If anyone’s going to face an interrogation at a party, it’s someone like me– a full-time freelance writer and member of the creative class.
Parties are not for faking how invested you are in fishing the lime out of your drink or studying the molding in your host’s home. Parties are for socializing.
Inevitably, whether you’re in Washington, New York, or LA—the three biggest cities for hustlers—that means answering the question, “What do you do?” You can let that question incite anxiety and doubt or you can learn to answer it.
Maybe you hate what you do and are hoping for a change. Maybe you dread judgment. Maybe you wonder why our society places so much emphasis on professional identity and productivity (Answer: Capitalism.)
Maybe you’re afraid people simply won’t understand. Or maybe still, you’ve just been fired or laid off or quit your job without a backup plan. Any or all of these possibilities probably make your throat constrict and your palms sweat.
Some people want straightforward answers when they ask you what you do: “I’m a doctor/teacher/bakery shop owner.”
As writer Austin Kleon writes in his book, Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, “Have empathy for your audience. Anticipate blank stares. Be ready for more questions. Answer patiently and politely.”
Here are three ways to make that happen:
Paint a picture for your guests
Fellow party-goers assume I have a day job. Sure, I have a day job; but it’s also a night job and a weekend job. So to help them understand what my job looks like on a day-to- day basis, I paint a picture for them.
Some days it involves sitting at my laptop doing what I’m doing now—thinking and typing. Sometimes I venture out to interview people, take photos for a story, or install my art on site. When I’m not doing those things, I’m writing invoices, checking my mailbox, standing in line at the bank, and studying up to inform my work. When explaining what I do, I’ll say something along the lines of:
“I’m a full-time thinker.”
“I make things. Digital things”
You have tons of things you do at your job, too. Show your fellow guests what your job means.
Come up with anecdotes
No matter what you do, the answer is more than a single-word reply. It’s also more than rattling off your resume (probably the only way you can really mess up your answer is by bragging incessantly). You can better illustrate what your job entails by bringing up anecdote and telling stories. These tales can be funny or heartbreaking, but make them memorable. Give the other party guests a sense of what it’s really like to work your job. Even if you’re unemployed, you probably have a story about why.
Come up with an anecdote– a short, amusing story that brings your occupation to life. This tales can be funny or heartbreaking, but make it memorable. Give the other party guests a sense of what it’s really like to be you and the best parts of you that you bring to your job. Even if you’re unemployed, you probably have a story about how it happened.
Even if you’re unemployed, you’re most likely filling your time in the most interesting of ways. Are you making a point to fill your calendar with interesting meetings with interesting people? Talk about those unforgettable experiences.
Let your guard down
People ask questions because they’re genuinely curious, not because they’re judging your line of work. Some professions are particularly mysterious to outsiders, while better-known jobs—like a lawyer, nurse, or fire fighter—have their own collection of stereotypes. By answering folks’ questions, you have the chance to clear up confusion and bust myths. Relax, be vulnerable and have fun.
After all, it is a party, right?