10 March 2011

For a Living

Do you sometimes feel annoyed when someone asks you what you do "for a living"?  

I usually say I am a philosopher.  It seems to make people think I must be very intelligent and important (or boring) and they then rarely want to know any more details about my daily activities.

I am yet to meet a "real" philosopher who asks me questions about my "real" occupation.

But what does it mean to do something "for a living"?  I used to say I was a writer, but that can cause all sorts of confusion.  It has been my experience that some people (especially women) think of female writers as only being capable of writing romantic novels.  I am the last person in the world who would want to write a romantic novel.

A former colleague of mine, who is now a very senior media executive, has the habit of saying she is "just a housewife" when a stranger tries to strike up a conversation on a train.  It has been her experience that if she mentions her work, it causes too much intrusiveness and embarrassment.  If she says she is "just a housewife" then people usually leave her in peace so she can concentrate on some of the reports she needs to read as part of her "real" work.

How do you answer the question :"What do you do (for a living)?"

If I say something like "I breathe", then others may consider me rude rather than profound.  Yet breathing is what I mainly do to keep alive.  It is the most direct and accurate answer to the question.

In the past, I have also responded by merely stating the industry in which I happened to be working at the time.  At other times, I have had the unfortunate experience of providing others with some awareness of my knowledge of a particular topic, usually to find that they subsequently ask questions as if I should be giving them free advice.

Perhaps I should answer the question about doing and living in another way in future.  Maybe I should state that I make a living by charging a fee of $100 each time I am asked to respond to that question.   It may soon make me very rich indeed!

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