Inquiring minds always want to know: “What do you DO?” It’s an age old question, and one that has been competing with “What’s your name?” for Most Frequently Asked at Networking Events and First Dates long before the 90s invented “The Mixer”. But could it be inherently flawed? Isn’t it, in its deceiving broadness, actually limiting? Isn’t there a silent addendum attached to the end of it? Aren’t we just asking, and being asked, “WDYD…for a living?” ($$$) Theory of the Day: WDYD is a bad question.
Why? Let’s start with how a bad question can often result in some pretty awful answers. There are two types in the case of WDYD. The first is the is tone-deaf and fairly uncommon “hobby reply”: I.E. Q: “What do you do?” // A: “I watch MSNBC”. While this literal response may sound ridiculous, it is actually a sound response. However, unless you’ve figured out a way for Rachel Maddow to regularly cut you a check to boost her ratings, then you missed the underlying implication. No one came all the way out here to this modest bar, after work, on a Thursday, and paid $6 for parking, to hear that kind of nonsense, pal! No what is expected from the WDYD is a active monetizable or philanthropic role.
Okay, but still, isn’t there more to you than “I am a math teacher”?
Yes, there is! Which brings me to the second, and more frequently heard bad answer: not responding with what you actually do. The answer, “I’m a math teacher”, may imply that you teach math and that you probably get paid for it, but all the same it is missing the mark in being an incomplete if not altogether avoidant response. Rather, something like, “I teach ninth grade calculus at a charter school in Allapattah” is not only a sound response, but projects a much clearer image of how and where you spend your time, and perhaps even why you spend your time doing it! This is always the stronger answer. But the strongest answer requires a stronger question. Say, “What do you do with your time?” for example.
As an artist who devotes much of her waking time to her art, but hasn’t quite started stacking her millions from selling screenplays and projects to Hollywood big shots yet, I have often been confused (and even intimidated) by the WDYDs thrown my way. I hear the question, but I also hear the ringing “ca-CHING” at odds with the truth of what I identify to be the thing that I do: write and shoot film on spec (that’s industry talk for for “free”, by the way). In other words, if I don’t make a living from it, should we only reply with the circumstantially unrelated way that we make money?
No. No, no, no. In fact I go ahead and assume! I affirm that my job is not my identity and I assume that it is not all the person asking really wants to know. They are simply armed with a bad question.
Now, perhaps what you do and how you make money are perfectly aligned. If so, I congratulate you immensely. Nothing makes me happier than meeting people who have found that balance. However, as a social and professional person you meet many people who do not share balance. In fact I dare say most people fall into this category. So, please, ask them about their time.
Time, not money, is our most valuable personal resource, and most of us know it, even if we don’t acknowledge it. After all, what else are we making money for if not to spend it well and while we are living? There is a refreshing and whimsy freedom in being asked what one does with their time** rather than what one does to pay the bills. Not only is there a much more interesting conversation on the other side of that question, but a solid chance that, if you begin to ask it, it will make its way back over to you by the time you finish circling the room. Your chance for your strongest answer yet! So pass it on. #WDYDWYTime
(** not to be confused with “free time”)