What Do You Do?
Last weekend I found myself at a local garage sale looking through my neighbor’s old junk. I really didn’t need to buy anything but I find that I can learn a great deal about my neighbors by looking through their discarded possessions.
In one box, I found several old movies in VHS format. Now I truly believe that I may be the last American to actually own a VHS video player so I meticulously went through the titles in the box only to discover that my neighbors were trying to peddle only movies that the Salvation Army refused to accept.
However tucked between "Veggi-Tales Go Hollywood" and "Ford Pinto Maintenance for Dummies", I found an old 1997 cult classic "Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion" starring Lisa Krudrow and Mira Sorvino. I didn’t particularly like the movie overall but it does contain one of my all-time favorite movie lines:
Christie: So, Michele! What is it that you do these days?
Michele: Um, I invented Post-Its Notes.
Christie: No offense, Michele, but how in the world did someone like you think of Post-Its?
Michele: Uh... Actually I invented a special kind of glue.
Christie: Oh really? Well then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind giving us a detailed account of exactly how you concocted this miracle glue, would you?
Michele: No I don’t mind. Um, well, ordinarily when you make glue first you need to thermoset your resin and then after it cools you have to mix in an epoxide, which is really just a fancy-schmancy name for any simple oxygenated adhesive, right? And then I thought maybe, just maybe, you could raise the viscosity by adding a complex glucose derivative during the emulsification process and it turns out I was right.
Well of course Michele didn’t invent Post-it Notes...Spenser Silver did while working at 3M in 1974...but what a great answer to a difficult question.
When I meet a person for the first time I instinctively get around to asking what it is they "do". Many times that question is answered by them handing me a stiff 3 ½" x 2" paper card that summarizes their identity: Name, company name, title, address, phone numbers, e-mail address and other assorted tidbits of information. They proceed to tell me what their company does, product they make, or service they provide.
I was playing golf recently and was paired up with several middle-aged gentlemen who seemed to know one another. We politely exchanged first names at the tee box and set off to play. After a few holes and some idle chitchat, I inquired to one of the players, "so Bill when you’re not playing golf...what do you like doing?"
He answered me by handing me his business card which included Bill Stephens, Business Development, Verifone as well as all of his contact information.
I thought that perhaps he didn’t clearly understand the question. I didn’t ask what he did to earn money. I asked what he liked to do when he wasn’t playing golf.
So I asked the question again. This time I received a full five minute answer about who Verifone was and why they were a leader in credit card transaction processing. I thought, Bill was clearly on the golf course to develop business so he had an apt title at Verifone.
My friend Erik has a unique way of answering the "what do you do?" question. He makes up a completely irrelevant but unique job for himself whenever someone asks him the question.
He and I were traveling together once on a very full Southwest Airline flight where it was impossible to sit in conjoining seats. He found a seat and I found another seat in the row directly behind him. About half-way into the flight he struck up a conversation with his two seat mates and they eventually asked him what he did.
With a very straight face, he explained in detail, how he was a "reptilian taxidermist" who was on his way to the San Diego Zoo to stuff a two-headed Corn Snake. My seat mates, at that point, had no idea why I was laughing hysterically during the next half-hour as Erik went into great detail explaining his training, background and some of his more famous works from around the world. He never did let on to his little charade.
Think for a moment about all the things that you do (albeit not always for a salary). Some of these things you do for fun, others out of obligation, and still others while just maintaining your life.
A partial list might include: teacher, babysitter, janitor, photographer, student, driver, golfer, writer, organizer, bowler, counselor, cook, musician, philosopher, bird watcher, actor, policeman, philanthropist, pilot, waiter, salesperson, gardener, social worker, nurse, pet sitter, arborist, entrepreneur, and/or politician.
Additionally many of us are friends, parents, confidantes, thinkers, significant others, risk-takers, contributors, coaches, care-takers, inventors, or someone just there to listen.
We are a lot of things to the eyes of the world at different times. It’s not nearly as important to know what someone does to earn a living as it is to know what someone does to make a life for themselves.
Maybe my friend Erik really has it all right...maybe you can be anything that you want, whenever the mood suits you.
Just don’t tell the world that you invented Post-it notes...that job has already been done...
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