Don’t you hate it when you’re in a situation where you have to get into that decades-long worn-out social interaction routine of “So what do you do”?
“So what do you do?” is the discount pasta of small-talking. We’ve all heard it 1000 times too many, and while it might’ve had a genuine purpose once, today it serves none but conversational fluff.
Not only do we rarely, if ever, ask each other this question out of honest interest; we’re even so used to answering it that most of our response can be delivered on autopilot. So it rarely, if ever, makes for much memorable interaction.
But if you have low confidence and self-esteem, the situation surrounding “So what do you do?” can be all the much worse.
For non-fident people, talking about oneself can feel unpleasantly exposing and intimidating. If you’re unsure of yourself, you’re unsure of how people react towards getting to know you. And non-fidence doesn’t exactly make for a conversational disposition altogether.
But furthermore, if you’ve been non-fident for a sufficiently long time, chances are you’ll probably not be doing something that you’re especially excited about.
Maybe you’ve picked an entirely wrong path in life, and you hate to be reminded of it, because you have no major strategy and no idea where to go from where you are. Or maybe you do, in fact, enjoy what you do, but you just don’t feel like socializing.
Whatever’s the case, having to deal with “So what do you do?” can be a vulnerable position for someone with confidence issues.
Therefore, I’m gonna give you four ways of handling this universally frowned-upon, yet somehow socially mandatory conversation routine.
When I started writing this article, I was actually gonna suggest stuff like “lie”, “be intentionally vague” or “deliberately make up weird shit”. Because that’s what I used to do in the past.
But while those are neat little ways of defiantly playing one’s own little socio-satirical game, I’ve come to prefer other ways. Ways that might be a bit less straightforward, but which are so much more supportive towards building and maintaining a strong social confidence.
#1 Turn it over to them
Okay, so this is definitely the easiest, path-of-least-resistance one of them all. But that’s not to say it’s the least effective. On the contrary, it quickly deflects and turns the entire situation around 180°.
See, while it might be hard to understand for a non-fident, most people actually like to talk about themselves. And since many people ask this question out of politeness rather than genuine interest anyway, they’re not gonna mind getting back around to themselves anyway.
So, the next time someone asks you “So what do you do?” and for some reason you don’t feel like engaging, first answer with your usual, casual phrase of as few words as possible, and then simply add: “What about you?“
They’ll go on about themselves right away. And even if the topic somehow comes back to you, it can easily be reversed over and over: “What was it you said you did again?“; “Tell me more about [X]“; etc.
Now, I know that some of you are probably thinking, “But what if none of us are actually comfortable with the situation and we both try doing this tactic?”
I’ve never actually had this happen. So chances are, apart from slim, that at least one of you will quickly notice. Whether you wanna make it into some kind of social ping-pong is entirely up to you. If you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with ending the conversation altogether — for whatever reason.
#2 Talk about something that genuinely excites you
This works whether you’re doing anonymous cubicle-work in a faceless corporation; work dead-end, menial tasks at a gas station, or if you’re a student but you’re tired of talking about your studies.
See, you don’t have to answer everything directly or take any words at face value. You might, in fact, simply start talking about something you really like or find interesting. Something you’re passionate about.
And furthermore, you can always apply the above approach and ask, “What are you passionate about?” Lo and behold: All of a sudden you’re having an enthusiastic, pleasant conversation rather than an awkward, tedious one.
“But what if I’m not interested in anything or passionate about anything?“
Then at least you’re socializing. 😉
#3 Skip the small talk altogether
This follows naturally in the same direction as #2. See, like I said, people love talking about themselves. So, asking people about themselves really is a great key for non-fidents here.
Partly because it turns the focus away from ourselves so we can feel more secure and ressourceful. Partly because it allows us to keep on socializing, — something we could generally use more of.
“But what if I’m not interes…“
I know. Listen up:
If you simply keep on acting as though you’re genuinely interested for long enough, the funniest thing happens…
You become genuinely interested.
Make eye contact. Ask for their opinion on something. Ask them what they really like or really dislike. Get into what makes them tick. Skip the small talk and get to know each other.
When we get to know each other, we feel comfortable and secure around each other. And the more comfortable and secure we feel around each other, the less we feel ashamed of talking about ourselves. How about that?
#4 Live the life you’ve always wanted to tell about
Oh yes. You bet.
Like I’ve mentioned a couple of times, one major reason a non-fident might feel embarrassed about talking about themselves is because non-fidents rarely dare to live the life they truly want. Non-fidents tend to get educations and earn money either out of necessity or fear of standing out; not because they’re necessarily passionate about what they do — at all.
What non-fidents lack in this respect is, quite simply put, the ability to consider themselves worthy of pursuing the existence they truly want.
Pursuing said existence is, of course, a major undertaking. But while changing one’s mindset might seem insurmountably hard, it only begins with the mere decision of doing so. Because there’s nobody to take that decision but ourselves.
On a basic level, we’re social animals. People are gonna be asking “So what do you do?” from here to eternity. And while that mere fact shouldn’t be one’s primary motivation for pursuing the life of one’s sincerest of dreams, I personally find some motivation therein regardless.
I wanna be able to speak of my doings with enthusiasm and joy. And I will not settle for less than a life worth sharing.
However you wish to spend your time, it will pass anyway. Might as well design it in a way that you’d wanna tell people about.
So, the next time you find yourself staring down the business end of “So what do you do?“, at least try to actively make the best of it.
You might discover new ways of social interaction; you might actually get around to talking about something interesting.
You might make an ally — or even a friend.
Write down at least THREE different ways you’d like to be able to answer “So what do you do?”. It might be three different variations on the same theme; it might be three utterly different approaches.
For every one of these points, think of every imaginable response people might make. For each of these, come up with at least one possible comment, answer or elaboration.
Feel free to use the above points for inspiration. And by all means, see how many you can come up with altogether — three is just a guideline.
The more we do this kind of exercise, the better we prepare ourselves for real-life situations and encounters. And the great thing about this exercise is, you can transfer it to several other areas of your life, like dates, exams, job interviews, etc.
Just remember to use it as a general guideline and to never become reliant on any kind of script. Preparation is great. But when we’re out in the field, it’s just as important to expect the unexpected and being open towards simply winging it.