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How Do You Answer: “What do you do?”

October 11, 2016

I only know him from our time playing early morning basketball. Sometimes we are on the same team. Just as often we are on opposite teams. As a player who focuses mostly on defense, I know that he has a great outside shot and is not above setting a moving screen, or moving a screen. But, like all the guys I play with in the mornings, he’s a good guy. 
If you were to ask me, “What does he do?” I’m not sure I could answer. I literally don’t know anything more about him than what I see in the mornings. Today a few of us got to talking as we cooled down after playing.  

Walter, did you ever work for WordPerfect? 

Yeah, I was there from 92 to summer of 94. During the period Novell bought them. 

We did the normal, “Did you know?” questions. I left WordPerfect in 1992, so there was little overlap. I worked in support, Walter was a programmer. After today, can I answer any better the question, “What does he do?” I would probably guess that he’s still involved in the software industry. Utah is a very popular place for software development. We’ve earned the nickname “Silicon Slopes.” (You nickname has to include alliteration.) 

The conversation got me thinking, “What do I do?” 

How do you answer that question? While I was at Microsoft, my email address was [email protected]. I used that address for everything. It was also my “private” address. My work and personal email was mixed freely. When I left, in 2003, one of the hardest things was separating my online identify from Microsoft. I knew exactly what I did. I worked for Microsoft. When that was gone, I was lost. 

After Microsoft, I changed my online presence. I vowed to create some space between my personal life and my work life. I have a work email, of course. But, I don’t use it for anything personal. I have my personal email rbliss at msn dot com. I have on rare occasions used it to send a work email. But, that’s the exception.

What do I do? 

Am I defined by my work? I used to be. Do I need to define myself by my past or my future? 

I wrote my first book in the 1990’s. It was a Microsoft Exchange guide, one of the first. I had an agent and did a couple more books. And yet, I would not have called myself a writer. I was technically an author, but I didn’t feel like one. It would take me years before I became comfortable with the title. I remember the first few times I described myself that way. I was slightly embarrassed and was almost worried that someone would jump out of the woodwork and say, “No, you’re not a writer!” 

I realized that the definition of “What do I do?” was entirely up to me. 

Many years ago my lovely wife and I were touring houses in Utah’s “Parade of Homes.” It’s an event where buildiers get together and each builds a house and makes it part of a tour. You can buy a ticket and go around touring each of the homes. The homes span the range from starter homes to multi-million dollar mansions. We were at one very expensive home. I asked the builder,

How much did this cost to build?

Actually, I’m not really sure.

But, more than I’ve got, right? Ha Ha

I have no idea how much you’ve got.

It struck me. To the builder, I wasn’t some struggling IT professional. To him, I could literally have been anyone. 

It’s better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. 

We get to define ourselves. Of course, I can’t turn myself into a multimillionaire simply by changing how I describe myself, but if I’m not defining myself by my paycheck, it doesn’t matter. 

If someone asks where I work, I’ll let them know. But when people ask what I do, I give different answers now. I’m the father of 13 kids. I’m a writer. I’m an assistant scoutmaster. I’m a backyard mechanic. I’m a husband. I’m a grandfather. 

You and I literally get to define what we want others to think of us as. When you meet someone, they have no idea what job you have, or how much money, or any other number of pointless characteristics. Decide for yourself what you do. Don’t let society define you by arbitrary labels. 

What do you do? 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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