So… what do you do (and other variations of a paralyzing question)?

It’s a seemingly innocent, small talk, ice breaking, get to know you/catch up with you kind of question. One that, in a lot of cases, is as easily answered as it is asked.

Prior to June 2020: “I’m a teacher.”

Now: “I used to be a teacher.”

I hate that this is my go-to response for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that it doesn’t even answer the question. Nobody asks “What did you before whatever it is you’re doing now?” But let’s pretend for a minute they did. Or even more realistically, let’s look through the lens of the almost as often asked “What are you doing now?” Nothing turns me into more of an inarticulate, stuttering, mumbling puddle of insecurity more than being asked to explain how exactly I spend my days. It usually comes out sounding something like:

“Um…. Well…. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and learning and looking for purpose in an area that aligns with my values. I mentor one day a week in my school district and I do podcast work for an author a few hours a month and I write sometimes but nothing anyone reads. I’m thinking about working on trying to look into maybe starting a nonprofit.”

This drivel comes from someone who claims to be an effective communicator, both by education and by nature. Bless.

Sometimes I’ll simply say something like “I’ve been on a journey of self discovery,” which is entirely accurate, but sounds a little woo-woo, and a surprising number of people seem to think I’m joking (my fault for using humor as my go-to coping strategy in stress my entire life). Naturally, once the inquisitor has stopped laughing, or the silence after the blank start has become uncomfortable, I tend to go back to the rambling nonsense previously recited.

I think my biggest problem with the whole exchange is how much importance tends to be put on a person’s profession, and how I fall into the trap by feeling like I need to defend how I spend my time because it doesn’t bring in an income. Like I’m somehow setting women back generations by not taking advantage of my freedom to work outside the house (especially since my kids aren’t small enough to need me at home), or I’m not contributing to the household; “pulling my weight” (not only do I not bring in money – I’m not a very good homemaker either). As much as I preach against falling prey to other people’s judgment and knowing that we’re worthy regardless of career, income, etc. I still have a hard time accepting that I don’t need to defend my choices. No one that matters has a problem with what I do, or do not do; and I’m tired of responding as if anyone that wants to judge me for my answer to the question “what do you do?” matters.

I was recently at an event with my husband when an older “gentleman” who was very transparent about the esteem in which he held women asked me what I do. Having had enough of being politely patronized, I very blatantly answered “Whatever I want.”

I think this will be my go-to answer from this point forward.