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Stop asking ‘what do you do for a living?’

Don’t pigeonhole people; work doesn’t define us

As a bartender, I hear this daily. Well, I’m sure we all hear this daily regardless of occupation or vocation or location. This even happens in my day job/usual social crowd in which I interact with engineers computer scientists all the time. Probably more so — the world of tech is probably the most toxic bunch in any industry. Someone in our group will bring friends along or we can be abroad for a conference and when meeting new people, the conversation immediately goes to some variant of

So what do you do?


To me, this question points to a significant issue in modern society. Especially in the US, but I’ve witnessed and experienced this situation countless times in my travels abroad. Be it the UK or India or the Philippines or so on. We are so programmed to care about our place in society solely in terms of occupation and, let’s face it, income. I feel like with this kind of questioning, we pigeonhole ourselves. We end up overlooking what and who people are as individuals. Our jobs do not define us.

I’m not just an engineer. I’m not just a bartender. I’m not just a writer. I enjoy conflicting genres of music. I’m an E-sports and live sports athlete. I still buy hard copy books from Barnes and Noble.

To me, when people ask this question, they’re basically saying

Let me calculate how much respect I should give you

Ok, that might just sound like me being cynical. This line of work can do that to a person…

In reality, I’m the opposite. I am an optimist. I think there is so much more to a person’s life than what that person does for a living. Or at least there ought to be? I know that’s not always the case. I know I’m speaking from privilege just to be able to take that viewpoint so easily. However, I’ve seen sparks of happiness even in the poorest and roughest of environments. I’ve seen people give, without a second’s thought, even when they have nothing left to give. I know for a fact that there is more to life than someone’s occupation. So, why do we need to focus so much on that? I’m no expert on the ‘why’, so I leave it to others to hopefully leave some thoughts in the comments.

What I am certain of, however, is that there are alternative ways to go about meeting someone new. Even if you were just truly curious about what they do for a living, there are more interesting, and I would argue a heck of a lot more fruitful, ways to build a relationship with a fellow individual rather than talking about what your jobs are.

Some ideas and please add yours in the comments!!

  • Why do you like coming to this bar?

  • What should we toast to?

  • What’s something you’re really interested in or excited about right now?

  • What are you passionate about?

  • What do you like to do for fun?

  • What are your top restaurant recommendations?

  • Do you prefer books or movies?

  • Tell me about the most interesting person/people you’ve met while traveling.

Only after all that, then you get this bartender’s approval to ask about their occupation.

Would love to hear your opinions!

[16min:32sec stream of consciousness]

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