29 years ago today on 1st September 1986, I entered The Angel Centre – 403 St John Street, Islington, London – and nervously made my way to the 4th floor to start my first ever full-time job at British Telecom. My boss wasn’t there, he was in a meeting, but on my desk was a hard-backed book describing the ‘fundamentals of digital data transmission’, and so I sat down, opened the book and started reading about Nyquist sampling, Pulse Code Modulation, Frequency Shift Keying and other such alien concepts (many of which I never really got to grips with). A few people introduced themselves and someone offered me my first ever cup of coffee. I was aged 21 and unbeknownst to me I was on the road to becoming a “network planner”, a job description that would broadly define me for a further 21 years.
In 2007 I embarked on a different career track in a different sector of industry, this time working in the field of “mobile contactless payments”, an area I still work in to this day.
Andy the ‘network planner’ was pretty much the same person as Andy the ‘guy that works in mobile contactless payments’. Neither job tells anyone anything whatsoever about me – my fears, desires, passions, guilty pleasures, weaknesses, regrets, aspirations – all the things that actually define me as a unique individual.
And yet, look at the world we live in and what a strange model we have adopted. Quite often, when people meet us for the first time, in a vain attempt to get to know us, they often ask: “What do you do?” to which most of us automatically reply with a brief description of our job. We bizarrely allow our occupation to define us above and beyond everything else.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an engineer/accountant/librarian/chemist”
Imagine how life would be different, and more meaningful, if we stripped away these western, corporate focussed conventions and instead talked about us?
“Tell me about you?”
“I like nothing more than being outside in nature – gardening, hiking, running. I like the smell after it’s rained heavily and I love watching thunderstorms play out. I enjoy travelling overseas and sampling local foods and wines. I find words and language fascinating and I read as often as I can. I also like the smell of new-born baby’s heads”.
isn’t that more interesting and revealing than saying you work in contactless payments? Such human beliefs and values are neither right, nor wrong, yet they help us see the individual instead of the suit he/she is wearing. Telling me you’re an accountant tells me nothing about you, only about your career choice (probably made many years ago). For many people, a job is just that, something that enables them to pay the bills and further enable them to do the things they REALLY love. For such people, work enables life, and hence work is everything but life itself.
Two librarians at a party – one likes naked mud wrestling, drinking wine and bungee jumping whilst the other likes needlework, morris dancing and re-enacting military battles. Meeting these two librarians and discovering this information is extremely helpful and interesting, and I am sure most of us would naturally gravitate more towards the one who interests us most. We can actually start to make genuine, informed choices about people and who we would like to engage with – and surely that’s to everyones benefit, including both librarians, if we can all more readily identify mutual points of interest and avoid that dreaded small talk which just further exposes how very little we have in common?
Deep down, what we all want to know about others is what makes them ‘them’ – what makes their heart skip a beat, what makes them jump out of bed in a morning, what dreams they might dream at night, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry – human attributes that paint an accurate picture of the person and not their business ‘facade’.
Telling me you got a 2:1 at Warwick University in Stochastic Sales Development before going on to do an MBA and buying a 4×4 Range Rover just tells me you’re an ambitious status seeking bore, which is all rather tiresome, mundane and pointless, unless of course you are also an ambitious status seeking bore seeking a like minded individual.
Of course there is a time and a place for everything and a party isn’t quite the same as a corporate trade show. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona my boss would certainly want me to engage with prospects by talking about mobile contactless payments rather than my penchant for eating cheesy wotsits in the bath with a glass of wine. Come to think of it my wife might also prefer me to talk about mobile contactless payments at a dinner party with friends too, but hopefully you get my point – most of us have two parts to our life and sometimes we mix them, often to the detriment of ourselves and everyone around us.
My cheesy wotsit fetish isn’t going to close the Barcelona deal, and my views on the pro’s and cons of secure element vs cloud based mobile payments isn’t going to win me many friends at the weekend dinner party, but perhaps there is a middle ground to be sought.
As with all my blogs I have drifted completely from my original intent and ended up in a place with little/no conclusion, but there you have it, that’s me, a cheesy wotsit loving wine drinker celebrating his 29th work birthday, cheers!
3 thoughts on “What do you do?”
excellent piece mate. I always used to think people with ‘easy to comprehend’ jobs had that conversation easy. ‘What do you do’ ‘I am a teacher, banker, butcher, candlestick maker etc…’, my version was always full of ‘sort of this and sort of like that’ – so I’m always glad to move on from that initial question to more interesting aspects of conversation for more than one reason!
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Haha indeed, I also suffer from that too but my struggle is compounded by the fact that I don’t know what I do half the time either ;-). Thanks for the comment though, much appreciated.
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Indeed. I think thats why my kids never invited me to those ‘take your dd to school events’
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