This summer I’ve hung out with a guy who knows his contemporary music like no other person I know, I’ve also had some brilliant conversations with an art historian who is so not how you’d think an art historian would be and who makes me laugh like a drain. I’ve also knocked around with a qualified personal trainer and an amazing cook.
The thing is, none of those people actually do those things professionally. But it got me pondering how here in the UK, “What do you do?” is pretty much the first question people ask when they meet someone new. We don’t ask kids that do we? We ask them what they love doing, or have they read such and such a book or watched a film you think they might love, do they play sport or…So why on earth are we judging/categorising/identifying people we’ve just met, mainly by what they do for a living?
The question itself is just so loaded. Whether it’s to categorise someone based on perception of value they add, or even what they are worth, their status in society. Or – dare I say it – whether they’re likely to be interesting enough to continue talking to?
I know many, many fantastic creatives and experts in their field – who by their own admission have been lucky enough to be able to do what they love for a living. Of course much of that is down to tenacity, hard work and determination, but most will admit to a sprinkling of luck here and there too, their lucky break.
But not all of us can make that claim. I personally reinvented myself back in the recession of the early 90, with two simple aims: to get work, and get on a career path to get more work; but it wasn’t the one I’d dreamt of. I did it to stand on my own two feet after a thousand rejection letters, to be able to put a roof over my head and some food (and beer) in my stomach.
Several iterations later and 2 kids of my own plus a stepdaughter, and I’m now running what’s generally called a portfolio career, doing some bits that I love, alongside some bits I love a lot less but that pay the bills. Ducking and diving with the best of them to earn a crust. So now, when I’m asked at a party/music gig/wedding/funeral/school gates (delete as appropriate) I fumble around even more trying to sound vaguely interesting and intelligent.
The person I’ve described up at the top of this post is my husband. If you chopped him in half (nice imagery, eh) you’d see his love of music and a certain football team running through his lifeblood, not the work he does on a day-to-day basis which is literally no reflection of the man he is. The other people I’ve described are a headhunter, a lawyer and a marketeer….again it’s their passion in these areas and all the other multifaceted layers that make them who they are, not their jobs. One of the most well-read, and extremely funny raconteurs I know is a bin man. And actually I’ve met many creative who are neither funny nor particularly well read nor interesting, too.
It’s a particularly tough one for stay at home mums as well. I know countless friends who feel the tumbleweeds when they reply that they’re not working at the moment. And yet some of them are the most fun, engaging, knowledgeable, zeitgeisty people I know, and most of them are adding enormous value to our community and school too. For nothing. So that makes them nice people, right? Surely then, it’s the enquirer’s loss if they do walk away, because they might have found out something interesting or had a bloody good laugh.
I’ve tried myself to make that the last question I ask, and only then if the person is directly signposting their work themselves (ie wanting to be asked) or we realise we have a connection through our work, otherwise I don’t really give a toss what someone does for a living, to be frank. I’m much more interested in where they live, where they’ve travelled recently and could they recommend a great place to eat, or stay. I’m definitely much more interested in where a stylish person got their bag/shoes/coat. What book someone’s read that made them laugh/cry/rant. Or find a mutual love for Jaws, ET and Dirty Dancing.
I do really hope that when my number is up, that at my funeral I’m not remembered for what I did by profession. I want to be remembered as a great mum, an excellent wife (!) a reliable friend, good company, and interesting to talk to. For my love of nonsense, stripes, great art, a pickiness about fonts, a fondness for gin, and a beautiful handbag.
What’s the saying? …Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. So maybe lets stop identifying people only for what they do professionally, and instead find out who the person actually is underneath…they may well surprise us, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of house music 1990-95. Or share their fantastic recipe for Margaritas’.
…..Or tell a great story that makes us laugh til we cry….