“What Do I Do?” In Response To What?


Man struggles with umbrella.

I’m a firm believer that if you can’t explain what you do in one short, clear sentence, you don’t have a real job. And it needs to make sense to anybody, including toddlers.

Consider: “I leverage market synergies to present new opportunities for clients.” That’s make-believe. There’s so many vague generalities and buzzwords in there that your job description is designed to obscure what you’re actually good for, which must mean somewhere deep in the consciousness of your career’s fabric, you’re either ashamed or you don’t want people to figure out you’re actually on the payroll to swindle them.

Look at this job description: “When there’s fires, I save people from them.” Boom. That’s a real job. “I fly planes.” “I design bridges.” “I teach kindergarten.” Real. Real. Real. Those people do a thing.

“I analyze metrics for building consumer-centric brand consciousness.” That’s witchcraft. You’re awful.

One of my first jobs was at a Senior Center, doing everything from answering phones to helping geezers fill out federal applications for tax benefits and low-income utility bill assistance, a very touchy-feely nonprofit that subsisted on donations and the endless self-sacrificing commitment of its volunteers and employees.

While I was working a local chamber-of-commerce expo, handing out fliers for poor families that needed help paying for things like adult diapers to take care of their elderly loved ones, this sleek investment-planner guy in a suit comes up. Mobile earpiece, chewing gum, slicked hair, you know the type. He comes up like, “So what do you do?” I’m this shy, wet-behind-the-ears, super-idealist 21 year old kid at this point so I’m like, oh, maybe he needs help taking care of his elderly father, and I stutter to him about our programs.

Do you know what this croc-leather-shoe douchebag with the Bluetooth from, like, Goldman-Sachs or some shit says to me then? He says, “Oh, we do the same thing” and hands me his business card, with like eagles and money signs on it. We do the same thing.

He goes from that into some spiel about how he also assists those looking for options regarding retirement bonds and mutual funds, or something, and that we should “exchange some clients” later, like young, wrinkled-and-wrong-size-shirt-ed, feeling-lucky-for-pulling-28k-a-year, let-me-set-up-granny’s-meals-on-wheels me existed in the same universe as this Porsche-driving cock. I was like, oh, okay, I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that, but like, it’s nice talking to you – and he slapped me on the back really hard like rich dicks do and walked away grinning, not listening anymore. We do the same thing. NO, you fucking DON’T.

I realize in retrospect that “we do the same thing” is probably part of a networking “script” these people follow: the people I now run into coming out of the Northwestern MBA program which is in the same building as my pragmatically-useless Master’s in Literature program, and they’re always wearing perfectly tailored black suits and smile like creepy aliens about “opportunities to network” and how they’re going to “metric that soon.” Stop using nouns as verbs, goddammit! There are English GRAD STUDENTS here!

The real irony is that these corporate-minded aspirant drones actually do go on to have real jobs, where what they do impacts the economy and cultural trends importantly, while my dream is to eventually become a professor and / or writer, and just keep teaching more people like me, and talk about, like, “What is Truth?” I mean, I think that’s important, but as far as actual businesses are concerned, I may as well be like, “Aren’t flowers nice?” Which group of us is actually doing things that matter for the human race? This is basically all of the Culture Wars, that question. Flowers are nice.

A recent development that bothers me is when people try to make their job sound more corporate than it is. Like, if someone works in a store in the mall or whatever: they say, “I work in retail.”

Okay, that doesn’t really mean anything, I work in retail. Retail includes everything from managing aileron-sales accounts at Boeing to putting the frosting on the Mini-Bites at Cinnabon. Like, own it! Own what you do. I fold polos at Hollister and the smell is killing me. Yes! Own it! I was a busboy at a cowboy-themed restaurant for a while; I wasn’t like, “I work in Western Agribusiness.” I clean up your spilled BBQ, bitches. I wear a bowtie when I do it. “I work in retail.” Bullshit.

Real people don’t hide their job by talking about the industry. Doctors aren’t like, “I work in health-care.” Pilots aren’t like, “oh, I work in transportation” when asked what they do.

And don’t be ashamed! I overheard a young woman talking to an older family friend on the train, describing how she had graduated with honors in neuro-science and just got into medical school, and it came up that she was engaged. “Oh, what does he do?” the old family friend asked. She responded, “He works in retail.”

You could hear the aspirationally defensive prickliness. Just say it, dear. He stocks epauletted t-shirts at H&M. And plays video games. So what? You love him, don’t you? Just be upfront about things: don’t care so much what other people think, and if you don’t act embarrassed, nobody else will either.

Who cares he isn’t good enough for you?


6 thoughts on ““What Do I Do?” In Response To What?

  1. I attended a blogger’s meet the other day where I ran into this young, lean and mean columnist in ‘own-space’ with a spiked drink. This is how it went:
    Me: What is your blog about?
    Him: You know, I’m an MBA student. But I like sharing my insights and analysis with people about the misalignments in financial resources and uses, pitfalls of over-consumption or under-consumption…. Anyways, what do you blog about?
    Me: Oh, I write stories.
    Him: Oh, you write stories.
    End of conversation.

  2. well said. we all really need to own what we do. it’s too bad most of us care so much on how and what people think of us.

Holla back, girl

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