Who are you really?

“So, what do you do for a living?”

It’s the well-versed ice breaker question we all ask whenever we meet someone for the very first time.

We could ask, “So, what do you do in life?” or “So, tell me about yourself”.  But no, that would just seem strange, wouldn’t it?   So instead, we always start with the more conventional “So, what do you do for a living?”  It’s so normal that we ask it without giving it a second thought. 

Looking back over my career, I often welcomed the question being asked of me when I met someone new.  My answer gave me a sense of pride in what I did for a living, that my career was important, and that my job title gave me some sort of ‘professional standing’ among my peers that I otherwise wouldn’t have.  

I’m sure my answer even gave me a little sense of subconscious superiority sometimes, depending on what the person asking did for a living themselves.  A bit like a real-life version of the Top Trumps card game, but purely based around job titles. 

The answers I gave over the various stages of my career ranged from the initial “I’m a trainee accountant, to “I’m a qualified Accountant”, then most recently, “I’m a Business Development Director”. 

Then, one day, I suddenly stopped wanting to tell people what I did for a living.  You see, in-between time, I suffered a stress-related break-down, having completely burned myself out.  Not the kind of burnout that simply needs a few weeks off work to recover from, but the mother of all burnouts, which meant I had to give up working altogether.  

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to retain both my family and our home.  My job, however, was another thing completely.  It disappeared, along with my sense of identity, my confidence and my sense of purpose.  

Now when someone asked what I did for a living, I avoided the subject, telling them I was ‘in-between jobs’ or that I’d taken time out to consider what I wanted to do next.  What I didn’t do was tell them the truth, that I didn’t actually ‘do’ anything now. 

After a while though, I began to realise there were, in fact, huge benefits from no longer having to spend 3 hours a day commuting, needing to hit yet another deadline or work at weekends just to keep up. 

The biggest benefit by far was now having time to spend with our children, taking them to school, picking them up and just being there for them whenever they needed it. 

It gradually dawned on me that there’s no shame in being a stay-at-home Dad, just as there’s no shame in being a stay-at-home Mum.  

Now I can’t wait to meet new people and tell them what I do for a living.  After all, it’s the hardest but most rewarding ‘job’ I’ve ever had.

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