Happy 2018 – Day 155 – A better question to ask than ‘What do you do?’

I’m working my way through Derren Brown’s awesome book, ‘Happy’ and couldn’t resist sharing another great point that he brought up, about how we interact and judge each other based on our chosen career paths.

Picture the scene – a social gathering which involves meeting lots of new people. What’s the first question we ask? 

“What [work] do you do?”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked or been asked this. But is this even a good question? 

If the receiver of this question likes their job and really cares about their work, then potentially this could be the start of a great conversation. But what if they don’t? What if this person just goes to work to earn a living, so that they can pursue relationships and adventures and creativity in their home life?

As a self-described workaholic teacher turned business owner, it’s clear that I’m not in the latter camp. I’ve accepted that for someone who enjoys work as much as I do, and works as many hours, I need to have a job that I feel fulfills me. I need to do something that I love. That’s just what works for me.

But I’m aware that not everyone needs or wants this. Some people are more than happy with a job that’s just a job; a job that they can leave behind. That doesn’t mean that they’re worth any less than I am. Or that they don’t have something to contribute to a conversation.

So how about start with a less-loaded and more meaningful question, like:

“What do you like to do?” 

With any luck, you’ll cut through that pointless small-talk and get to the juicy stuff much more quickly! You’ll also have a much better idea of what makes that person tick and who they really are.


  1. Exactly. I am so sick of people basing off someone’s core identity based on their job. It’s the most horrible question to be asked by a person when I meet someone for the first time. I feel more self-conscious about giving a concise answer probably because right now I am unemployed. I know what the general societal view on unemployed people is; that they’re lazy and expect other people to pay everything for them. I have such an intense fear people are thinking that about me once they know I’ve been unemployed for a while now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I’ve been there. It can be an awful start to a conversation, especially if you’re not in the place that you want to be. If I was you, I’d have a response pre-prepared that you’re okay with so you feel less crappy when you’re inevitably asked this again…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hate this question also. I loved it when I was working in TV because I could say, “I’m a script writer!” But now I’m substitute teaching and writing articles on the side while I get back into TV. I took a break to raise my kids… and this is NOT a bad thing! But my ego… or just my feeling that the culture I live in doesn’t appreciate careers with less cash… it feels crappy. I KNOW I have nothing to be ashamed of. But I have to admit I liked the bling bling of my other answer so much more. Something I am really working on so your post was good timing! (For the record, if I were to be truthful at a party and someone asked what I did, I would say, “I teach. I raise kids. I write a blog. I am teaching a writing course this summer. I am loving my progressive church. I am in love with my teenagers. I am really working on better communication with my husband and I’m obsessed with coffee and thrift stores.” Too much? : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha that’s a great and detailed answer for parties so I think you’ll be fine! It is hard to not feel like this in today’s culture… and I can imagine going from peoples response at script writer (wow!) to something more ‘normal’ does feel a bit deflating for the ego. But it sounds like you know what you’re about and what you enjoy, which is really all that matters. I mean….you might say you’re a billionaire TV Producer at parties, or movie director, or stunt woman – but if you don’t like what you do then how impressed or unimpressed people are really counts for nothing.


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