“What do you do?”

The other day I took one of those online surveys.  You know, the ones where you get paid meaningless currency to tell the survey company what cell phone network you use, which billboard advertisement you prefer, the projected date of when you are going to buy your next new car.  Well, inevitably, these surveys all start with basic demographic questions including the question I now dread: what do you do?


I guess it’s not so much the question I find dreadful, as the multiple choice answers:


  • Unable to work
  • Temporarily unemployed
  • Homemaker
  • Self Employed
  • Employed for Wages
  • Retired

If those are the options, what am I? Temporarily unemployed? Uh… I suppose that could be me. I mean, I figure I might someday get some kind of job. Homemaker?  Is that even PC?  I don’t even know what “homemaker” means.  Someone who makes the bed, buys groceries, prepares meals?  If that’s the case, sure–I’m a homemaker.  But aren’t we all?  As far as I can tell, “homemaking” seems to be a part of a functioning, healthy lifestyle.  Besides, with no kids and a very capable husband who does his fair share of “home making” I feel guilty claiming “homemaker” as my primary title.  Even more importantly, I feel frustrated because the outside world wants to define me simply by “what I do” and my “job.”    


I say outside world, because it’s not just surveys.  Since I stopped working (last year I worked with English as a Second Language students and taught an English Essential Skills class at the local high school) I have become keenly aware of how many times I’ve been asked, “So what do you do?”


So what do I do? (Thanks for asking, by the way.) Well, when people ask, I usually avoid the question by telling people that I used to work with ESL kids, but I found that position to be restrictive.  It’s no fault of the people I worked for or with, it’s just that, with my ESL training, I felt like I could be doing a lot more to help the students had the system been structured in a way that would allow me to do more than sit in on different classes and take copious amounts of notes. 


But that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?  Well, when I talked over the survey options with Nate, he told me I should have said “Self Employed.”  No, I don’t have a business or make money, but I do work for myself.  Currently, I spend as much time as possible working on our plans and projects for Guatemala.  Satisfying and rewarding, but not a “job” because there’s no paycheck.  Sometimes I substitute teach, mainly because I feel guilty not bringing in any money.  I’m starting to keep up with this blog, which takes a ton more time than you might imagine.  Every now and then I get to help out friends by watching their babies.  Together, Nate and I are mentoring and teaching small group leaders who are a part of InterVarsity at ISU. I also spend loads of time with my husband, which is the primary thing that holds me back from running out and getting a “real job” with benefits, paid vacations, and 40-hour work weeks.  As of right now, a company would have to offer tremendous incentives for me to give up my lifestyle and go work for them.  And when I say incentives, I’m not talking about money.  I want time.


Which doesn’t mean there aren’t times I feel like I “need” a job or higher degree (currently, the idea of working at the new Hilton Garden Inn is top of my list.  Cheap hotel perks are simply irresistible).  Sometimes I feel lazy because I don’t have a job.  I feel guilty when I occasionally sleep in on a weekday.  I feel like I’m wasting my  college degree and my potential.  I feel like I (we) should be working our butts off now and saving enormous amounts of cash, so that, in the future, when we want to have kids, we can cut back.  However, when I get in these morose moods, Nate is great about reminding me that just because the world says I need to have a “job,” doesn’t mean a job is really what I need.  He’s continually challenging me to find out what I really want to do (Write? Do non-profit work? Be a counselor? Teach at a university?).  He reminds me that we’ve seen too many people waste away in a job they hate simply because they have to pay the bills and/or crave a big paycheck. 


So, as long as we don’t need that big paycheck (perhaps we’ll tell you some other time how we manage to live on a rather small income), I think I can handle the awkwardness and shame that occasionally accompanies the dreaded question, “What do you do?” Because, believe it or not, I’m proud of what I do.  Even if I can’t answer the question.



5 thoughts on ““What do you do?””

  1. wow…love your blog here. I am in the same boat in many ways. Your thoughts challenge me to think about my responses to the “What I do” question & to search deep down to make sure I am ‘ok’ with what I do, to make sure I am satisfied in the season God has brought me to.

  2. Yay! Thanks for sharing your blog with us. It’s great to hear what you’ve been up to. It definitely sounds like lots of good things:) We’ll be praying for you guys. I know God has amazing things planned for you and it sounds like the people of Guatemala too!!

    Oh – visit our blog too: http://themcbeefamily.blogspot.com

  3. I think a common misconception is when asked the question “What do you do?” we think of whatever we do to make money. But maybe the real thing we should think about when asked what we do is “what do I do to make people happy, laugh, feel loved, make God’s name more famous?” What we do with our life should not be centered around making money, so when asked what do we do with our life, our answer should reflect what we feel is important. So in that point of view, which is just my own opinion obviously, you’re living a successful life! 🙂 Just a thought I had, but great article!

  4. Hey Rach,
    I felt like I was reading my own thoughts…and I TOTALLY agree with the hatred of that question. Mostly because I’m stuck in this temporary place where I can’t start my career, so its been odd jobs for me, and lots of different volleyball coaching things. Thank goodness for volleyball, or I would’ve gone crazy by now with boredom! If Greg is ever standing next to me when that question is asked, I look at him to answer it. At times it can chip away at my own self confidence, or make me feel like I’m a trophy wife…but Greg has on multiple occasions offered to pay me for the work I do at home as a “domestic goddess” since he doesn’t know what he’d do without me. haha. But yeah, I’m so thankful that we look to Christ for our worth and not to man!

  5. Love this one… writing is one of your many gifts! Maybe you could move to illinois and you could be my professional best friend… the salary is quite small, but I do offer perks…

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