in life

What Do You Do?

The inevitable icebreaker question that comes up when you meet someone is “What do you do?”

I’ve never been a fan of it – because your work should never define who you are.

I design. I develop. I consult. I write. That’s what get’s done each day, but it’s not what I do.

Anybody with Adobe Creative Suite can call themselves a designer. Someone who knows a little HTML and CSS can claim to be a developer. Any teenager can fire up a blog and start writing about the Kardashians. Defining what I do by the work that gets done falls well short of accurately illustrating what really drives and excites me.

What do I do? I solve problems, inspire ideas, and create solutions. I make things better. I bring out the best. I help individuals, businesses, and organizations discover potential they never new existed. I guide. I point people in the right direction. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

What do you do? Maybe you write press releases, repair cars, clean houses, or manage budgets. But that’s not the answer to the question.

You ease fears, make people smile, leave others satisfied, grow profits, develop exciting ideas, or challenge people to think in new ways.

What you do is greater than the sum of it’s parts. And if you’re doubting the impact of what you do day-to-day, focus not on the task at hand, but on the end result. The solution you offer. The clarity you provide. The excitement you ignite.

The question shouldn’t be “What do you do”? Instead, it should be, “What do you create?”, “Who do you empower?”, “What empire are you building?” Odds are you do a lot more than you think.

What do you do?

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  1. I’ve hated that question for a while too, Matt, mostly because what I do for work was never who I was. I worked for money, not because I particularly enjoyed it or because it inspired me or because I felt like I was making a difference. Therefore, when people asked what I did, I told them, but it was a complete unrepresentation of who I was. Now I’m a little closer to aligning what I do with who I am, but I am still not comfortable with the whole conversation timeline of “What’s your name? What do you do/Where do you work?” Who cares? How about “What’s your passion?” or “What do you do for fun?” That could certainly include your work, but it is more likely to encompass the whole person.

    Great post. Love that you make people stop and think, then change how they move in the world.

    • Exactly, Jen. We all do work to earn a paycheck, but it’s not a reflection of really what we’re doing with our lives. It’s a limiting question with no good answer. So here’s to asking it in a little different way, and making sure our response is a true reflection of who we are, and what we DO.

  2. I agree…really hard to answer. I write, I coach, I create, I plan, I support, I guide, I connect. All of the above and more… I prefer to focus on the result of what I do instead of the label. I help people change their lives for the better!

    • Exactly – it’s important to understand and embrace what that end result is – what your real mission is. How you get there is important, but the end goal is really what matters.

  3. This is great, but following this line of thinking confounds communication. A person who asks me “What do you do?” wants to know what my professional occupation is in terms she can understand. She is not asking, “What’s your contribution to this great, big world?”

    If I meet a guy at a party and he answers this question with, “I inspire and cajole people,” I will followup with, “Yes, me, too. Now. Tell me what it is you do.”

    Answering a perfectly clear question with a fuzzy self-affirmation is not helpful.


    • Of course, Kidd. I agree. It would confuse the heck out of me if I asked, “What do you do” and you got all philosophical on me. The takeaway here, I hope, is that that question, by itself, is limiting – and if a conversation stops at “What do you do?”, you’re not getting to know what that person really does.