It’s an awkward and annoying question that is kind of a crutch of a conversation starter; “what do you do?” but one that’s so common we’ve all had to figure out how we’re going to answer. For some of us; this one, seemingly benign question can cause panic quickly followed by an existential crisis of self. I used to hate being asked. Maybe your reaction isn’t that extreme; but unless you have an easy, pat answer that’s socially acceptable, then it can still cause some anxiety. There are, however, a couple of steps you can take that will totally make this a non-issue. First, figure out what your best answer is. To do this I had to a) think about what they were really asking, and b) settle in my own mind who I thought I really was. Second, don’t fear the follow-ups.
First, here’s how the “before” conversation usually went for me. See if it sounds familiar at all…
Social niceties that aren’t all that nice
Them: So what do you do for a living?”
Me: (seriously, we have to do this? can’t we just nod at each other and get to the purpose of this interaction- I just wanted a prescription, or referral, or car part, or uber ride….). “I’m an artist.”
Them: Oh, what kind of art?”
Me: (please let this end…) “Mixed media, but I used to do a lot of wire sculpting.”
Them: “Huh. Do you sell your work anywhere?”
Me: (ugh, they went there….) “Umm… sometimes, I used to have an Etsy shop. I don’t really right now. But I used to!”
Them: (this is the one I think they really wanted to know when they asked the last question but they were tap-dancing around it.) “Do you actually make money doing that?”
Me: (the pain-it hurts, why do they want to hurt me?) “I don’t right now…because I’m not selling it anywhere. But (again with the) I used to! (quick qualify) It wasn’t a full-time income or anything, but it was enough to keep me in supplies and the like” (yeah, right it was, I could always outspend my income.)
Truthfully, the follow-up questions are probably not intended to cause me to panic grab for the chocolate in my purse. Most people are asking the first question because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do when you first meet someone, and because they’re maybe, kind of, interested. But then they ask the follow-ups because I’ve piqued their interest with my answer. I’ve found it truly is hard for some people to grasp that being an artist is actually something people do. Like rock their world kind of hard.
Some people really want to know…
But some people ask differently, you can kind of tell it in their voice, and what I think they really are asking is…
- “Who are you?”
- “What’s your purpose?”
How I define me
Those questions are not as easy to answer. They really want to understand how you fit in the world. To answer them authentically, I had to settle in my own mind what I thought “artist” really meant to me. And after thinking about it, I decided it’s not really a job description, it’s a personality type.
Artist: how I see the world, how I experience life, and the way I think. It’s who I am. I appreciate beauty and aesthetics, I look for the big connections, and not the most logical ones. I often think in pictures and not in words. Answering the question with “artist” is really the one reply that best and most authentically represents who I really am.
Rocking the Conversation
So now, when I give my best answer, and DON’T fear the follow up’s the conversation goes like this…
Them: “So what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m an artist.”
Them: “Oh, what do you make?”
Me: “Anything I want to. It’s a pretty sweet life.”
Them: “Do you sell your work anywhere?”
Me: “Nope, I’m on sabbatical.” (true bc I’m not doing the creative director thing anymore and I gave myself time to figure out what inspires me),
Them: “Wow, wish I could do that.”
Me: “I know, right? I just started a blog for the beginning or recovering creative. You should take a look if you’re really interested in the how of it. Lots of tips and tricks as well as projects to get you started.”
[Then ideally, I’d hand them a card with my blog address on it. BOOM! (except for the hard part. Haven’t done those yet…might make them stickers.)]
But you see the difference, right? It could be a conversation starter, and not something that’s scary, defeating, and makes you desperately glance around for a convenient hole to swallow you. But maybe your best answer isn’t artist. Maybe it’s crafter, maybe it’s mother, grandmother, adventure seeker, or encourager. Whatever your best answer is, don’t fear the follow ups.
Answer with your truth
By being real, and authentic; you may risk some derision, but that would be from people that don’t really care about your answer. So you shouldn’t care about their reaction. You’ll know the ones who do matter because they’ll really want to know more. And that is an opportunity to be brave, and really speak into them, and to demonstrate self-confidence in who you believe you really are and who God created you to be.
We’re different when we own it
Since I redefined the term I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with expressing who I am. I dress differently, I behave differently, and I even create differently. I’m more authentically me. But I still don’t love being asked. And I still struggle with taking credit for my work. But that’s the introvert in me and we go at it every single time. And that’s another blog post.
What’s YOUR best answer?
So how do you usually answer? Is it your best answer? If you need to think about it, that’s cool, but when you think you have one that authentically shares who you are; I’d love to have you leave it in the comments below and let us know why. Thanks in advance- I can’t wait to hear your answers!
Love me a FREE download (or two)!
And to make your next social situation easier I created a .svg file I made up and put on a t-shirt. You could make one too. Feel free to substitute the word “artist” and add your own best answer! Just ungroup the file in your Cricut or Silhouette Studio software and sub your own text. The free SVG file is located in my Free Creative Resource Library along with a ton of other cool files and printables. To get the password, subscribe below. You can unsubscribe at any tie.
For fun, I also included my re-definition of “artist” on a pdf for you to print out.
For More Inspiration
For MORE awesome artsy clothing ideas check out my Artistic Apparel Pinterest Board.
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6 thoughts on “How to Answer When Someone Asks “What Do You Do?””
Great post! I hate that question too and also ‘are you making any money at that?’ Be it blog or art/crafty work’. I consider it a bit rude actually. I have begun to think of myself as a Creative. At this time, I still have a full time job so my response would be, what do I do or who I am? Which are you more interested in knowing? 🙂
I love this so much!!!?
I walked into an artist’s studio in Cross Lake, MN last fall. I was with a friend who introduced herself to the artist who then turned to me and said “Who are you?” My answer was “I am a child of God. My name is Pam.” He beamed at me and said I was his sister as he also was a child of God. There were no follow up questions!!
That’s an awesome answer!!!! Thanks for sharing it!!!
Thank you for this post, I found this quite comforting and very helpful. I will probably re-read again a few times so that I will feel natural when someone asks me this question again.
Oh I’m so glad!Thanks for taking the time to tell me!