I should recover one day. And I’ve had some better days recently, so maybe that day isn’t too far off.

      1. as yew no doubt awlreddee sus(ex)pect(orate): we have stuph in kawmin, as the #1 thing i’m planning upon retiring is turning OFF the alarm clock and sleeping more! (i’m such an XXX sighting guy, eh?). also when people ask what am i going to do @ that “milestone” (millstone?) — that is what i answe(a)r. oh, and more beer and cigars, the beer which, of coarse, leads to more sleep …

  7. I take the question literally and I say, I have my finger in so many pies I wouldn’t know where to start.( Oh, that’s wrong, I don’t literally have my fingers in a pie, and it could only be up to ten pies, right, but I hope you know what I mean.) I do lots of things. Maybe they meant what’s my job or career or whatever, but I figure once someone asks a question, well, I’ll just take it in whatever direction I like.

    I know what you do. At least a part of what you do. You do really thoughtful writing and drawings. I’m glad you do that, so that I can benefit. Thank you.

  8. I hate that question too, because, unlike Claudia, I can’t pretend I don’t know what they want to know. And I have no answer. I’m terrible at conversations even with people I know…but many people just like to talk, so I let them. An occasional comment is all that’s required…(K)

  9. I remember when a colleague of mine told me that it was horribly rude in the UK to ask someone what they do for a living – and that it is really an American obsession. I was surprised because it is so acceptable here that we really don’t ever think about it. I have stopped asking in causal conversation completely and I think it is for the better!

    But, if you ever feel like playing ball with that question, I think you could totally go straight to “I run a popular illustrated award-winning blog”!! :)

  10. Some questions are best asked after you know someone better… even if they don’t take offense, you immediately feel awkward and it’s hard not to make it weirder. I really try not to ask questions like this, but then people think I am aloof or disinterested instead of just trying not to set off conversation timebombs!

      1. I’m generally quiet around new people, unless it is a work environment where I’m expected to offer up suggestions for a project or something. But in personal social situations, I tend to sit back and absorb for a while before diving in.

      2. I’m half like that. I’m one of those weird people who are super, crazy quiet until you get to know them (which takes either ages or one major event, because of the quiet thing), but when they feel comfortable talking you they never shut up ever again.

      3. Yeah, I can be like that… too talkative once I’m comfortable. But a lot of that has to do with avoiding awkward silence IF the other person isn’t talking.

  11. I ask this a lot of habit – so I guess I owe apologies too! :/

    Fingers crossed people (myself included) stop asking you this less, but if they do ask you should definitely claim this blog (and all the other bits and bobs you do like knitting and reading and wedding planning) though. Even if they don’t ask, i’d claim it! Considering how much of a jerk this CFS is being, I’d say you’re using your allotted energy much more productively than heaps of people out there!!

    <3

  12. You write one of the best goshdarned blogs on the whole goshdarned internet! Your blog inspires (me) and I can’t say enough good things about it. I don’t feel like you owe me or anyone an apology. I’m sorry about the cussing though – I just got a little emotional!

      1. Why not? Social stuff isn’t meant to make ppl feel bad about themselves or each other! It’s supposed to make ppl feel good, and give you a chance to talk about the things you enjoy! It’s a sharing time. Best thing about online comics is you can show them to ppl right away!

      2. Well, your chat partner has to feel that way, too … it’s not your fault if they don’t respond well. You can’t control that, and not everyone is nice. That’s why alcohol is served! 🙃

  13. Hello you!! I’ve moved to self hosted so all my reader is messed up. Found you on fb though, get yourself on bloglovin too! ;) I have a challenge for you. Whenever you get this question, I want you to make something up. Get totally into character & see if you can be convincing. They have to be a bit off the wall though. Think Stilton cheese taster, shoe wearer inner for the rich, cracker crunch tester. See if you can keep a straight face AND be believable!! 😊

    1. Haha … I might try that, only I’m awful at being clever and talking in awkward social situations and at lying generally. But we’ll see.

      That’s where you went! I wondered. I shall track you down again. Hmm… I didn’t know what bloglovin’ was until I googled it, but I think you’re right, that’s a thing I should get on. I will make it a task for this week.

      1. It’s not lying, it acting dahhhhhling! It’s a fabulous tactic to combat shyness. Just put yourself into the shoes of another character. Anyway, you do have a proper job, you’re a writer & illustrator. Bloglovin is really easy to join & seems to be the thing people use to follow blogs nowadays. I’m just pinkpearbear.com now. :) See you soon!

  14. Ahhh I want to be your friend and talk about dinosaurs!! I have had this interaction so so so many times it’s crazy. I really stopped going out to see old friends or meet new people just to avoid this. I haven’t worked in a long time- definitely not able to function in most environments, and it’s the most awkward horrible conversation ending things ever. Actually it’s one of the biggest reasons I moved to the UK from the US- when you’re a foreigner people focus a lot less on your employment- it’s like you already have a definition to them, so a job doesn’t really make much difference in how they see you… At least that’s my experience… Anyhow- love this post, wish I wrote it!

    1. … I never thought of moving to another country! That’s genius! Because then I’d just be That Australian and could just change the subject by talking about riding kangaroos or, if I needed a big distraction, eating a spoonful of vegemite or something.

      But probably too much effort.

      You moved to the wrong country, by the way. If you’d come to Australia we could be awkward at social gatherings together and talk about dinosaurs and stuff.

  15. I have legit used “So what’s your zombie survival plan?” as a conversation starter. I figured with the popularity of zombies at the moment it wouldn’t be that odd of a question.

    I was wrong.

    I got a LOT of weird looks and a surprising amount of “I don’t know” as answers.

    Very disappointing.

    1. Super disappointing. If it’s any consolation, they won’t be surviving long when the zombie apocalypse does happen because they aren’t prepared. The zombie apocalypse could well eradicate all the people who aren’t very fun to talk to.

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