Waiting for her to take her hands out of my mouth, I answered “uh huh”. She quickly followed up with: “what do you do?” Knowing she wasn’t referring to my most important roles, as wife and momma, I answered:
“I’m a writer.”
You’re a poser. You’re not a writer, who are you kidding?
“Well, actually I’m a blogger.”
You don’t get paid to write. Just stop it.
“Actually, I’m really not that good of a writer but I feel like I have something important to say.”
You suck at punctuation.
“I need an editor.”
And there I was, standing face to face with my own shame and unworthiness.
It’s one thing to have these kinds of thoughts bouncing around in your head, where you can push them off to the side, but when you speak them aloud, you can no longer pretend they don’t exist. They’ve confronted you and demand your attention.
Oh my goodness…..where is this coming from?
The conversation shifted to all sorts of small talk. I really liked this girl. She was warm and kind and talkative, which made me feel a little less humiliated by my answer. Eventually, we discovered that her husband and sister-in-law went to the same high school as me.
Hygienist: “Do you know _____ (name of sister-in-law)?
Me: Oh man, that sounds so familiar!
Hygienist: “She played soccer”
Me: “Me too! I’m terrible with names, do you have a picture?”
Whhhhyyyyy am I so bad at names? I sucked at soccer too. She probably played varsity.
As soon as I saw her picture, I knew exactly who she was. She did, in fact, play varsity and was a year younger than me. I didn’t know her well but remembered her being a really smart girl. Kind too.
Me: “Ohhhh, yeah!!!! I totally remember her! What is she up to now?”
Hygienist: “Oh, she’s a doctor up north. An Internist”
A doctor? Like a full-fledged doctor? Maybe she’s a physician’s assistant. Which is still bad a$$.
Me: “Oh, wow! That’s so cool. Is she a PA or an MD?”
Emily, get a hold of yourself. This is not like you!
Hygienist: “An MD.”
So, she’s a real doctor and I’m a pretend writer. Perfect.
Even though I’m viscerally opposed to the pervasive idea that our worth comes from our jobs, influence, wealth or status, there I was being swept away by it. I closed my eyes, blocking out the bright light overhead, and lay there feeling utterly deflated.
These ginormous, wrap around glasses on my face are useless….and why can’t I eat a single skittle lately without my skin breaking out?!!!
I went back and forth between being completely present with her and wondering why I was such a loser.
I was glad for the reprieve that came as the hygienist kept talking. She was sweet. I liked her a lot. I was even grateful for the distraction of a horribly dry mouth. I willed her to spray more of the water from the thin metal spout to rinse out the chemical tasting paste she was using to clean my teeth. I couldn’t talk and the minor irritation of it kept my mind slightly off the war happening inside.
Then the dentist came in. She introduced herself, shook my hand, sat down and immediately said “So, do you work? What do you do?”
Me: “Well, yeah, kind of….I don’t know, I have this blog….”
At that moment, I was face down in my insecurities. The air was sucked out of me and the world became small. So small.
Answering the Question “What Do You Do?”
I think it’s safe to assume that what everybody is doing is their best. Not everyone is passionate about what they do for a living and not everyone gets paid for the way they contribute to the world. Who cares if they dig trenches all day to pay the bills or if they make a zillion dollars trading stocks?!
We ask “what do you do?” as a way to engage, but usually the answer doesn’t leave us anymore connected to who they are as a person or what they care about.
I wish I would have answered the dentist with this:
Me: “I’m a LUVolutionary!”
Dentist: “What is that exactly?” (I imagine her saying)
Me: “I do my best to live my life intentionally and according to my values. I care about the wellbeing of my marriage, my family, and my community so I take action every day to strengthen them — and I’m passionate about helping others do the same!”
It may have caught her off guard, but so what! At least she would’ve known something relevant about who I am and what I value vs. what I “do”.
My favorite way to learn about someone I’m just meeting is to ask them to “Tell me about yourself!” This gives them the chance to share something more significant than merely what they do for a living.
Here are some other great questions to ask:
- What are you passionate about?
- What’s your favorite thing to do besides sleep? 🙂
- What do you want people to know about you?
- What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
- Who are the most important people in your life?
- If you could tell me only one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I think there’s a more meaningful way to engage with people that communicates “Hey, I see you! You aren’t just a title and a number. You have something unique to share with the world, and I wanna hear about it!”
Yes, even in the dentist’s office.
TAKE ACTION: Be intentional about the way you engage with people. Instead of asking them “what do you do?” ask them something that will help you better understand the kind of person they are and what they’re all about.