“SO, WHAT DO YOU DO?”
The first question you tend to get asked when you meet someone at a party is
“So, what do you do?”
And according to how impressive your answer is, people are either keen to get to know you
better, or swiftly leave you behind by the nuts. We’re anxious because we live in a world of
snobs, people who take a tiny part of us. Our professional identities - and use these to come
to a complete verdict about how valuable we are as humans.
The self-help shelves of bookstores are filled with two kinds of books that capture the
modern anxious condition with titles like ‘How to make it’, ‘How to be famous’ and ‘Be an
overnight millionaire.’ or something like: ‘How to cope with low self-esteem.’, ‘101 Ways To
Make People Like You More”
The two genres are related. A society that tells people they could have everything, but
where in fact only a tiny minority can, will end up with a lot of dissatisfaction and grief.
There’s a related problem: our societies are - to a large extent - deemed to be “fair”.
Meritocracies make poverty seem not just unpleasant, but also somehow deserved.
We scarcely believe in “luck” nowadays as something that explains where we end up. By
determine a critical share of where people end up in the hierarchy or at the bottom of
society; as though they entirely deserve to be where they are.
We let our outer achievements define our sense of self entirely. There remain so many vital
sides of us that will never appear on our business cards, that do not stand a chance of being
captured by that maddeningly blunt and unimaginative question, ‘So what do you do?’