What Explains You?

What do you do?

Four simple words that I never thought I would come to dread as much as I do. A harmless question when you have a job, but when you are unemployed looking for full time work, this question takes on a whole new dimension.

So what do you do, Reva?

Well, I have an MPH in Health Behavior and Health Education, but I’m currently looking for full time employment. I’m interested in health communication, innovative approaches to health promotion programs and campaigns, chronic disease management, worksite wellness, etc.

I always answer this question in a similar manner because every encounter becomes a networking opportunity. And this is what people are really interested in when they ask that question, right? Even though the question itself is so vague, don’t they want to know what you do for a living? It’s implied. But why?

What do you do?

When we ask someone what they do, it’s in part to make small talk, but I think we also assume a person’s job says a lot about who they are. In many cases this is in fact true. My friend is an adoption worker. This says that she is a very altruistic, caring, and persistent person. My lawyer friends? Driven, confident, articulate, and critical thinkers. But what a person does for a living does not necessarily define or describe who they are or who they aspire to be, something that is especially true as people begin their careers. My lack of full time employment does not mean that I don’t do other things. I blog, I volunteer, I job search, I have part time work, I exercise…and I manage a chronic condition. Our identities are based on so much more than our jobs.

My identity? I am American. I am Jewish. I am a woman. I am a Public Health Professional. I am a young adult. I am a Wolverine (Go Blue!). I am a daughter, sister, and friend. And I am a diabetic. None of these alone describe who I am. I am all of these things. Kerri Sparling of Six Until Me has a mantra that encapsulates this perfectly. She says, “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.” All of these identities, as well as a person’s job, does not singularly define a person, but it does help explain who they are.

So I started thinking about alternatives to the question, What do you do? Although more to the point, they would be a bit awkward in a casual conversation or in a first encounter with a person.

So tell me, what defines you?
What do you do now, and what do you hope to do in your life?
If you could have any job, what would it be?
Nice to meet you. What makes you happy in life?
What are you doing in your life now that is helping you to become your ideal you?
Is the life you’re living the life you imagined?
What are you passionate about? Is the work you do related to your passion?
I know what you do. But what do you like to do?

Alternatively, I’ve thought about answering that question more broadly. What do I do? I work to inspire people to make positive health behavior changes in their lives and to live their lives to their fullest potential.

I’ve yet to ask any of these questions or to use the above response, but I’ve definitely thought about it. So far I’ve kept to social conventions and norms and have continued to use my standard response. However, this period of job searching has truly made me examine what does and doesn’t define and explain me.

What about you? What explains you?

2 thoughts on “What Explains You?

  1. Great post! I wish more people could understand that you can be smart, altruistic, caring, helpful, passionate, and not necessarily work in a job that emphasizes those things.


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