no title

This is a question I’m not crazy about: “What do you do?”

Like most people, I do a lot of things. Every day. But I don’t have a title.

I could make something up. Something like “Mistress of Mystery and Empress of Really Cool Things.” But I’m bad at lying, so instead I usually say, “I write.”

And then they say, “Oh yeah? Where?”

And I could say, “On a train, sometimes, but usually at the table, or on the couch. There are also a lot of to-do lists on my phone.”

But I am not rude. So I try to remember where the last impressive place I got published was, and then, inevitably, it turns out that they don’t read that publication. The other day I met someone who had never heard of the Huffington Post. (That’s the place I mention when I can’t think of anything else quickly enough.) It wasn’t the first time.

Some of my friends have great titles. I have a feeling they get invited to cooler parties than me. I don’t get invited to that many parties.

Bear has a really impressive-sounding title. Which is why he doesn’t like to say it. He thinks it sounds braggy to use your impressive title. He thinks you should down-play it. He doesn’t see why it should matter.

If I could steal his title, I feel like I would rock it. I would practice saying it without grinning. I would get good.

I want a title, because I think that if I had one, I would trip over my words less. It would sound more like I’m doing the things that I’m already doing. It would sound more like those things are important.  I would be able to stop making jokes about “when I publish that book…” that sound more like “oh god, please, I hope I get a book published one day! I really, really hope.”

I want a title because I think that people will respect me more if I have one. They will talk about me with each other after I leave, like this: “Kate is really impressive. She’s such a high achiever. I mean, she’s Mistress of Mystery and everything. Not everyone can do that. Let’s be honest, even Lady Gaga wouldn’t be able to do that, and she can wear the highest heels of anyone.”

“Oh my god, I know! I wish I was Kate! It’s like, you just know she’s doing impressive things all day long.”

“Yeah, exactly. You just know. From her title.”

I have a friend who practices emergency medicine. She was telling me a story about some guy with a bullet in his heart. She had to get it out. That’s not the point, I just wanted to share that with the world, because I mean, wow. Holy shit. But also, how nice, to be able to say “Doctor,” when someone asks. Everyone knows what that means. It means “Good, you’ve succeeded.” It means “You care about helping people, but you also make excellent money.” It means “You are so hardworking!” It means “Congratulations!!”

Writer=artist=no way to measure success until there’s a movie about you/you’re on TV a lot/your art is in MOMA/your book is on the NY Times’ bestseller list.

Writer-not-on-NYTimes’-bestseller-list= so, wait, what about New York Mag? Do you write for them? OK… then are you still going to school for something?

Or this is my other favorite: people who ask me how much money I make. Right away. When I talk about freelancing. When they ask where I write and I remember the name of a site they might have seen that I had a piece on four months ago. “Do they pay you for that? How much?”

I have never heard anyone ask Bear those questions. I am guessing no one has asked my doctor friend those questions. Or my friends with big titles in media. Or my PhD friends (they’re not supposed to be making any money anyway). Or my friends who teach school. Or are cooks at nice restaurants. Or my friends who are lawyers.

There is something about not having a title that attracts those questions.

But then sometimes I think that not having a title isn’t really that big of a deal. That it depends how I’m looking at my life. Who I’m talking to. If they’re asking me how much money I make or if they’re being normal.  How I’m feeling that day.

And then sometimes I meet someone without a title who I automatically respect. I meet someone whose title is “Intern At Various Places”  or “Currently Unemployed” or “Poet” or  ”Mom” or “Good Friend” or “Waitress” or “Figuring It Out” who I want to emulate. And I realize that I am not thinking about their title at all. I am thinking about how excited they sound when they describe what they do with their days. I am thinking about how much they enjoy reading. Or how cool their sense of humor is. Or how happy they are. In the end, I am most impressed by people who seem to feel good about their lives.

And sometimes I meet someone whose title is “Vice President Of…” or “Director of…” or “Head of Marketing” or “Editor-in-Chief” or even “Famous Author,” and I forget them almost immediately, because they don’t seem very interesting. Or interested. Or because we didn’t have much in common.

It really depends.

I was sitting on my couch (where I often write, in case anyone was wondering) and listening to my doctor friend describe being a doctor, and I thought, “God, I’m glad there are people who want to do this with their lives. I’d probably throw up. A lot. I wonder if blood gets on her all the time. I wonder if any goo from, like, the intestines, gets on her. Oh my god, I hope that guy with the bullet in his heart was OK. I really hope he was OK. I will get really upset if it turns out he died, because that’s so friggin’ sad. He was only twenty-one. Why is there still so much gang violence? How can anyone deal with watching people die all the time?!”

I am glad that my friend has the title “Doctor.”

I am glad that Bear has his title, because the way he doesn’t use it very often constantly highlights the kind of person he is. And because I am proud of everything he’s accomplished, and because his work allows my work to happen all day long, instead of just in the evenings, when I’m already exhausted.

And I’m glad that my main title is “Writer,” because it’s accurate, without explanation. I am a person who writes things down.

If I really wanted, I could use the title I get from my long-term part time job, because that’s solid, even though it doesn’t describe what I do most days. I could probably give myself other titles, too. Like “Girl Who Is Good At Stuff” (I’m pretty good at a fair amount of stuff) or “Potential Many Things” (I have a lot of potential).

But I’d really rather not care about my title at all.

But I care anyway.

But not all the time.

Which is good.

Because it means there’s hope.

Or maybe I’ll get a book on the New York Times’ bestseller list. (That would be cool, universe. That would be so cool, if you could help me out with that. I’m not nagging. I’m just sayin’.)

Or maybe I’ll not care if I don’t get a book on the New York Times’ bestseller list, because maybe that won’t matter so much, because maybe I’ll be too busy Being Good At Other Things.

Or maybe I’ll just change my tone when someone asks.

“Actually, I’m a writer!” (YAY! I LOVE MY LIFE! I’M DOING WHAT I LOVE!)

Which is also true.

(me, as Mistress of Mystery. that’s why it’s blurry. because mystery is never clear. sometimes I miss my long hair. just a tiny bit. and only because of pictures I took of myself)

*  *  *

Do you have a title? Do you not and feel fine? Do you not and sometimes wish you had a really important sounding one?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in green.

P.S. Check out the new stuff in the cake gallery! And send me more cake pics!

56 Comments »

Kate on December 28th 2011 in being different, work, writing

56 Responses to “no title”

  1. Anna responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 2:16 am #

    I don’t really have a title (technically it would be full-time student); but whenever I have to tell people the school I go to they assume things about me that are wrong and their opinion switches from ‘seemingly normal teenager’ to ‘genius brain child of ninja awesome’ (at least I like to think that’s what they think) and then they place me out of their league and act like I must have it all together and be so perfect – when I’m not. Yes, I’m a student. Do I have the SLIGHTEST idea what I want to do? Nope. Sometimes the fancier titles can actually be made up of the most scattered and the ones people tend to find unimpressive are the ones who are put together and are following their passion.

  2. Gaby responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 4:35 am #

    Titles are not the solution :) I have a job title… “Publishing Systems Developer”. But what does that really tell you about me? Do I develop Publishing Systems? Am I a Systems Developer for Publishers? Are they the same thing? And what do I publish, or what do the publishers publish? And what kind of systems do I/they work on? Urgh.
    I don’t like trying to describe what I do because I don’t always know what to say. I do a lot of different tasks in any given week, but they all revolve around technology, helping other people in my department, trying to figure out how to work best with what we’ve got, trying to make it better, trying to make access easier for our end clients.
    I tell people that I work for an airline, in the publishing department. Then I always have to quickly add, “But not the magazines that you see on the planes! No. The manuals that go out to cabin crew, flight crew, ground operations, administration etc. so they know how to do their jobs.” (the less glamorous side of publishing). I write XSLT/XML stylesheet coding. I give people access to up to 200 manuals on our Microsoft SharePoint site. I upload stuff to our intranet. I answer coworkers’ questions about XML because I know a lot about it from my time in the department. I answer questions from people in other departments because they “heard I was good at ____” or they “asked such-and-such and they said to ask Gaby!” (always heart-warming to hear).
    Once I tried to explain my job to my grandma-in-law and some cousins-in-law and the grandma said, “So you’re a nerd.” (but in a nice way) and the cousins and I cracked up laughing. “Yes,” I said, “Basically I’m a nerd”.
    But I enjoy it, and it brings in money to pay for things I enjoy more (sewing! going on holidays with my husband! snowboarding! etc!).
    So yeah. What I’m trying to get at is, um (I’m no writer!) don’t worry too much about your title. They don’t always help ;)

  3. Fallen From Flavour responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Social Worker, Nurse, Accounts Manager, Budget Planner, Nutritionist, Cook, Cleaner, Aromatherapist, Launderette Owner, Interior Designer, Seamstress, Repairer of Broken Goods, Gardener, Botanist, Mediator, Archivist, Singer, Peacemaker, Publisher, Event Planner, Personal Shopper, Photographer, Site Administrator, Writer, Social Historian, poet… in short, HOUSEWIFE!

