Why “What Do You Do for a Living” is Such a Superficial and Shallow Question

I think so many of us live our life trying to justify everything that we do. We search for reasons, as if having no reason is not good enough. And, it’s hard not to think that way when everyone kind of expects you to have an answer for everything. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice instead if people didn’t expect to hear a clear-cut answer for, “So, what do you do for a living?” I mean, there are people who don’t work for a living at all. They don’t have to. And honestly, if they don’t have to, why should they? But also, there are some people who take breaks or are focusing on other things besides just making money. But isn’t it crazy how we build this narrative in our head that we constantly have to be doing something at least with our lives, or else we’re just wasting it?

I mean, what’s a waste of a life anyway? Some people would say it would be consuming yourself with drugs and alcohol, sleeping your life away, living at home with your parents until you’re 40, etc. I mean, I could understand if living a certain way may not be the most healthy option. But to say outright that someone is ruining their life because they aren’t doing more with it, who’s to really say?

Many people think that in order to be a productive member of society, you have to have a job. I don’t agree with that notion, but not because I’m an entrepreneur or anything. A lot of people who have the opposing view believe that you should start your own business. I’m not say that having a job or a business is the way to live. They’re options. Some people just freelance. Some people just become stay-at-home spouses after they become married. Some people inherit tons of wealth and just travel the world, or just live some routine life. To be honest, it’s up to you how you live your life. No one’s pointing a gun to your head and saying you need to get a job. Sure, some people might tell you that. But, you have that choice.

So, I don’t work a traditional job. I do more like freelancing. It’s remote. I luckily never had to worry about how to pay the bills. I mean, I have worked jobs before, but money was never a real concern of mine. I always have some form of savings, or some way of earning income, and I just did whatever I wanted at the time. Sure, it’s awkward in social situations when people ask me what I do. I usually give a generic response. I’m actually thinking about reframing my answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?” Like, “What do you mean? I don’t ‘work for a living’, I just live my life.”

I feel like only a few people would understand what I’m getting at with my perspective. The person who introduced me to the idea of not getting a job just to make money was Steve Pavlina. And then, I opened myself up to the idea of passive income. Of course, years later, I’m still not an expert of how to make money through passive income. But, I’ve definitely relaxed my views of what it means to be successful or to have ambition/drive, etc. And definitely, there’s more to life than just making money. Focusing on just making money is such a shallow and superficial goal anyway. It’s better to focus on creating value or contributing to society.

I say if you’re stuck on what to do with your life or you’re really in a dark place, it’s not important even to focus on money or productivity. You should focus on yourself, doing what you love (of course, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else in the process, I should say as a disclaimer), and create your own happiness. For me, I experience something that is similar to hearing voices, more intense than that, and more debilitating. So, my main focus when it became aggressive and suicidal was to work on my coping skills, deal with it better, learn how to ignore what it says, learn to still trust and follow my true instincts, still manage to do what I feel is important from day to day without having a complete and utter mental breakdown. If I didn’t first focus on my mental health and instead was worried about making money, I’d be miserable. I don’t know how I’d even make it day-to-day if that’s what I focused on. But because I focus on mental health, I was able to keep my mood relatively stable, help change the content and the frequency of the voice, and open myself up to ideas of what to do in the future.

Don’t feel burdened even if you’re not sure what to do with your time. When you were a kid, I’m sure most of you didn’t worry about what to do on the playground. You just made simple decisions to go down the slide, play on the swings, or cross the monkey bars. And when you were finished playing, you’d leave. But nowadays, it seems as if we’re bombarded with messages to be more productive or more purposeful. What happened to just living your life, without any expectations? Like if you want to build a rocket, great, do that. Or if you want to explore downtown, great, feel free to grab a friend with you. But why does that have to necessarily come with some kind of result or accomplishment? What’s wrong with just enjoying the journey, without focusing on the end?

It’s okay if you have a purpose, but it’s just as valid if you don’t feel like you have a purpose either. You don’t necessarily need one. Or, eventually you might create one for yourself. And, it doesn’t have to align with money. It could be anything. For myself, I try to do things that are good for my well being, alleviate stress, I enjoy, or that capture my interest.

