“What do you do for work?”
This has to be one of the most common questions that are asked. No doubt it’s a great way to break the ice and get to know somebody a bit better. It’s also our human nature to be curious and ask. This topic came to my mind because I was asked last week how I respond to when people ask me this exact question. I’ll tell you how I answer this question in a moment, but before I do that, I want to explore this a bit more.
I want you to think about the times when you started to get to know someone and get to the point when you ask them “So what do you do for a living/for work?” Take a moment and think about how you process the answer they give you.
In my studies and travel I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. I’ve met individuals with high levels of prestige and title to people who come from some of the most destitute of circumstances and everything in between. There is a common thread and issue that I’ve come across no matter where we come from – the perceived need to compare ourselves to others in order to benchmark our individual success or happiness. I call it a perceived need because somewhere along the way we are brought up and conditioned to believe that this is how to measure our self worth.
Having said that, I don’t believe that we’re consciously comparing ourselves to others when we ask people what they do for work, however I do want you to think what your thoughts are when you receive an answer to that question. What if the answer is welder? What if the answer is Executive? Most times the information is processed and we begin to label people with our own prejudices. If we are in a good job and a person says they’re a welder, we automatically assume they are less educated, don’t have a social network we can use and therefore can’t be valuable to us. If the person is an Executive, we automatically label them as valuable and a person that can potentially help us down the road. When we do this we put value on people and convert them into commodities in our mind. When we think this way we are also comparing ourselves to them as well and perceive ourselves as worth more or less.
The condition to benchmark ourselves and others extends beyond conversations with new people. It can also extend and bring unhappiness in our homes as well. I’ve spoken with many couples who’ve allowed feelings of superiority pollute their marriage because of a work title. The same also happens with our children. We begin to pick favorites based on talents they begin to show – be they intellectually, athletically, etc. This of course leads to unfair treatment at home and denigrating others in our mind. Little do we know that this cycle inevitably hurts us as well whenever we find somebody that we perceive to be “more valuable” than we are.
Going back to how I answer this question. I like to answer it by letting people know that I have my hands involved in a number of things and that I can tell them all of them or simply tell them where I spend most of my time. Most times people are curious and want to know all the things I do. I respond by letting them know that I wash dishes, cook and often act as a taxi. I let them know that I spend time working with my wife and my kids making sure that my family has the things it needs. I also say that I have a business and like doing business.
Now, when I answer this way, I don’t say it in a tone that is aggressive, overbearing or self righteous. I simply let them know everything that I do for work. What’s interesting is that I’ll then ask them what they do and then they’ll respond in a similar way and then end with saying where they work. We always end up having a great conversation around what matters most – family, being a good person, contributing to society, etc. What a difference it makes when we don’t let titles dictate our value or self worth! What a difference when we understand that we all have the same exact intrinsic value and potential! This is probably the most important lesson we can learn. This one principle has led to more innovation for the sake of expanding my mind, and not because I want to be smarter than my neighbor. We are all capable and able to do things out of pure heart when we begin to comprehend the value that each of us has and stop valuing others based on the way the world has conditioned us to do so.
So then – in situations or cases where this occurs what is happening with the connections and wiring in our brain? To understand that we have to comprehend the way information is stored in our minds and the way upon which behavior continues until it becomes a habit. The brain retains information in archives that it can easily call upon to put itself on “auto pilot” in order to exert less energy. The brain however, always requires an incentive as well to reinforce “auto pilot” thinking or behavior. This natural mechanism is beneficial when there is a habit that helps us improve. If the habit however, is destructive, this same mechanism can create a real problem – specifically it won’t permit additional specialized cells known as neurons, to add additional details that allow us to be cognizant and perceive what our true motives are behind our actions and speech. This is a great topic to understand in more detail that I’d like to dedicate another blog entry towards, especially since it ties into addiction.
Originally posted September 3, 2014