“What do you do?”

I usually like going to church. Rob and I go to an Anglican church, so we get to experience the liturgy and Eucharist every week. I like the simple music; I’m moved by our pastor’s sermons. When we first got married, we church-hopped quite a bit. We couldn’t seem to find a church where we “fit.” But now, I actually look forward to Sundays. This Anglican church means more to me than any other church has in the past.

But there is something I dread about the service. I look at the clock often, knowing it’s coming: the passing of the peace. 

“Passing of the peace” isn’t meant to be scary. It’s the time in the service that is supposed to foster community—people greet one another in the Lord’s name. In other non-denominational churches, like the one I grew up in, this is where the pastor tells the congregation to get up and shake hands. Shouldn’t be scary at all.

I think the reason I dread the passing of the peace is because I might have to talk to someone I don’t know. And if I talk to someone I don’t know, they’re going to ask me my least favorite question: “What do you do?”

It’s a normal get-to-know-you question. There is no ill intention behind it. A person is simply trying to make small talk, nothing more.

So why does it bother me?

I don’t have a traditional 9:00 to 5:00 job. Because of a variety of reasons—primarily my mental health and my inspiration to become a writer—I’m not holding a normal job. Not surprisingly, this fact makes me very insecure.

I’m insecure about what others may think of me. I’m insecure that they might judge me. I’m insecure about how to even answer the question.

Do I explain that I have mood instability? What will they think? I don’t really want to go into my personal life with a stranger or even an acquaintance. Do I explain that I’m trying to be a writer? They’re probably going to ask me if I have a book published and I’ll have to just say no, that I’m working on it slowly. Will they then judge me for being unsuccessful?

Because I’m afraid of judgement, I usually answer the question with a noncommittal “I’m not working right now” with hopes that it shuts the conversation down.

I know I shouldn’t care about what other people think about me. It isn’t healthy to constantly worry about others’ opinions because they shouldn’t matter anyway. They’re probably not even judging me and I just assume that they are.

I guess when I answer that question, I’m reminded of my own self-judgement. I judge myself for the same things that I’m worried other people will think. That’s telling, isn’t it? Sometimes, I can be awfully unkind to myself. I judge myself too harshly and, even though I know this, it’s difficult not to. That’s something I have to reconcile with myself.

I wonder: why do we even have to ask that question in the first place? Why is it that when we meet someone for the first time, we must ask what he or she does? In our culture, we tend to define ourselves with our jobs.

Even though I hate the question, I’m equally guilty of asking it. It’s second-nature.

I shouldn’t wish away “What do you do?” because I fear judgement, but because there could just be better questions to ask.

Maybe I’ll start trying to ask something else when I meet someone for the first time.

Instead of “What do you do?” I could ask, “What do you enjoy doing?”

Or maybe “What makes you happy?”

Or “What makes you you?”

Somehow those questions seem more personal, but if the point is to get to know someone, perhaps that is a good thing.

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