Some people don’t even know what their prime interests are. That happened to me at a few points of my life. I just kept trying different things until something stuck. And nowadays, I know I’m quite limited with the COVID-19 situation. For example, I planned on going out once a week to a new place, checking it out, maybe reviewing it on my social media or even vlogging, but I had to delay that plan for another time. I wanted to move out, first by travelling to a few different places and checking it out, closing down on an area, but of course again, there was COVID-19. That’s okay. I save some of these ideas for the future, and you can too. Like if you want to become a doctor, of course, you don’t have to be working in a hospital the next day. You can go to school first, do your best, explore other interests while you’re at it too. It doesn’t have to be a done deal in one day.

Over a month ago, I started blogging again, and I decided to blog every day since. One day, I set my blog post to private. And a few days ago, I stopped blogging daily altogether. It just didn’t feel aligned anymore. I didn’t want to blog if I didn’t have anything really valuable to share, or if I didn’t have an idea in the first place. I think I was just doing it for the sake of having some kind of goal to accomplish each day. It sure was nice to go as long as I did. But, don’t feel as if you have to cross off some checklist or knock down goals each day. It’s okay to just want to relax or not have any strings attached. I’m fully supportive of a stress-free life in that way. Now, it wasn’t stressful to blog every day for me, but I did eventually ask myself, “Why am I even doing this?” I just didn’t find it to be particularly useful. But today, I came up with the idea to write about this topic, so I felt drawn to write.

It happens to me with music too. I don’t always post music, but when I do, it’s when I feel inspired to do so. I might feel drawn to a particular song, or I might have an idea for a specific melody. That’s when I produce music. I prefer it to the pressure I faced when I was taking a local music production course. I had to create music for the course, and I was constantly stressing out about how well I would do. Now, I got an A in that course, but I was glad when it was over and not feeling particularly accomplished about that grade. I wasn’t even satisfied with the pieces of music I composed for the course. The only good thing was that I learned a few new things about Logic Pro X, which I now use, but if I could go back, I’d enroll in a non-credit course where that grades didn’t matter and I could solely focus on learning. I’m honestly not sure how producers can work so much in the studio. I got burn out from doing music so much, so I only do it when inspiration hits.

Anyway, my whole point in writing this post was to basically say that there’s no point in asking someone what they do for a living. Like, why does that matter to you how they are paying their bills? Some people don’t even have a job to make money. They might have inherited money, or rely on someone else (maybe even the government), or might be studying, or might have a disability, or might be laid off, or a number of other reasons. I think a safer question to ask would be, “How do you spend your time?” That could include an occupation too, or a business, or just hobbies, or a lifestyle.

Personally, I prefer to think of my life as a lifestyle choice, not as something mandatory. If someone were to just ask me what I do for work, if I felt like keeping it short, I’d just say, “I freelance.” But if someone asked me what I do from day to day, I’d say, “Well I produce music from time to time. I’m on YouTube and Spotify. I have my own blog. I like watching a show called Running Man. I sometimes practice learning Korean, and recently started learning Spanish. I like to go for walks in the evenings. After the COVID-19 situation improves, I’d like to go downtown once a week and maybe vlog. I’m also thinking about creating an online course on music production.” My answer would be much more detailed. You’d get to know me better as a person.

And even if you’re not like me and don’t have much going on, that’s okay too. You could say:

“I’m focusing on my mental health.”
“I’m focusing on creating small habits and building it up from there.”
“I’m exploring (insert topics/subjects).”
“I’m reading about (insert topics/subjects).”
“I’m focusing on a (minimalist/vegan/zero-waste/active, etc.) lifestyle.”
“I’m not really up to much to be honest, but I’m open to new ideas.”

That’s my rant on why I think asking what you do for a living is such a superficial question. One of my friends made the point that it’s probably a very Americanized thing to say. It probably is, coming from such a capitalist country. It’s time to change that.

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