Why I Stopped Asking What Do You Do

“What do you do?” This is as innocuous a question as one can ask. This is as innocuous a question as one can be asked. We are trained/used to this question when we meet strangers, when we meet our people after a long time, when we meet a person whom we have known ever since. This is the first question to start a conversation.

The above were my thoughts. Earlier. Not now. I have realized, for myself, that there is no more a repulsive a question for a human being to ask / to be asked – “What do you do?”

I wish to share my journey on this change.

When I was working – “What do you do”

I have worked a corporate life for more than a decade. All along, I was asked “What do you do” by many people. Every time I replied, it was followed up with questions about my designation, the geographical area I handled, the quantum of business I looked after, the team that I managed etc.

Of course, my corporate job did not define me as a person. However, I never realized at that point of time that I was never asked anything more than “What do you do?” Nothing was asked about me as a person. I also never realized then that I never asked anyone more than “What do you do?” I asked nothing about anyone as a person.

But for the current phase of my life, I would have never realized this anomaly.

When I am a stay-at-home father – “What do you do”

I became a stay-at-home father in April 2017, leaving my job, to my then two and half-years-old twin daughters. My wife re-joined her enterprise – Dirty Feet. ┬áThis decision signified what she and I were as individuals, what our passion was, how we perceived life and what it meant to us.

Now, wherever/whenever, again I get asked the question – what do you do? Enthusiastically, I reply to what I am doing. What I get back is a stare. That is it. No follow-up questions. Nothing. Rather, I get cut off from any further conversation. As if I have ceased to exist.

Busy and engaged with my twin daughters, I never realized what was going on and why. It is now after almost two and a half years, I am figuring out what is going on and why.

Self and work as one unit

I realize that we have started equating our existence in terms of the job we hold and the work we do. Of course, human beings need to work to earn a livelihood. Somewhere, this livelihood has got equated with life itself.

We are obsessed with our work. We consider our existence in terms of work we do and that is it. Seemingly, we wish to believe that our job defines our worth, our value, our happiness and what we are or rather, we only believe this, nothing else.

We see ourselves as a rat-racer for life and the others as well and are fine with it (though we would not admit it publicly). There does not seem to be any other way for a human being to exist.

The passion and one’s identity

As stated earlier, I have been guilty myself of asking “What do you do?” This has been a recent eye-opener for me. I am the same person, rather a shade better, as I would like myself to believe after spending more than two years with my twin daughters. But, when I would want to speak/share about this journey, I find no listeners.

I refuse to believe that people find their self-worth only in pursuit of their KRAs and target achievements. I refuse to believe that people do not find it worth-while to spend time with their family on a full-time basis. We cannot be a ten to six animal, almost on the job 24*7 with all-pervasive technological presence.

Then, what is it? Where is the passion? What is it that drives us a person? What defines us as a human being? Is it just a presentable reply to a question – What do you do?

My response

I cannot stop people from getting switched off once I say I am a stay-at-home father. So, my only response has been to stop asking in return – What do you do?

I would want to ask the person what is her/his passion? What is that she/he likes doing and cares about? What is that makes her/him happy and her/his thoughts as a distinct individual human being?

If this resonated with you, please let me know. It will motivate me in my journey further and feel happy that there are fellow travellers in this quest to be an individual.

2 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Asking What Do You Do”

  1. Disclaimer: My intention in sharing my thoughts is not to make things worse. IF, due to insufficient skills of putting thoughts into words, I end up sounding judgemental or critical, please excuse me. Please do not publish if you feel it would hurt anyone reading it. Thanks so much
    First: When I lived in Bombay in the early my 20s I learnt many lessons travelling by train. One of which might suit this topic is, if you’re travelling against the crowd, you WILL be jostled. Any person who doesn’t confirm to the flow of the unconscious majority thought will vouch for this. This includes race, caste, gender (including gender identity issues), disabilities and other minority groups. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was one of the books written on the theme encouraging thinking out of the box.
    2nd: The unconscious rule of the majority and /or collective unconscious (very simplisticly put) is based on the principle of survival of the familiar as anything unfamiliar to our primordial brain means danger. We ARE homosapiens and most of our lives are driven by unconscious and instinctive impulses including body functioning. To use the “human” aspects needs conscious effort most of the time for most of us.
    3rd: With ref to the Maslow’s pyramid, you will see that most of us are stuck at the basic needs. One will understand and empathise mostly with what one is familiar with. So, to expect a regular person to understand ‘self actualisation” might be unreasonable. In the same vein, to ‘agree to disagree’ doesn’t exist naturally and the conflicts of everyday all over the world are testimony to that.

    I can empathise with you, since I go through a similar situation and similar emotions. I am not ashamed of the fact that I love being a wife and mother and when life created situations, I chose these over my professional roles. But I loved my work so much and got my satisfaction and identity from it, that as a person, I became undone when I did not have enough of it. Even now, I cringe internally when others, men and women, ask me what I do, and I am not able to find myself saying with confidence and comfort that I’m primarily a housewife. How would you explain that? I think the discomfort shows that there is a gap between potential and existing situation.

    Will share how I deal with it in my next email. Best wishes always.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I suppose it is about trying to create a parallel narrative that I feel needs to be discussed in public and more so, it helps in understanding my own self. This is the purpose with which I share some of my feelings, like the one above. Rest assured, you would not hurt any body, you can only help.

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