“What do you do for a living?” and why we should all stop asking this question
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“What do you do for a living?” and why we should all stop asking this question

I have lived abroad for almost ten years. The good thing about living in a city that is not your home is that it forces you to make new connections fast. The challenging thing is that you have to answer the ”What do you do for a living?” question on a daily basis. It can be exhausting to talk about your profession with a perfect stranger. We have all been there.

Scenario 1: If you are lucky, the conversation goes something like this.

A: What do you do for a living?

B: I work in Sales/I am a lawyer/I am working in HR.

A: „OHHH (*excited), I also work in Sales/I am also a lawyer/ I am also working in HR.

Congratulations! You found something you have in common and will probably enjoy a pleasant conversation.

 

Scenario 2: Most of the times, though, the conversation goes more like this.

A: What do you do for a living?

B: I work in Sales/I am a lawyer/I am working in HR.

A: Ahhh (*bored), that’s interesting. I know someone who works in Sales/is a lawyer/is working in HR.“

What follows is best described as a moment of awkward silence followed by you frantically trying (and sometimes failing) to come up with something else to say.

 

And this is exactly why ”What do you do for a living?” is the wrong question to raise to begin with.

Just think about it. This question does not give your conversational partner much room for sharing their passion and motivation when it comes to their profession. They might state their work title or department and bring up their company or organisation. A look on their business card, which they have probably handed out to you at this point, provides the same information.

 

So is this really all there is? A job title? A company name?

For many of us, our work is defining what we are doing most of our waking hours, often 8-12 (or more) hours a day. Just answering the question “What do you do for a living?” does not give this work credit at all.

 

So why not instead raise a question that is much more intriguing?

Spoiler Alert: This will revolutionise the way you communicate. Stop to ask about the “what” and ask “why” instead.

Next time you meet someone new ask this question.

WHY are you doing what you are doing?

Everyone has a story to tell if we just let them. But for someone to share a bit more than just a job title we have to ask the right questions.

With the New Year quickly approaching, it is the perfect time to slow down and reflect on the choices we made so far and the opportunities of the upcoming year ahead.

 

What is your story? What do you do for a living and why are you doing what you are doing?

Stop. Think. Listen. The answers you find might surprise you.

 

About the author

Regina Larko is founder and host of #impact Podcast, a show that portrays people making a social impact with the work they do. In her conversations, she finds out what led professionals to the job they do today, why they are doing what they are doing, how they define success and what motivates and challenges them on a daily basis.

Most recently she also supported clients like The Economist and Jumpstart Magazine in Hong Kong with programming, marketing, content strategy and communications. Regina is always on the look out for inspiring stories, and you can follow her on Instagram , Facebook and Twitter.

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