What do you do?

The other night I was out at a bar in Washington, DC. 

I’d had enough drinks to overcome my social ineptitude with woman, that sweet spot after about 4 beers where I forget about my physical insecurities and have enough liquid courage to start a conversation with the cute blonde standing just off from her friends.

A brief smile and introduction lead us to the three question exam that determines your social fate in DC: 1) Where did you go to school? 2) What did you study? 3) What do you do now?

And I fail those three questions by a mile.

I went to Occidental College, a liberal arts school only known in DC because of the recent sexual assault scandal and Barack Obama’s open drug use

I studied Economics and Math. Economics gets me a few points, but the Math thing quickly takes me back down due to it’s nerdy associations and lack of any reference to the words ‘political’ and ‘science.’

I do nothing. I don’t have a job. My current occupation as a ‘motorcycle enthusiast’ is exotic at best and neurotic at worst, neither of which appeal to the girl in her third year as a consultant who has real goals in her life.

So I of course get pawned off onto her male roommate, a guy who is surprisingly taken with my story and listens intently as I regale him of tales from the road.

Being stuck in Washington, DC for the last week since my bike broke down in the middle of Virginia has been a nice reprieve from the shower-less days and bed-less nights that became the norm during my first two weeks on the road. I’ve visited with many friends I hadn’t been with in years, seen the sights, and gotten to meet a few of the locals, including aforementioned girl from the bar. 

Most people find it interesting that I’m on this adventure, but still seem slightly taken aback when I tell them about my lack of ambition, open timeline, and absence of a plan for tomorrow. And I think it’s great.

Because ever since I can remember, I’ve had a definitive answer to the question: What do you do?

Over time my life has changed, but I’ve maintained an answer to the question, whether it be student, athlete, intern, or, most recently, product owner (which was a bit squishy, but using project manager solidified things somewhat). It’s always been something that sounds ‘right.’ But now I have no right answer. 

Do I tell people I’m a writer? Aside from reading and riding my motorcycle, I’ve probably spent more time writing than anything else over the last three weeks. But it sort of feels like the guy  who rides his bike to work and tells people he’s a cyclist. You’re not fooling anyone with those tight shorts. Maybe a little more practice and it becomes admissible, but right now it’s borderline offensive.

Do I tell people I’m an adventurer? I mean sure, I’m on an adventure, but I’ve basically been on highways and stayed in or near civilization, which hardly feels like it qualifies me for that moniker. 

So what do I say? 

I just tell people my story. I keep it brief – I’m on a motorcycle trip, I’ve taken some time off from working to explore America and myself, and I’m writing a bit about it on my blog. I’m doing things I enjoy, like reading, traveling, seeing old friends, and eating good food. I tell them I’m safe, healthy, and happier than I’ve been in a long time.

We define ourselves so frequently by the things we do and have that it’s been completely refreshing to define myself by the things I don’t do and don’t have. 

I don’t have a job. I don’t live anywhere. I don’t have much stuff.

Not having the ‘right’ answer to the question has given me an interesting perspective into the judgments I make so often in my life about those around me. Competition is one of my strengths. I usually can’t help but size other people up when I first meet them. But every time I do that now, I’m on the low side of the scale that adds weight for accomplishments and subtracts for lack of ambition. 

I’ve learned to accept that. I accept that each day when I wake up, the world spins on without caring at all about what I do with my time. 

I spent a lot of time working very hard to give myself something to say when people asked me what I do, but sometimes, it just makes sense to not know what to say.

So for today, I’m pretty happy not having an answer. 

  • Sam V

    Well written, mi amigo! Keep on doing you!

    • Ian Husted

      Thanks bud!

  • adambourg

    Dude you’re living the dream I suspect.

    • Ian Husted

      I sure am! Having a great time.

  • http://www.jessieandkyle.com/ Kyle Miller

    Amen! It used to be that people worked in order to earn enough money to support their interests outside of work, but now it feels like people are defined by their jobs. I think that’s part of the reason there’s so much stigma around “finding your passion,” because people are wired to believe that what they do outside of the office (i.e. in “real life”) no longer matters. When was the last time you were asked “So, what do you do outside of work?” as a conversation starter? Surely it would lead to a far more interesting conversation.

    Taking this even further, what if the purpose of life wasn’t to accomplish things – to tick boxes off some master checklist, but simply to connect with the people you meet along the way and to enjoy the raw experiences you have? I think you’re doing exactly that on this trip, and I hope you’re starting to realize that these are the moments that will come to define you more than any job title on a business card. Maybe the next time someone asks you what you do you can tell them “I enjoy life to the fullest.” After all, who cares what you call it if it feels real to you?

    • Ian Husted

      Exactly Kyle, very well said. That purpose to life question is one that I’ve been pondering quite a bit on this trip, and my conclusions so far are pretty much along the lines of what you’ve said here. I think enjoying what you do every day and building relationships with people are foundational to living a good life.

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