Why is your profession always the first thing people want to know about you?
Is it an easy conversation starter? Is it more interesting than the weather? Is work so universal that it’s the only way to bond with strangers?
Regardless of the reason, I think there is a more nefarious side about sharing your profession: make make assumptions about who you are and what you’re capable of.
My experiment with professions
When I lived abroad in New Zealand, I had a blank slate because literally nobody in the country knew who I was. That was extremely terrifying, but fabulous for experimenting with my idea of self and who I wanted to be. I have had a variety of careers in my past, so when I introduced myself to new people, I selectively mentioned a previous profession.
Technical work was fabulous for finding a place to live. I sounded responsible and respectful — but most people weren’t interested in talking further about what I did.
However, it was hard to make friends in the hostel talking about keyboards and mice so I introduced myself as a writer to them. I think people assume good story-tellers make for interesting friends.
My Professional Surprise
The biggest surprise actually came from working a retail job in New Zealand after just quitting a technical one in America. As a computer technician, I had Harvard PhDs asking me for advice because they trusted my opinion and saw me as their equal — even though I didn’t have a big-name degree. As a cashier everyone assumed I was a dumb slacker whose job would hopefully be replaced by a vending machine. I had personally made the line long to spite them and had stolen all the $5 bills so they had to get five ones instead.
What did I learn from all of this?
The first lesson I learned is that we are all people — regardless of our profession. As Simon mentioned earlier this week in my wife’s post about labeling people, we should see people as “a fellow human who happens to do a job” rather than a stereotypical, inhumane role. I don’t understand why we put so much emphasis on what we’re trained to do… it’s just training.
The second lesson I learned is to be nice to all people (even cashiers!) because they’re people. Their job is just where they’re working, not who they are. If you start talking to cashiers, you’ll realize they have hopes, dreams and aspirations… just like you…