Dreaded Question #2: What do you do?


While out and about the other day, I was asked Dreaded Question #2 (which is almost as difficult to answer as Dreaded Question #3, but much easier to answer than Dreaded Question #1).

Why, you may ask, is this altogether polite question greeted with dread?  

Well, dread is a bit of an exaggeration, but I do find the question, however well-intended, to be somewhat irksome (and totally unimaginative), mostly because what I do doesn't fit nicely into one, neat little google-searchable category, which is often what people asking seem to prefer.

And because what most people really mean when they ask what I do is what do people pay me to do--as if the things we're paid to do are the things that are worthiest of our attention. 

Here's the thing. I do many things. I even do many things well. And amazingly, people even pay me to do some of the many things I do well. 

But most people who ask Dreaded Question #2, like the creators of those census bureau forms with those infuriatingly inadequate check-boxes, want me to say one thing using a traditional title like consultant or coach or facilitator. 

While I appreciate the need for simplicity, I also cringe at these over-simplistic, generic, and altogether overused labels that show up in conversations and on my resume. Yet, I don't have a personally satisfying alternative label either. More creative job titles like motivational muse, creative confidante, chaos calmer, inner demon tamer, and major transition navigator, though perhaps more interesting and apt, sound a bit silly.

And I will refrain from commenting here on all the people walking around claiming to be visionaries or [insert trendy, whimsically hip title here] with zero experience to back it up (ok, so technically, that was a comment, but I'll leave it at that).

Usually, the exchange goes something like this:

What do you do?

I do many things, but most of my work involves helping individuals and organizations pay attention to what matters to them, and do more of what matters. 

So you're like a consultant or a coach or something?

Yes. If you're curious, there's a lot more info on my websites (offer my biz cards if I happen to have these).

It seems that many people believe that we're only supposed to be or do one thing. Two things can be confusing--especially if these two things seem too different for one person to get paid to do--like management consulting and yoga teaching. And three or more things (egads!)--say for example, management consulting, yoga teaching, and copywriting--often induces the incredulous my-head-is-about-to-explode-whoa-nelly-just-choose-a-career-already face.  

Unless you're an army recruit, in which case you apparently get to be all that you can be. Such brilliant aspirations should not be limited to marketing and military pursuits. 

We should all get to make a living being all that we can be, and doing all that we can do. And we should all be appreciated for all of who we are and all the valuable things we do, whether these happen to make money or not.

If one thing is your thing, awesome. I like concentrated talent. If five things are your thing, awesome. I like multi-talented. If you do or do not make money doing your thing, awesome (unless you want to make money doing your thing, in which case, bummer, and bright wishes for monetizing your thing. Oh, and if you want help sorting out your thing, that's one of my things.)

Mostly, when I meet people, I'm curious about how you are doing your thing(s).

When meeting for the first time, people used to say, "How do you do?," which is a somewhat formal precursor to the modern-day use of "How are you?"

I'm so much more interested in how you do and how you are than what you do. 

Hence, the dread irksomeness around Question #2. 

What about you? How do you do? Share your thoughts in a comment. I'd love to learn from your perspective.