Monday, March 14, 2011

So....What Do You Do?

I know a guy who is an airline pilot.

The fact that he's an airline pilot does not affect me in any way.  I've never gotten free flights, never had to water his plants while he's at the office, and in spite of all the times I've flown his airline, I've never seen him in the cockpit (although that would be pretty cool).  In fact, the only reason I know he's an airline pilot is that when we moved in across the street from him over fifteen years ago, we asked him what he did for a living.

Not long ago, he and I were talking, and the subject came up that he had no clue what I did for a living. Why not?  Well, I suppose the subject never came up.  I mean, being an airline pilot...that's interesting.  Everybody knows what an airline pilot does, and anyone can talk about it: Where have you been?  Who have you met?  What's the craziest thing a passenger has ever done?

My job may not be that exciting, but I love it when people ask what I do for a living.  My eyes light up as I tell people what I do.  I have a really good job.  It's exciting and challenging, and frankly I'm really good at it.  It pays extremely well.  I could, conceivably, do it from anywhere in the world (more on that later).  In my opinion, you don't really know someone unless you know what they do for a living. The problem is, people don't ask.

There was a time when this bothered me.  I mean, what's the first thing you do when you meet a guy?  You ask him what he does.  Once you know that, you know enough about him for the conversation to keep going.  Otherwise, he's just a name with a Miller Light in his hand.  But when you meet a woman, the subject may never come up for years. 

I could let this bother me, but he's the thing: I don't feel I can ask a woman what she does.  I used to ask, but I would get answers like: Oh, nothing, or I'm just a mom.  The woman I'm asking is embarrassed, she doesn't know how to answer.  She thinks I'm trying to figure out if she is like me, and when forced to admit that she's not, she figures we can't be friends. 

Here's one thing about the world I live in that's completely different from the world I read about online.  It seems (from what I read) that in the Big City, women are expected  to have careers, and to assume otherwise is considered, well, a little bit offensive.  In my corner of the world, this is just not the case. Lots of women don't work.  This has nothing to do with sexism, mind you.  In my corner of the world, high tech jobs are plentiful, schools are top-notch, and housing is cheap.  A family struggling to make ends meet in a two-bedroom bungalow in San Jose can move here, buy a five-bedroom with a pool, and mom can still stay home with the kids.  There are exceptions, of course.  I have a neighbor who is a chemistry professor at the university, a number of nurses, a lawyer, a CFO of a major organization (with three kids and no nanny, go figure) and countless real estate agents. All remarkable, interesting women.

But here's the thing.

The women I know who don't work outside the home are just as remarkable.  You just have to do a little digging, probably more than you'd get at a cocktail party.  My neighbor Hallie can tell you about any piece of classic literature ever written.  Amy will keep you in stitches.  Vicki spent last year losing 120 pounds and volunteers as a speaker for Weight Watchers.  Susan went to India to build an orphanage. Linda has two special needs kids and the wisdom to listen to your parenting confessions with humor and understanding without a hint of judgment.

Which brings me to my point.  When you meet a man, ask him what he does for a living.  He needs you to know.  It defines him.  In five minutes, he feels he can tell you everything you need to know about him.

When you meet a woman, there's no point in asking, because it's going to take a lot more than one conversation to really know her.  What she does to bring in a paycheck is so much less that what she is.  Talk to her, listen to her, find out what's important to her and what's important about her.  And if she seems boring at first, give her a chance.  You just haven't found her spark yet.  But it's there.  Wait for it.


  1. That's very sweet, and definitely a good thing to remember. So many people aren't interested in talking to people who aren't just like them, and they miss out on interesting people who maybe just don't shout it.

  2. In some places (like say, England) it's considered rude to ask someone what they do. It implies that their job DOES define them. Think of how the generic you would dismiss some guy at a party upon finding out he's a garbage man. Even though he very well may earn more than the guy standing next to him who's a teacher.