Insert Job Title Here

So much of who we are is based around what we do, what occupation we hold. Although it’s often the conversation starter we turn to in social settings when meeting new people, I have to wonder if maybe it’s the one question that makes people feel the most unseen. I have to think maybe by asking people to define themselves by what they do, we are missing the entire person, entirely.

For many years, I have prepared myself to meet new people with the answer to this burning question, “So what do you do?” already prepared in my head. “Oh, I work freelance in production.” I would say, if I wanted to make the answer short and to the point. Sometimes I would feel the need to defend myself and follow my job title up with my dreams of becoming a writer and creative director. We want to be seen as interesting but yet we don’t ever want to let people know that we have not yet arrived. That there is still a bunch of junk to be sorted and steps to be taken and we may not get there within the year. We may not even get there within 5 years.

On my most defeated days, I would simply answer with my current job title, which changes about as much as I change my socks, and then I would just add, “I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life.” Because some days that was the truth.

Interesting that we know how to respond to specific definitions and occupations, such as a nurse, a teacher, a chef, but we don’t quite know how to respond when we feel like we can’t get a grip on who a person is. In my opinion, we don’t know who most people are, we just think by putting them into this specific box, everything feels more safe. They won’t come too close and I won’t have to say too much.

Most of the time, giving a vulnerable answer makes people flinch. It catches them off guard. It’s like those moments when someone asks, “How are you?” I mean really, have you ever just said how you actually are? Think of all of the conversations and opportunities we are missing out on by just always responding, “Good. and you?”

Most people are used to simple answers because the point was to never get to know the person. The point was to seem socially adequate by answering a question about yourself and asking one in return. The thing is, I think asking someone to define themselves by their occupation is maybe one of the least interesting things we could ask. As if one position within an office can sum up someone’s identity, hopes, and dreams.

You see, a job description doesn’t tell you about someone’s favorite childhood memory of eating mini biscuits at their grandmother’s house, and it doesn’t tell you about the fact that they love their red hair most days and hate their southern accent, most days. A job title certainly doesn’t tell you about someone’s dreams or how they wish they were spending their days.

I’ve always had bigger dreams than the jobs I held, but it’s like those moments when the talking stick is passed around the fire at summer camp and you have the things you want to say but out of fear of rejection or being weird, you don’t say any of those things. As adults, we have resulted to half-heartedly answering with the occupation that we currently devote our time and energy to and we leave the conversation feeling as if no one will ever see us as anything more.

I’ve always wanted it to be a run-on sentence. I’m GREAT at those. I’ve never been one to be concise with really anything and conversations are no different. I’ve always wanted to speak up. To say, “Well currently I work in retail, but I have a blog and a portfolio and I am going to do big things.”

The reactions I would imagine in my head would stop me in my tracks and I instead would place a period where I wanted to place a grammatically incorrect comma and in a span of 30 seconds the other person would feel like my retail job gave them some sort of deep look into who I am, when in reality I feel less myself than ever. I feel smaller than ever.

Why do we do that? Why do we ask people to define themselves without wanting to stick around for the real conversation?

I walked out of my Atlanta apartment this morning, to grab the bag of coffee I purchased that I accidentally left in my car and as I descended down our extremely slanted driveway, I caught eyes with the driver of the garbage truck that was blocking our drive. Crossing over to my street parked car, I smiled and put my head down, slightly embarrassed of my pajamas and furry slides I was wearing. Imagine Fenty Puma slides but like, from Walmart.

I ducked my head and grabbed my coffee and started back across the street just in time to walk right in front of the man collecting the garbage barrels. No, this is not a story about how I fell in love with the garbage man, except maybe I kind of did in a way.

In that moment when I decided to cheerfully say, “good morning!” as if a greeting could change someone’s life and he barely even changed his expression or acknowledged my existence, I thought about him around that campfire, palms sweating as the stick is passed to him. Of all the things that he wished he could say but doesn’t.

I think about him in social settings. Maybe he speaks of his job with the utmost excitement or maybe he remembers all the times he has passed people on his route on Monday mornings who will never see him as anything other than their garbage man. Maybe he wants to be an actor or maybe he has dreamed of starting his own company. Or maybe he loves music and can play 4 different instruments. I’ll probably never know but sometimes I like to imagine us having that conversation.

I want him to feel seen and known and more than anything. I want to ask him questions, real questions, that he will be excited to answer. I want to tell him it’s not too late. That thing he thinks he can’t do, there is still time. That thing you thinks will never happen or it feels unrealistic, there’s still hope.

The talking stick is making it’s way to you and I want you to know there is still time to change your answer and the coolest part? Your answer can be whatever you want it to be.

Wordsmarah rice