So, what do you do? uhmmm…

MichaelCareer, Education, Misc, Personal Development28 Comments

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What do you do?

The Question

If you’re anything like me, you probably cringe a bit inside when you hear the all too common question…

So, what do you do?

What do you do?I’ve always had trouble with this question, even though I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times.

I even had trouble when I rocked a normal 9-5 job and later on when I owned an I.T. company.

Well, things haven’t changed much after 3.5 years of early retirement.

Why is that?

I think it’s because I don’t like to pigeon-hole myself.  Can you relate?

Can you really define yourself by answering one question?

My Previous Response

I couldn’t figure out a good response, so I went around answering the question differently depending on who I was talking to, or what type of group I was amongst.

So, what do you do?

Most recently, my most common answers were:

  • I’m a stay-at-home-dad.
  • I’m a blogger.
  • I’m a personal finance coach.
  • I’m a real estate investor.
  • I’m an entrepreneur in hibernation.

These weren’t bad necessarily, but they also didn’t resonate with me on all levels.  And, if it were me on the other end, some of those are honestly a bit boring.

An interesting side note is that I’ve never used “I’m an early retiree.”  I’m not quite sure why other than I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable with my non-traditional path.  Likewise, even though I am an early retiree, I’m much more active working than ever… it’s just in a different and multifaceted capacity than before.

A Breakthrough… perhaps

Well, I was discussing this dilemma with my mastermind group last week and I finally stumbled upon a formula that seems to work.  At least it’s resonating with me currently!

Here it is:

So, what do you do?

I teach people how to leverage money into freedom so they can spend more time with their family.

What do you think of my new response (permission to be brutally honest!)?

Here’s why I think it works.  The focus is no longer on what I do, but rather on other people.  This change is more intriguing to people because we automatically filter other people’s responses and see how it matches within their own frame of reference.

I think this is specific enough, but also vague enough for people to be intrigued and ask questions further.  If they want to know more, I can explain that I started and sold a company, stay at home with my kids during the day, and pursue multiple side businesses late at night.

The Formula

Want to know how I came up with this?  Well, I can’t take the credit.  I was watching this TEDx talk by Adam Leipzig.

Ironically, I wasn’t too impressed with his speech initially, but I decided to plug my answers into his formula anyways and it worked!  So, keep that in mind if you give this a try.

Here’s the formula for your answer:

How what you do changes the people you do it for.

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it.  It sounds simple, but somehow it’s also complex.  It is your life definition after all, right?

I haven’t had the chance to try out my new response yet, but I’m going to experiment with it the next couple of months and see how it goes.

Just as important, I’m going to really try to listen to other people’s answers and genuinely hear them.

Readers, how do you respond to this age-old question?  So, what do you do?  Are you satisfied with your answer?  

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Hi, I have been blessed to take an early retirement in my mid-30's so I can focus on becoming a better father, blogger, and investor.

My goal is to help you find your personal path to financial freedom, and to enjoy the entire journey.

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28 Comments on “So, what do you do? uhmmm…”

  1. Nice post and it resonated with me because as a chemical engineer I had a hard time telling even my wife and kids what I did for a living. I could at least default to saying “I make gasoline and diesel fuel at the refinery.” However in my early retirement (semi-early) I have six main side gigs, four that pay and two that are public service/charitable in nature. They range from running a local college and a local charitable foundation to litigating utility rate cases for large industrial clients, being an expert witness in lawsuits and contract political lobbying. Plus I’m becoming a frequent guest on retirement and personal finance podcasts, also non-paid, but fun. It is really hard to wrap up all that into one sentence! I’ve tried, “I’m retired but have a few fun side gigs.” But that doesn’t really explain what I do or why I do it. I also have tried, “I do all kinds of things, but only the ones I enjoy.” That sounds like I’m bragging though and still doesn’t give anyone a clue to what I really do. Using your formula I guess I could say “I help large companies solve their energy problems and help people who need a hand through education and healthcare.” Hey, I like that!

    1. Wow, Steve I love that! Your new response is simple, descriptive and intriguing.

      I agree that before I plugged into this formula, I had issues balancing my ability to intrigue vs. bragging. I definitely tried to stay away from bragging so I usually settled for boring.

      That’s cool that you have the opportunity to take a semi-retirement and find fulfillment between both worlds. I’d love to interview you for the blog if you’re open to sharing your story.

  2. Great new answer Michael! I tend to fumble a bit when asked this question. As an IT Project Manager I always feel the need to give a bit more detail on what I do. Turning it around to be people focused and a bit opened end naturally opens it up for more conversation. Good stuff.

  3. Ugh, I would hate being asked this all the time. It’s a perfectly innocent conversation-starter, but if you live a non-mainstream lifestyle, it can be a minefield. I’m not sure how I would answer this. I think it depends on if I want any kind of relationship with the person or if it’s a casual, polite conversation at a party or something.

