Stop asking, “so what do you do?”

After I had my first child, I went through an existential crisis of sorts. I think that’s because I had  been working since I was old enough to work, so when I stayed home to take care of my little one, I lost a bit of my personality. And I think the culture we live in is partly to blame.

Our culture, at least in Canada and the US, defines us by our occupations. And when I say occupation, I mean, the thing that gets us paid. Meet someone, and the first question they ask you is, “so, what do you do?”

And that question usually translates to, “what do you do to get paid?” It’s such a strange question and strange assumption; yet it’s one that everyone in the US & Canada takes at face value. “What do you do” shouldn’t mean “how do you get paid?”

After all, I do many things.


Stop asking "so, what do you do?" MultiTalented Writers


I get paid by freelance writing, and I have gotten paid in several other jobs as well. But I also raise three children, cook, draw, dance, read, hike, talk to friends, listen to music, do acting when I can, learn swordfighting skills when I can, keep a household functioning… and the list goes on. I do many things, and the fact that I don’t get paid for most of them shouldn’t immediately discount them from the conversation. 

The question “what do you do” comes with the assumption that where you work somehow gives you your value as a person. This assumption is harmful to those of us who stay home to care for children, and it’s confusing to those of us who need several jobs to stay afloat (been there, done that), and it’s a bit of a ridiculous question to boot.

Is the most interesting thing about a person really how they get paid? What else would you like to learn about someone you’ve recently met? Let’s do away with the “what do you do” question and replace them with better questions. Here’s an idea:

Instead of asking “what do you do,” ask “what do you love to do?”

This question can actually help you get to know someone better, which is the whole point of the “what do you do?” question, isn’t it? Which of these two questions do you think would truly help you get to know someone better: what do you do? or what do you love to do?

If you’re meeting someone who’s a multipotentialite, even that latter question is going to have an odd or long answer. There are so many, better questions out there. 

I could reinvent the wheel, or I could send you to this excellent article by Buffer on alternatives to the “what do you do question,” so I’ll take the easy route and do the latter.

What question would you like to be asked instead of that old fallback?

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Mariana Abeid-McDougall is a writer, a wife, and a homeschooling mom in an out-of-the-box, adventurous family. She's on a mission to show the world that writers don't need to niche to be successful. She hopes you'll join the conversation on the MultiTalented Writers blog.

4 thoughts on “Stop asking, “so what do you do?””

  1. For sure “What do you love to do” sounds much better.
    In my opinion “What do you do” will give you only one person that you meet. “What do you like to do” can give you a friend.

  2. For me its what do you love to do because that seems to be how I have lived my 40 or more working years
    I also have never felt like I have made enough
    So I do like to know
    What do you do
    To pay the bills. Then I imagine whether I could try it

    • Thanks for commenting, Rebecca!

      I’ve done a variety of things to pay the bills, from working at a pizza place, to engraving metal, to selling men’s suits, to lifeguarding, to being a personal trainer and working as a Kinesiologist at a health centre, and I was also a Naval Reservist for 7 years. Since we got married, my husband has always been the higher earner and primary bill-payer, since I always worked contracts and earned less (though I still contribute to the household expenses).

      Today, I homeschool my children, so I work as a freelance writer on the side for fun, sanity, and a little extra cash. My work is very part-time; therefore, I couldn’t pay all our bills with it, but that suits me fine, as it gives me the opportunity to homeschool and travel.

      I prefer to have less money and more freedom, and working freelance on my own terms and homeschooling my kids gives me that 🙂


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