When we meet a new person, the first question we ask is, “What’s your name?”  Something I never consciously picked up on until recently, however, is that the second thing we say to a new person is almost as predictable.

“So, what do you do?”

And there it is: proof that we often form an initial understanding of who someone is largely based on what they’ve chosen as their occupation.  In many ways, this assumption makes sense.  We learn to make a lot of assumptions based on the answer to this question; How much money do you have? What are you interested in? What are your political views? What level of education have you reached?  I can see how asking ‘The Second Question’ early on in the conversation can seem like an efficient way to get a lot of information about who a person is.  “I’m a partner at a law firm,” “I’m a vegan chef,” and “I’m a stay-at-home parent” may each lead to very different conversations.

A potential pitfall here, of course, is that we are making assumptions, which by definition are not always true.  Once we make a judgment or supposition and decide to believe that it is the truth, we may be closing a very important door.  If I’ve already made up my mind about who someone is, I’m a lot less likely to hear anything else they may say to the contrary. I may become blind to the possibility of seeing my new acquaintance as anything other than one-dimensional, and miss an opportunity to know him or her more fully.

This phenomenon also causes me to think about how much of our identities are tied up in what we do for a living.  We answer ‘The Second Question’ with the words “I am,” sometimes allowing the job title that follows to define us.  Taking pride in one’s job, especially when it’s the result of hard work and passion, is certainly a good thing.  The desire for achievement and recognition can motivate people to do amazing, important things.  But it’s no secret that our society is obsessed with financial and professional success, and it’s easy to start to believe that those are the main components by which we should measure our own happiness and value as a human being.  Our jobs are inevitably a part of our identity, after all, we spend a good amount of our lives working, but how big a part is too big?

Life is made up of moving pieces.  Among all the ups and downs, though, we can find stability in a well-rounded identity.   It’s helpful to remember that our value is not wholly reliant on any one job title, relationship, or number.  Take a moment, if you choose, to consider:  How could you answer “The Second Question in a different way?  In addition to your job, what else makes you who you are, and how do you make sure those other parts are being equally nurtured and appreciated?


To Your Wellbeing,

The Health Psych Team