You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Immunity From The Question:
One of my favourite things about travel is not being asked that question or a variation of it including:
What do you do back home...What do you do for work...What are you?
It’s almost an unspoken agreement that you don't ask people what they do for work.
Immunity from the question as you cross the border.
There’s a couple of potential reasons;
Most people travelling are either on a career break, have just finished studying,
have quit everything and hit the road or are in the midst of a career change.
Most of these people don’t have a clue what they work at.
A lot of people travelling don’t value people according to what they have done in the past for work, do currently or will do in the future.
They just want to spend time with people who make them feel good and avoid people who drain them.
How To Avoid/Explore A Topic In Conversation:
Generally, if we ask a question on a certain topic then it’s likely that question will be redirected back to us.
I say how old are you and then I am asked the same or I am asked how big a family I have and then ask the same back.
Whoever goes first in conversation can guide the conversation in this regard.
It works both ways, if I purposely avoid a direction of questioning then I can reduce the likelihood of being asked about it.
In conversation with fellow travellers, it rarely goes towards profession or career.
Personally, this reduced my anxiety before entering conversations as I was one of those people who didn’t have a clue what I “did”.
Without needing to know a person’s profession to understand them you are opening the possibility to see a person in a different light.
The reality is; what you work at has little to do with who you really are.
Some of the most interesting and intelligent people I met on my travels I found out in later conversations that they worked as florists, bartenders, cafes, volunteers or were unemployed.
Some had PhDs, degrees, others had little to no schooling, none of the relationships was built on any of this.
It bears repeating, what you do for work is separate from who you are.
What’s A First Conversation For?
The thing is that as humans we want to connect with other people, we are social beings.
In conversation, we want to be able to find if there are common interests to talk about.
We are attracted to people who are similar to us, it’s comforting to know there are people like us.
People with the same beliefs, insecurities, hobbies and who see the world in similar ways.
It makes us feel like we belong, that we have found another person in our tribe.
How do we quickly find out in meeting someone if this is worth investing in and if they are our kind of person?
Going on a date, the meet and greet are completed and next thing in the space that exists in conversation either person has the ability to take it down certain paths.
Maybe it’s around family, weather, hobbies, travel or sports.
We explore different topics and based on the response and what we hear we decide if it’s worth sticking to or switching.
You ask someone about family and they give a short answer and change subjects, feedback to avoid that topic.
Or talk about travel and find out the person has been in a lot of the same places you have been, a topic which you could talk about for days.
The goal is to find something as quickly as possible which allows a conversation to flow so that we can both enjoy it.
The quicker we can get comfortable the better.
The more important a topic we have similar interests in increases the likelihood of a deeper relationship forming.
If it’s a business meeting then it may get straight to the point without going through the surface levels.
None of the formalities, thanks.
A belief a person doesn’t need to connect on that deeper level in order to close the sale.
Down to business, no need for foreplay.
Apart from the fact that business is built on those deeper levels but that’s for another post.
How about meeting someone at a social event.
Meet and greet complete, we are trying to find some common ground to create a connection.
We want to go through the levels.
In the potential uncertainty and awkwardness of meeting someone, we want to understand them in as short a time as possible.
Dependant on your social skills you may feel uncomfortable.
We want to get some certainty as quickly as possible on the situation we find ourselves in.
What Are We Looking To Do In Conversation?
We want to understand the person in front of us.
We want to be in control.
The lizard brain is telling us to take control of the situation, the person across from us could pose a threat to our survival.
A likely question to come to mind in this situation is;
What do you do yourself?
This question consistently features on my list of worst questions to ask someone.
The reason is more than including the extra word “yourself" at the end.
It's because somehow the question what do you do is synonymous with who you are.
good job = good person
bad job = bad person
successful career = successful person
You get the picture.
The Intention Behind The Question:
No single question is going to make you understand a person.
Often times people think that finding out what someone does for a living is a shortcut to finding out who they are.
I agree on the shortcut part, it’s just I see it functioning as a quicker way to kill a potential relationship.
If a conversation is a fear based on trying to understand then it will have the opposite effect.
So long as we are looking to put people in their boxes we are not able to see who they really are.
The truth is that we connect with people on a much deeper level than a logical question and answer.
It’s far more subconscious or unconscious.
Logical questions and answers just occupy the space necessary to see what matters in a person.
Personally, I look for people who are open, generous and who have a presence about them.
I’m not going to walk up to a person and say;
Hi, how are you, I am just wondering are you an open and generous person and do you have a certain presence about you?
I’m going to try and relax and let the conversation go in several directions and see what happens.
Lately, I am basing this off of intuition and how I feel around certain people.
People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick them wisely. ― Hans F. Hasen
It makes a huge difference.
If a question is coming from a place of fear then it’s not a great question.
Fear-based questions demand a certain answer, getting the answer we want confirms we are right, not getting the answer we want provokes more fear and closes down all possibilities of connecting with another person.
Great questions come from being curious and open to accepting what comes from the question.
I have operated from fear-based questions many times before and will do it again.
I learned little and will continue to learn little from this behaviour.
How To Understand People Better:
The harder a person tries to understand a person logically the less likely they are to actually understand them.
You cannot see the important when looking at the unimportant.
Sometimes when I am asked what I do, I laugh.
I don't really mean it, it just happens.
I laugh because I cannot explain it to myself, never mind to you.
I laugh because I am the kind of person who writes 1800+ word blogs about things like this.
Maybe if I get some business coaching, read some more books and attend some more courses I will be able to rhyme off some line which wows people.
It’s just that kind of thing doesn’t interest me at the moment.
What Do You Do?
That question is a perfect question, in the right situation with the correct intention.
But often it comes from a place of fear.
Someone trying to understand on a logical level something which is understood on a deeper level.
To give an answer the person wants is to give them false certainty, to allow them to put their worry in a box along with us so they can feel good temporarily.
Except…..action based on fear does not get rid of it, it feeds it.
When I catch myself in this situation I will try to break the cycle by not acting according to someone else’s fear.
I will remain comfortable in the awkwardness until we both see the situation for what it is, or don’t.
Sometimes I will be caught flustered, trying to explain myself, trying to sound intelligent, it’s just I do this less often.
If we don’t get our understanding from looking at people from that perspective, we might be able to look at it from the perspective which gives us what we are really looking for.
Connection with a person, a relationship worth investing in, a deeper understanding of who we are.
Personally, I don’t care if you work in the post office licking stamps, as the founder of a company worth a billion or are unemployed.
I have learned incredible amounts from people who are both socially defined as educated and uneducated, intelligent and unintelligent.
Again a reflection of the importance of social definitions to me.
I will again fall into the trap of boxing people up, of trying to understand them without taking the time to go through the levels.
Again my writing is for me first and foremost so that I have the awareness to practice being better.
For you to know you are much more than what you get paid to do is what I want you to take from this.
Those who define you by your work, don’t matter and those who don’t define you by your work, matter.
How people act off the clock, when they are not being watched by a boss paints a more accurate picture of who a person is.
What people do when they don’t need to do anything.