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So, what do you do?

4 min read


Languages and cultural idioms oftentimes teach powerful lessons. For example, Yiddish, a Jewish-spoken dialect that is primarily a blend of Hebrew and German, offers users a few different ways through which to inquire about another’s well-being.

My maternal grandfather, a centenarian and Holocaust survivor who grew up in pre-WWII Romania, told me that it was common practice for people in his community to respond to the question “What do you do?” with a simple “Torah u’mitzvos” (“I am fulfilling God’s Torah and commandments.”) Regardless of their occupations, these European Jews professed their faith and faithfulness by stating their deeper objectives as religious servants.

One of the most common questions you will hear when making acquaintance is, “So, what do you do?” For the longest time, such questions were responded to with a particular focus on one’s profession. “I’m a doctor.” “I’m in sales.” However, it appears that the focus that we use to frame and define our actions and even ourselves may be changing. And my proof is from Twitter.

While professional social media services such as LinkedIn still retain a certain stodginess (which, for its purposes, is a good thing), Twitter seems to have bridged the gap between personal and professional. Many professionals (me included) use Twitter to share professional, uplifting and informative content. But they do so in a way that keeps in touch with the deeply personal side of their profiles and selves.

Consider the following Twitter bios from my network:

  • “Family-oriented, with a passion for people and service. Focused on maximizing human potential.”
  • “Lifestyle Architect and Motivational Speaker. I help people turn their dreams into a reality.”
  • “Principal / Leadership Consultant. Love God, Wife & Kids!”
  • “I’m the coach that will take you to the gym, not just send you there!”
  • “LOVE office processes & effective leadership… non-profit supporter; coffee & chocolate addict”

To these men and women (and many, many more), life is more than about doing a job and getting paid. It’s about making a difference and following your passions. It’s about connecting deeply to what you believe in, and expressing your values to others.

Of course, many of the same professionals may use more restrained descriptors on the CVs or LinkedIn profiles. But that doesn’t detract from how they view the true purpose of their work.

The next time that someone asks you “so, what do you do?” feel free to share your position as you have always done. Then go ahead and add a few descriptors, things that you are passionate about and proud of. Things like:

  • Leader of a great team
  • Sharing stories of inspiration and success
  • Delivering goods to others
  • Facilitating communication

A story is told (in many similar variations) of a man who came across three bricklayers busy at work.

He asked the first bricklayer, “What are you doing?” “I’m laying bricks,” came the reply.

He then asked the second bricklayer the same question. “I’m putting up a wall,” he said.

The passerby then asked the question one more time, this time to the third bricklayer. The response:  “I’m building a cathedral.”

What you do, in real terms, may be no different from the person seated in the next cubicle or the guy that you meet at the trade show. But what you do as in how you do it, as well as why, is uniquely your choosing.

Work, and life, is about much more than punching a clock and cashing a check. Choose to “eat to live” rather than “live to eat” and you will start to see just how much more fulfilling life can be. And then what you do will no longer be a discussion about your professional practice but rather a description of your very essence and the values that you hold dear.

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog at