Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Thursday, January 25

So, what do you do?

There are two especially awkward moments when people meet for the first time. One is after all the 'standard' pleasantries have been exhausted and everyone is left groping for something to say that will be interesting to someone else who's tastes and interests they don't even know. That moment is for another blog though. Today I am thinking of a moment earlier in the conversation right after the question "So what do you do?" We know that no matter who we reply, this person who doesn't even know us will find some way to trivialize our life's work. Some examples are in order:

"I'm a grad student in math."
"I hate math. Can you tutor my 8-yr-old kid?"

"I'm a software developer."
"Really? My computer has been acting wierd ever since I went to this free porn site..."

"I run a meth-lab."

Before your next introduction, consider how you can modify your answer to get a better response. I have a few examples designed to avoid the pitfalls demonstrated above:

"I'm a grad student."
"I work with a development firm."
"I'm a small-business owner in the pharmaceutical industry."

Your goal is to avoid anything in your description that is familiar to your listener. Everyone wants to take all your expertise and equate it to their own limited experience. Many people believe mathematicians spend all day doing college algebra and software developers spend their time installing print drivers or setting up email forwarding. It is like people on American Idol who believe superstar singers are just doing glorified karaoke. So the rule is make your answer unfamiliar and generic.

There is, unfortunately, a very common and tricky situation this technique doesn't apply to:

"I'm a stay-at-home mom."
"It must be nice to have all that time to do whatever you want."

I recommend making something up to account for all the free time you don't have:

"I'm a stay-at-home mom and in my free time I work as a volunteer fire fighter and take online courses in international finance."

This sounds impressive and has the advantage of being thruthful. You might not realize this if you aren't a mathematician, but it is the "in my free time" clause that saves you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is it that you do again?