The Question: 'So, what do you do?'
A Thursday afternoon as the summer blinked into view. The two of us pulled up a pair of high seats at the bar. Prohibition throwback, well-worn menu, metropolitan pricing.
After an introduction from a mutual connection, we’d emerged unscathed from the obligatory tennis match of email-based scheduling – the clay court attrition through the month of May.
This was the first time we’d met in person, and besides some light background reading we really didn’t know too much about the other.
As our respective hind parts hit the hided leather bar stools, two glasses of fizzing water slid into view, over-iced effervescence.
‘So. What are you up to?’ he asked.
It was definitely a better version of the question, but underneath the question still lurked.
The question in question?
The scourge of hybrids and shapeshifters everywhere, of course.
‘What do you do?’
This time I didn’t need it. This time around I’d had some luck.
‘What are you up to?’ is a better question than the question.
It allows us to tell stories of current projects and escapades that illustrate our why, what and how in a far more meaningful and compelling way than just labels.
It brings those labels, connotations, and pre-conceptions into the present, with something that’s much more tangible, visceral, and fully formed.
Of course, we don’t usually get the better question. We usually get the question that expects the label. That question that expects the flat response; the answer that leaves us frustrated that we couldn’t offer more.
Even with the question we have a solution, though.
We can combat it with some jiu-jitsu. And we don’t need to be an expert to apply it. It’s blue belt, not black.
We simply flip ‘what do you do?’ so we can generously, honestly and compellingly respond with the answer to ‘what are you up to?’ .
It’s just about doing the reps, building up the muscle memory, and increasing our confidence so we can apply that jiu jitsu leverage and flip the question.
We can answer with clarity, skill, timeliness and emotion. Life, not labels.
It ends up serving us, and them, better.