Last year I spent a lot of time going to networking events in the city. While some people avoid these organized soirees at all cost, I flocked to them because they often provided me with two amazing opportunities: a chance to meet new, cool people, and a chance to get free food and drinks(hey, I was unemployed at the time).
When I went to my first networking event on a frosty February night last year, I did not really know what to expect. I brought the business cards I had gotten done at Staples, and wore what I thought was a pretty professional outfit, but none of this prepared me for being bombarded with the question of the evening: “What do you do?”
Now, I know this was a networking event, so obviously people were there to talk about work in some form, or fashion, but I was not expecting that this would be the first thing people asked me. I also never expected that when I meet new people anywhere, that this would be the leading question.
I’m sure this happens in other places, but in New York City, asking someone what they do (as in what type of job do they have), is just as common as asking a new acquaintance their name. Everyone wants to know how you spend the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
When I was unemployed this question made me uneasy. I always knew it was coming, but I never knew quite how to answer it. Did I say I was looking for a job? Did I tell them what I had done in the past? I didn’t want to use the “U” word. Last year, admitting you were unemployed (especially in NYC) was like telling someone you have bed bugs. People were afraid that your misfortune would rub off on them.
Now, even though I am working full-time, I still find this question (when mentioned very early in the conversation) unsettling. It’s not that I have an aversion to talking about work-quite the opposite, actually I just have a problem with being defined by what I do, and losing the opportunity to share the things about me I know for sure.
Things like how much I love to read. Or that I believe dancing is the greatest form of energy. Maybe even sharing how much I still like to write, although I am interested in alternative storytelling forms.
These are the things I need to remember I know for sure at a time when my days are somewhat unstable, and I am questioning the career choices I’ve made thus-far. For a second I might want to be reminded about who I am; not what I do.
Am I the only person who feels this way?