What do you do for a living?

Continuing yesterday’s theme of identity, describing what you do for a living can be tricky if you don’t work in a well-known profession. If someone tells you they’re a doctor, teacher, lawyer or police officer, you have a pretty good idea what their job entails. However, if you work in such professions as web development, computer programming, management consultancy, etc, many people don’t really understand what you do.

Many of us define ourselves by our jobs. We say “I am an X” or “I work as a Y”. We also define ourselves in other ways, including by sex, race, age, nationality, language(s) spoken, interests, and/or in terms of our families and our position/roles therein.

In my case, my current job title is “Web Developer”, but few people understand what that entails. There are in fact many different specialisms under the umbrella of web development – my particular specialism is building multilingual websites. So I usually just tell people that I build and translate websites. This often prompts questions like “Do you design the sites as well?”, and “Are you a translator then?” – in answer to which I explain that someone else usually does the design and translation. My role is to turn the designs into websites, and to add the translations to them, which involves a lot of copying and pasting. I think my parents just tell people that I work with computers and/or do something with websites.

The company I work for (Study Group) is even more difficult to describe, so usually I just say that I work for a college.

Sometimes I tell people I’m a circus performer or translator. I could also claim to be a musician or teacher. I do occasionally do translations and act as an interpreter, and used to do these things more often. I did work as a teacher (of English) for a while in Taiwan, and sometimes help friends with various languages. I also teach juggling and other circus skills to anybody who wants to learn them, on an informal basis, and occasionally perform in public. I play, or used to play, the clarinet, saxophone, tin whistles, and a few other instruments. I used to play with wind bands, big bands and an orchestra, and have performed with these groups in parts of England and France.

This entry was posted in Identity.

6 Responses to What do you do for a living?

  1. TJ says:

    >> Simon: did it happen to you that you worked hard and studied something for years and even made a picture of your career within it, and suddenly, just suddenly, you begin to hate it like hell and think of something else?

  2. Simon says:

    TJ – not really. My current job is not directly related to what I studied, but my language skills are certainly useful in it. I drifted into web design/development while in Taiwan without much of an idea that it would become my career.

    One of the points of this post is that though our jobs take up a large part of our lives, they are not necessarily the only way to define ourselves. Things we do the rest of the time can be just as important, or even more so. We have multiple identities, of which our work is one part.

  3. TJ says:

    In my case I studied physics and imagined myself of becoming a physicist or so, but after the bad experience in studying only one course in the MSc. in this university, I really did find out my place is a place of “nothing to be fixed coz nothing is fixed.” After that my real love for archaeology popped up again so much that I even forgot everything about physics. Maybe one day I’m going to try to complete the MSc. in Archaeology instead of physics either in UK or USA or might be even Ireland or Germany …but for now I’m just …daydreaming! :)

  4. Justin says:

    Very interesting post; and I can sympathize. I happen to develop software for a living, but I refuse to tell people I am a “software developer” :-)

  5. Heming says:

    Try “documentation secretary” on for size… I end up telling people _where_ I work, not what I do. Much easier.

  6. Arianne Slaager says:

    Typical misconception is built into the usual question. What I do for a living? Sit on my behind and breathe, because I’m on social security since I lost my latest job. This doesn’t define me for even the least bit though. There are lots of things I do, but not for a living.

    There is a myriad of jobskills available to me, so I can’t even tell what I am more. Programmer or webdeveloper, electrician, salesperson, even artist could be me.

    Raises the question: Why is it that people always want to know what you do for a living? Is it just smalltalk, or do they want to boast over their own income by reversing the topic unasked for? Or are they trying to find out if they can take advantage of any jobskill you have…? In that case, any answer from me might be wrong for them, as it also is for you, Simon.