    Honestly, I would probably lie and say I still had a 9-to-5 just to avoid pestering questions or judgments. I’m at least 10 years away from FIRE, so I won’t have to worry about this for a while. Who knows–maybe at that point in my life I won’t give a damn and be honest that I’m an early retiree. 🙂

    1. MPP, I agree this answer is a perfectly innocent conversation-starter. In fact, I’ve asked it myself many times even when I didn’t want to be asked it in return…hah. It’s true too that our willingness to converse around the topic is likely influenced by the environment we find ourselves in.

  4. I tell people I do statistics and math at a bank. Most people would have no idea if I actually told them what I do…

    I never ask a person about their work unless they bring it up. I like asking the question, what do you do in your free time, or what do you like to do for fun? It gets the conversation going towards a potentially deeper subject where my friend or the stranger I’m chatting with can talk about themselves more.

    1. I like that approach, Erik! Use another question that is more disarming than the typical, what do you do?

      If we can achieve rapport first it’s more likely to result in a deeper conversation from both side.

  5. Oh my goodness….I hate that question. I’ve tried different things – several were like your initial list of responses. “I’m a stay at home mom” or “I’m a blogger” or “I teach self-defense”. I never have liked any of them. I love the strategy you used. And I really like your new response – it would be interesting to know how others respond to it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Cool, Amanda! Self defense? That’s awesome! Sounds like you’re a teacher at heart and help build the confidence in others. 🙂

      Thanks for the feedback on my new one too! I’ll have to do an update to this post once I get more reactions.

  6. I like it!

    I heard somewhere, maybe at a networking event, that you shouldn’t ask people the boring old “what do you do” question because you will get a rehearsed answer. They will think “this convo is boring”. Instead ask something like “what are you excited about at work” or “what do you nerd out on”. Can’t say I’ve tried it, but thought I would pass it on!

    1. Good point, Brian. I agree that we definitely don’t want our conversations to feel rehearsed. It’s almost an art! I also find that getting out of our head and into our heart really helps.

  7. The problem is most of us still trying to fit our answers into the expected norm, after we have got out of it, after years of hard works, planning, and saving diligently.

    Now a day when asked I just say I work on my investments, something I do regularly, and frankly don’t care what others think (we earned it don’t you think?)

    1. Working on investments is a interesting response, Jim. It would intrigue me at least. 😉

      In certain circumstances I agree it doesn’t matter much what others think. In other settings I think the conversation serves to give back to others by sharing our passions with them.

      I guess it just depends on the situation.

  8. Hehe. Fortunately for me, I probably have many years to go before I have to answer that question. I do dream of the day that I can say that I stay at home or do “online work” for a career.

    1. I’m sure you’ll get there soon, SMMD! How do you respond currently? My friends and family in medicine all respond a bit differently… I’m a physician, I’m in medicine, I’m an < >, etc.

      1. I simply tell them I’m a surgeon. 😉 However, I do like Steve’s response above about being retired, but working on side projects. “Funemployed” might also be a good option. However, if I get into a situation like yours where I am actually getting good cash flow on real estate, I might simply tell people that I work with real estate. Doesn’t mean that you’re not FIRE!

  9. It’s a great and tough question Mike although I see that you’ve nailed it there!
    I usually mention that I’m a business analyst despite my role being a segregation of duties analyst. I’d say more and more these days it’s more around the story rather than the title we perform, which you’ve captured there very effectively :)!

    1. Thanks, Jef! I think a business analyst is definitely more understandable. When I was transitioning my company, I was given the title of VP of Managed Services On-Premise Support… what the heck is that?? 😉

  10. That’s a great way to answer the question and lead to a discussion with instilling the negative cultural connotations with saying your a blogger. My real job is pretty easy to understand, I’m a project manager running projects to bring in more money or make things efficient… but the industry I work in is nearly impossible to explain to the layman. I’ve gotten to the point that I refer to a tool someone uses on tv as the closest analogy. (Note I’m being purposely obtuse only because I work in a field wi only a few direct competitors so my actual explanation would reveal a lot if you understood our field. Everyone else would be scratching their heads.)

  11. Exactly three people in my family know what I do for a living so sometimes I’m tempted to pretend I’m a secret agent. It’d be plausible. They don’t know what I do, they don’t know where I live exactly, they don’t know where I go or when I travel, or if I travel.

    Seriously, though, I tend to answer depending on whether I want to engage in conversation about it or not. If I don’t, then “I’m in charge of getting shit done.”

    If I do, then, well, I’m still in charge of getting shit done, but I might mention an industry. 🙂

    But usually my work isn’t much of a conversation-builder, it’s just a thing I do to earn money til I don’t have to earn money anymore.

    1. Oooh, a secret agent would be cool, Revanche! Too bad you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone until many years later. 🙂

      Yeah, I can definitely understand altering your answer depending on your want to engage in conversation or not.

  12. So how are people responding to your elevator pitch?

    I recently changed jobs and need to be thinking on my pitch. Especially since I meet a lot of new people in my role.

    When I was younger I would sometimes respond that I was unemployed. People immediately feel really uncomfortable when they hear that and choke up. They are thrown around when they here something that does not fit what they expect.

    1. The jury is still out on the response since I haven’t had any opportunities quite yet. 🙂

      I agree with you, MWS, whenever “unemployment” is mentioned there is an awkward silence!

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