What Do You Do? The Most Uncomfortable Question

And How to Answer it Like a Pro

What do you do? I am a writer Explaining my profession to strangers used to be easy. When they asked, “What do you do?”, I would reply with, “I am an English teacher.” And, if I wanted to add more pride to my answer, I’d say, “I teach English at a university level.” Back in Mexico, my homeland, I used to teach English in a classroom setting. Making lesson plans and grading exams were part of my everyday duties.

However, when I moved to the Netherlands, answering this question became a hassle. It’s now been two years since I’ve been in front of a classroom. During my first year of living in this country, I attended many events, and strangers would often ask the uncomfortable question of “what do you do?” to which I would reply stuttering, “I-I used to be a-an English teacher.” Some of my answers also included an explanation of why I wasn’t working in my field of study anymore, “finding a job as an English teacher in this country is difficult you know….” I would come up with all sorts of answers ranging from, “I am taking a sabbatical.” to “I am a dog walker, house-cleaner, and ironing masterThis last one is true, by the way. For a year or so, I devoted my time to working in different sorts of day jobs. At least then I had an answer for the curious people out there.

After some time, I started my own online clothing business. I do not make millions with it, but I have a very decent income that allows me to pay for my expenses. Besides, I love working on my business, and people love the brand. I decided to test out my brand-new job title by attending different events. People at parties would approach me and ask, “so tell me, what do you do?”, and I would answer with, “I run an online clothing business”. This time it came out naturally, and I felt more confident in my answer than ever before.

After a while, I developed a new passion for writing. This passion showed up unannounced, and I welcomed it with open arms. During my second year of living in the Netherlands, I decided to start a lifestyle blog based on my own experiences. My audience started to grow, and I even got published on some major websites. I couldn’t be happier; writing had filled the void in my career path. Nowadays, when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I’m an entrepreneur and a writer, because even if my business is still small, and even if my writing is still in process, it’s who I am.

So what if you feel like your answer isn’t enough?

There will never be a right answer to this question, because you are who you decide to be. If you are a waiter, say it out loud. Be proud of how good you are at your job. If you are a business owner, be proud of it. If you’re like me, and you made a shift in your career, embrace it. Be fearless and tell your friends, family, and everybody around. Give yourself permission to be someone new.

Answer with confidence. I’ve learned that the key to answering the “what do you do?” question like a master is to answer with confidence. Say, “I am an (insert profession, job, or hobby here)” with pride. No one is going to believe you are ‘x’ thing if you don’t believe it yourself. If you consider yourself to be a great teacher, and you know you are providing great value, others will see it too. Never belittle the work that you do.

Understand the transition jobs. You’ll probably be many things in life: a waiter, a student, an assistant, a teacher, you name it. And at one point or another, you will feel like your job is not as valuable as others. But when you understand that the job you perform is sometimes part of a transition in your life, you will start responding differently.

Stop caring about what others will think. Your friends won’t stop talking to you just because you’ve changed your career or because you’re figuring things out. At least your real friends will understand and support you through rough times. What others think about you is secondary. You know very well what your victories and your strengths are,  so why bother worrying so much about your answer. Who knows, you might be a house cleaner now, but a successful (insert dream job) in a couple of years. 🙂

So, what about you? Have you ever struggled with telling people about your job? Share your own experiences in the comment section below!

6 Replies to “What Do You Do? The Most Uncomfortable Question

  1. Love this- After leaving a corporate career of 10+ years in sales and management for marriage and a new life, I spent the first few months telling people I was ‘unemployed’. It was a horrible feeling. Now, I am gaining confidence to tell them I am an artist (which I have been since 18), a writer, a wife, and a stay at home mother. I have a full life, and I am trying not to be embarrassed to tell people that. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Brenda. An artist, a writer, a wife and a stay at home mother! Wow! That’s awesome. It sounds to me like you’re a multi-passionate person. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. At the end of the day, what matters is how you spend your time, and if you’re loving your lifestyle you’re in the right path. 🙂

  2. Amazing blog Jessy. I love the way you write and how your ideas flow in a very unique style.
    You are for me, one of the best examples of personal growth and success. Leaving the homeland to work in a very different culture it is way too hard, just the strongest and most skilled like yourself, can achieve this.
    What do I do??? I am an teacher of english. Also, I teach medieval english history and develop multimedia and digital material for education. Again, I admire you because you are not only a successful writer, you are an incredible human being.
    Hugs from Mexico

    1. Thank you Antonio. I really appreciate your comment. I feel the same about you. I always learn something from your Facebook posts. You have a vast knowledge of Medieval English history which I admire a lot. The world needs more teachers like you, passionate about their teaching field.
      Hugs from the Netherlands

  3. I was a bit like you. I taught a program at a college and I loved it. Then I moved to another country and couldn’t teach at all, I wasn’t good enough at Spanish to even be a student – let alone a teacher. So I told people that I accidentally retired. Because that best fit my description of going on vacation to Costa Rica and then not coming back. I had a story I told myself: I want to be a writer, I like writing. Then I changed my story to “I am a writer”. And I love it. I write a blog to stay connected to my friends and family new and old. I am writing a book about a Goddess. Thank you for this article.

    1. Dear Suzette, thank you for your comment. It’s never too late to change one’s story, and I am happy you started calling yourself a writer. It is really powerful when you give yourself permission to be someone new and say “I am__”. I wish you much success with your book.

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