By The Free Rider, Craig Richards, 21 September 2016
What do you do for a living? It’s the classic barbecue ice-breaker question. It seems a good place to start. I read somewhere acting being genuinely interested in others is a great way to build rapport.
Just google rapport and you’ll see lots of photos like this where acting genuinely intersted has clearly worked absolute wonders.
In reality, when we find out what someone does for a job we often make a snap judgement. We slot them into the square box of characteristics that all people who do that type of work possess.
In Coming to America successful Restauranteur Leo McDowell made the classic mistake of judging someone by their job when he thought Prince of Zamunda Akeem was a cleaner. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29wNCH4RBrk
Oh and here’s a disturbing summary of what your job says about you according to an urban dictionary – which must be different to a regional and rural dictionary.
Back in the 1990s my barbecue ice-breaker answer was ‘lawyer’. It always brought sneering judgement. Lawyer jokes were on trend (although that phrase wasn’t because it hadn’t been invented yet). Instead of being judged as part of a respected profession, I was tagged as money hungry, self-centred and untrustworthy.
Surely this breaches discrimination laws and lawyers could form a class action and sue.
Desperation not to be judged harshly by our profession sees some people go to extremes. Who can forget (unless you’ve never seen the movie) when Romy and Michelle were so desperate to impress the sanctimonious (I’ve always wanted to use that word) judgers at their high school reunion they made up that they invented post it notes – which is surely one of the greatest stationery inventions ever.
Sadly, my house isn’t in order with judging people by their jobs. As a young man with a smart mouth I made a quip in year 7 art class that art is not for brainy people. I’m assuming this got talked about in the staff room as the next day Mr Mac the science teacher tore me a fresh one.
This of course is not Mr Mac but he did have crazy Jack Nicholson eyes when he gave me both barrels.
His dressing down ended with, ‘MY WIFE’S AN ART TEACHER AND I CAN ASSURE YOU SHE’S VERY BRAINY!’ So here’s a long overdue apology to my art teacher Mrs Ryan and to Mrs Mac – I’m sorry for being such a judgmental twit.
Because you’re probably starting to drift off I’d better get onto bike riders. Well here’s the point: there’s a great advantage to wearing lycra. Over the years I’ve seen lots of people in skin tight clothes become friends without knowing what each other does for a living. They bond over their mutual love of pedaling and slightly unnatural love for 7.2 kilograms of carbon.
The lycra signals they have something in common and by the time they find out what each other does for a living they’re already kindred spirits. So in bike world we see million dollar a year foreign exchange hedge fund traders (excuse me if that’s not a real job) happily hanging out with self employed battlers (I know this is a real job because I’ve been one).
It worked wonders for tow truck driver Darryl and imminent QC Laurie who became kindred spirits in the wonderful movie The Castle.
A lucky few find their calling in their work from day dot. They find something they love, that they believe in and they do it with great passion.
The rest of us just stumble into a job because we’re not sure what to do and we need to pay the bills. We only find out when we’re in there whether it touches our soul.
Some of us eventually find our calling in our work (lucky me!). But others never do and find a life outside of what they do for a living (thank civil rights activist Maya Angelou for that beautiful phrase).
The message is that for some people their job defines them. For others it doesn’t. So rather than judge people when you hear their job title, take the time to find out if it’s their calling and if it is find out how they go about it.
And when it comes to a barbecue ice-breaker question, maybe What do you do for a living? is not the best place to start. It’s highly unlikely you’ll do the same job so fish around and find a passion you have in common. Of course, if you’re the only two people at the barbie wearing lycra, I’m sure you’ll be kindred spirits in no time.