  4. Ashley responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 7:37 am #

    I think I might have too many titles I am trying to work around: I am a “student” (a writing student). Pageant titleholder. I could be considered a “freelance writer” as well. Add “model” because I do that on the side, as well as “philanthropist” or “activist,” maybe even “blogger.” I do many different things so it’s hard for me to choose just one, but I also don’t want to be *that girl* who does that whole this/that/this/that…but that is what I kind of am. And the funny thing is, I do none of these things full time. All are part time occupations…so I am little jumbled and confused on how to work these out.

    I am still getting used to the title of being Miss Indiana Int’l. When I tell people I am a pageant titleholder, it makes me nervous they will see it as bragging, or even shallow, which is why I usually am quick to start talking about my platform of domestic violence so they will forget about that image in their heads, the one where they are picturing me promoting world peace, being in the news for some nude photo scandal, or being uploaded to youtube for talking about maps in South Africa.

  5. Emmi responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 8:33 am #

    I am not a person that identifies overmuch with her job. It’s a job to me, not a career. My life is what happens outside of work, work is what I do to make the things I want in my life happen. If I find a job/career that I am passionate about eventually, great! But it hasn’t happened yet. Well, it sort of did – I wanted to be a large animal Vet. A couple of things got in my way. #1, I am female and am short/have short arms. Large animal vets usually are male and are tall/need long arms (to help with deliveries, etc). Okay, so maybe I’ll be a small animal vet? #2, during an internship at an animal clinic, I discovered that I was severely allergic to furry animals. And horses. My parents had never let me have animals, thus my fascination with them, but thus my ignorance. So there went that dream. I never found anything else I was really passionate about, except my husband.

    I push paper and have a couple titles. Medical Services Coordinator. Also, Credentialing Coordinator. Oh, and Notary Public. I am considering applying to be a Justice of the Peace. But none of these define me, they just describe a facet.

    Robert Heinlein, my favorite author, once said that people should know how to wear many hats well. I have tried to take his words to heart:
    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

  6. Mandy responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Kate@
    When you were telling us about those incredibly nosy people who want to know how much money you make, (which is an extremely rude question, and none of their freakin’ business, anyway!) it reminded me of an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.
    Mrs. Carlson asks Jennifer “Just how much DOES my son pay you?” Jennifer replies, “All things considered, not nearly enough.”

    So far as a title, how about “Modern Rennaisance Woman?” Or “Jack/Jill of all Trades in Training?”

  7. Melanie responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Title Shmitle! I laughed out loud when you wrote about how my signature block on my email made my job sound interesting. While it is interesting to me, when I describe it to others I can slowly see their eyes glaze over with a, “Oh God why did I ask? I hope she stops talking soon” look. Titles are just that. You do wonderful things for people. Most of whom you have never even met in person. When I was young I joked I was the president of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. I may start using that again.

  8. Also Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:07 am #

    My title is “Project Assistant”. It doesn’t tell you much, nor does it impress anyone. No one asks how much I make because they suspect (and are correct) that it’s nothing to write home about.

    My girlfriend, on the other hand, is the “Vice President of Engineering, USA” for a start-up non-profit with three employees. She makes about the same amount of money that I do, but start-up perqs include ridiculous titles.

    (She can’t put it on resumes, though, or people get confused about why she’s aiming at the level of jobs she’s applying for. She puts “Lead Engineer”, or something similar. Job titles are not always terribly illuminating.)

  9. katilda responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:09 am #

    i’m a writer too…and before that, i worked for a nonprofit helping homeless people, at which time my title was also ambiguous. i had to explain myself in a sentence rather than a title…which makes more sense in response to the question “what do you do” anyway, seeing as “i’m a doctor” isn’t a verb. (“i doctor people”? “i remove bullets from hearts”?) ….that last one sounded more like a katy perry song lyric than anything. IN ANY CASE. tell them you’re a writer, and if they ask how much money you make, immediately ask them the same question back. maybe they’ll feel uncomfortable and realize the question is inappropriate.

  10. Darcy responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:33 am #

    I don’t have a title, and I often wish I do. I have a lot of the same feelings you’re describing. I wish often that there was some easy answer to that question for us people without titles, and I wish our culture had another default mode for learning about someone new than putting them into a box labeled with their work. I long for other kinds of curiosity when I meet new people, and I try to show and model it, but so far my little movement of asking people “What is something you love?” or “What lights you up?” hasn’t caught on with the larger culture yet. Thank you for writing about how hard this question (and the even worse one re: $– someone once suggested that I counter that question by asking the asker about the last time he or she had sex, to demonstrate that it can be just as personal of a question) can be to receive.

