What do you do? It sounds like a broad question, but you know that your answer should be your “job.” It makes sense that this would be one of the first questions adult strangers ask each other, as work tends to take up the majority of our time. College students ask about each other’s majors. But when you think about how young you probably were when you were first asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” it begins to seem a little strange. At an age as young as four or five years old, you were probably asked to identify yourself according to a career path. Why the obsession?
The habit of defining ourselves by a line of work is so engrained into our society, it’s hard to realize that this is not a universal view but one unique to the United States. Work is one of the most natural aspects of human life. The concept of “work” can be traced back to the beginnings of human civilization. However, the idea of work as identity is only as old as the U.S. Much of this ideology can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin, who famously wrote, “Time is money,” and the mantra hasn’t stopped echoing since. His lesson was not about the importance of money but rather the idea that a man should always focus on gaining something. He defined ambition for Americans for centuries to come: The way to improve yourself is through improving your work. It could only follow that the self and work become equated.
From this dichotomy of life and work comes the idea that your work must grow out of your passions and identity. How else would little kids be expected to have a clue of what they want to be when they’re older? And while it is wonderful when people build careers out of what they love, most people will be disappointed when their careers and their passions don’t link up evenly.
Even those who do make a career out of their passions often find that what made them passionate about the subject is absent from their career. You may love math, but do you love accounting? You may love film, but do you love making commercials? You may love writing, but do you love writing BuzzFeed articles? You may love computers, but do you want to sit in front of one all day?
Why not keep our passions for our free time? Most of us will spend most of our days working. Rather than tolerating work by telling ourselves that what we do is somehow tangentially related to what we love, let’s find work that we really enjoy, even if our answers to “What do you do?” don’t reveal much about who we are.