Nice to meet you, what do you do?
Mystery woman: “Hi, I’m Anita.”
Me: “Hi Anita, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Jo.”
Anita: “Nice to meet you too, Jo. What do you do?”
I sing in the car most mornings. I wash my hair every three days because on day four my previously manageable hairstyle becomes limp and uncomfortable. I swing on swing-sets whenever I come across them. I tell my husband that I love him every weekday morning as we part ways for our busy days ahead. I avoid looking in the cardboard packing box of items I collected from my Grandparent’s house when my Nan passed away because the pain of losing her still blinds the desire to touch her things.
But none of these answers, though genuine and from the heart, would provide what Anita has asked for.
Have you ever noticed that regardless of where we are, in meeting someone new for the first time a lot of us tend to ask them what they do to earn a dollar before we enquire about much else? And instinctively we associate the word ‘do’ with our professional work, as if that is all we do?
Luckily for me, what I do for work is one of my biggest loves and something that I am only too happy to talk about. Nonetheless, my work alone does not define me, and my response to the question “What do you do?” is not the thing that I want you to remember most from our initial meeting.
I am not sure exactly when this question first came into popular use. Maybe it was soon after we began answering the question “How are you?” with “Good” or “Fine thanks, how are you?” with a level of speed and precision that suggests we are on conversation auto-pilot.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a question around our work skill-set should take immediate precedence above all possible others, like when:
– we are trapped on a desert island and in need of a raft
– we are engaging in ‘ice breaker’ activities that require you to form groups based on your current employment area or vocational aspiration
But these instances are few and far between. I wonder what our conversations might sound like if instead of building their foundation on the source of our pay-check, we replaced “What do you do?” with “Who are you?” or “What does it mean to be you?” or “What are you most passionate about?” or “What is your absolute favourite thing to do?”
Are you cringing at the thought of asking a complete stranger such ‘personal’ questions? Why?
Every time we have an initial conversation with another person we embark on a new relationship.
Whether it lasts a mere moment or a lifetime, that interaction is the shiny new starting point for everything that is to come between them and ourselves. So what do you really want to know? What kind of conversational opportunities do you really want to have? At a time when we can empower another person by giving them a platform to tell us anything at all about who they are and how they spend their time, what do we want to encourage from them? And what do we want to share about ourselves? Do we have a conversation with their résumé, or their heart? Perhaps they are intertwined?
I dare you, beautiful, to shift outside of a societal custom – if you don’t already – and have a real conversation; one that dives beyond the surface of our daily schedule and into what makes someone really sing.