I've always hated the question "What do you do?" It seems like the answer people are looking for is something simple, something they can use to quickly categorize me - administrative assistant, sex educator, retail salesperson - but that's never the answer I want to give. Sometimes I just say "It's complicated..." and wait for their response. Recently I've taken to saying things like "I'm marginally employed" or "I volunteer a lot" or "I am gainfully unemployed." Occasionally I'll start rattling off a list of projects and commitments (personal and otherwise) that I have on my plate at the moment, which usually includes but is not limited to Binghamton Urban Farm Project/VINES, Food Not Bombs, Southern Tier AIDS Program, knitting group, raising chickens in my backyard, and thinking about starting my own business.
I guess this relates to being a "scanner" (mentioned by my mom in this post), a term coined by Barbara Sher, author of I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was and Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams. I have so many hobbies and interests and projects it often feels impossible to represent myself in a nutshell or elevator spiel. It's also not uncommon for someone to be extremely surprised by some aspect of who I am (former sex-shop employee, former vegan, farmer, world traveler, hunter, knitter, rock climber, etc.) based on knowing certain other things about me.
This also challenges me when it comes to getting to know new people - not just how to represent myself accurately but also how best to tease out the important stuff about them, which that question "what do you do?" usually fails to bring out. Sometimes I ask about hopes and dreams, but a lot of people are reluctant to talk about those in casual conversation. I've had limited success in asking new acquaintances what they are passionate or excited about. Sometimes I just bring up political or social issues and ask them their views.
I'll write more about some of the specific things I do in future posts, but I imagine this is something I will continue to struggle with.
What about you? Do you have a good way to represent yourself quickly in an elevator or at a party? How do you best get to know others in more than a superficial way?