Who’s Laughing Now, Mom?

that doesn’t mean what you think it means. One of the jokes I like to tell when I’m doing a juggling, magic, or musical performance is “When I told my mum that I was going to get a philosophy degree, she laughed and said I had to get a marketable skill. Well, who’s laughing now, mom?” And this has definitely been one of those weeks, between playing with Argyle Speedo at an open mic, and juggling for three full hours at this year’s Glass Slipper Affair. Looking back on the week, it really calls to mind one of the most important questions I’ve learned in the past few months.¬†

At networking events, one of the most common questions I hear is “What do you do?” And this is a question that makes perfect sense if you’re a professional trying to make connections. It seems like an attempt to sort people. I won’t say that’s always what it is. It’s also a question that can get you some more information about a person and gives them an opportunity to tell you about what they probably spend most of their day doing. Now, I don’t have a business per se, but I love going too events and meeting people. As a grad student, I find that my answer to the question “What do you do?” is always a little unsatisfying. It encompasses what I do for a living, which at the moment is write research papers, but doesn’t speak to all of the other things that I love doing and actually spend most of my time on. So I tried an experiment. I started asking people “What do you do when you’re not doing what you do?”

It’s a bit of a convoluted question I admit, but once it’s sorted out, I get the most interesting answers. I’ve met people who work on independent film projects, people who love to game, who play in bands, who read voraciously…And I have no idea what they do for a living. I just assume I’ll find out eventually. the things we do outside of our work, the crazy hobbies and the ways we let loose, those speak to who we are, not what we do. By ¬†changing the question, I changed the attitude of the conversation. I’m not asking about someone’s business anymore, I’m asking about them. I want to get to know them, not their business card.

I did what I do this week. I wrote a paper, did some research, and attended a department function. But I also blogged, worked on Headshots from the Heart, juggled, made music, helped friends, helped build the skeleton of a cardboard hippopotamus, danced, and recorded a podcast. These are the things that make me me, marketable skills or not. What do you do when you’re not doing what you do?

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