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
- Self Employed
- Employed for Wages
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.