  11. craftosaurus responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:42 am #

    I can’t believe people ask you how much you get paid. I wonder how much of it comes from a place of wistfulness — people with this idylliic idea of what being a writer entails, who sort of want to know whether it’s possible to make a living at it.

    If I got that question and was having an especially spunky say, I like to think I’d say “enough to pay the bills… But enough about me. What’s your salary these days?”

  12. Finnley responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Your title: Empress Of Self-acceptance.
    You strive toward your own self acceptance, and in doing so inspire many of us to do so as well!

  13. Rosa responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    I guess my main title is grad student, but I usually respond that I’m a violinist or that I teach. Now, to me it is one and the same because I do both and the amalgamation is what I do. But to those asking, they interpret being a violinist as being something very different than being someone who teaches violin, even though they are inseparable to me, and it makes me feel very misunderstood. I’m also amazed at how the reactions differ. However, I don’t forsee this coming to an end anytime soon. Even if I were to become a professor of violin, that title still wouldn’t encompass the mix that I feel.

  14. Liz responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    titles are just labels. while convenient in a lot of situations, i think, overall, labeling a person is extremely limiting. even if someone has an amazing title, it might not be the most important aspect of his or her life. it probably doesn’t even begin to describe their personality in any capacity. it might be a good way to start a conversation with a stranger at a party, i guess, but it’s definitely not everything. when someone asks me, “what does she do?” about another person, it kind of makes me feel they’re asking about office supplies or something. like, “she’s a stapler. she staples.” people have more than one function! on a personal note, i kind of dislike it when people ask what i do, since i don’t think “housewife” is an accurate description of me at all. it doesn’t describe my interests or my skills or how i actually spend my time. “future mom” feels better, but then that always leads to, “so when are you going back to work? what are your plans?” i kind of want to answer, “well, naturally, i plan to drop the baby into the middle of the woods for wild boars to raise. i’ll then dedicate my time to simultaneously getting degrees in neurosurgery and paleobotany. after 10 years or so, i’ll return to the forest to pick up the kid when, you know, i have more time to teach him how to be a good person and to not put magnifying glasses over anthills and all that.”

  15. Kristin responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    My title sounds more offical than it is: “Optition.” Except nobody knows what the hell that means, so I have to say “I sell eyeglasses.”
    I love my job, and the title sounds nice when people ask “what do you do?”. They always assume that I had to go to school to get where I’m at, and (thankfully) in Texas that’s not the case. I suppose it’s a perfectly average job, and it makes me feel perfectly average most of the time.
    I have to admit, at work I ask people “what do you do for a living?” quite a bit, for professional reasons. Now that you mention it, some people really do struggle with this question. I suppose I could be more specific and ask “do you work in front of a computer more than 4 hours a day?” or “do you spend most of the day outdoors?”

  16. Zellie responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    In polite society, asking what a person “does” is not appropriate. The joy of incidental discovery is what makes social interactions interesting. But people don’t know about polite society any more. They ask what you do because they don’t know how else to have a conversation.

  17. Amanda responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    The janitor at my Photography school was titled ‘Grounds Engineer’. My take is that titles, while made to sound impressive, usually have little significance on a persons actual importance…if that’s what you’re measuring titles upon. I’ve been going through a small crisis as a stay at home Mom. I used to be a Photographer. Many people think this is glamorous. It’s actually ball busting work, involving lugging heavy equipment, sweating and acting calm when you want to scream. Hours upon hours of editing while people are always questioning your prices because they only see you work for 4-5 hours – what they don’t see is the 40+ hours you spend on albums etc.
    Anyway- that was a rant. I always wanted to be more important and make a difference in the world. What I have recently discovered is that I can still make a difference, it just won’t come with a title. I probably won’t be able to announce my title at a party and turn heads while receiving looks of approval – I think, in our culture, having a big title is synonymous with making a lot of money, which (on the surface) means you are successful – so you can have all those things that represent your wealth, keep capitalism alive and set an example for others to strive for.
    There are other ways to live and feel successful, on your own terms.

  18. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Interesting!! You guys are pointing out to me how random titles are. To me, they always sound so concrete and meaningful, maybe because I don’t have one. But it’s also true that sometimes they’re just something someone made up so that you feel a little better about the job. Or they don’t make any sense. I feel naive, not thinking about it that way, even though it’s totally clear after you all point it out.

  19. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    @Finnley
    I’ll take it!

  20. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    @Liz
    Beautifully put. I love the line about the stapler.

  21. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    @Zellie
    NYC society may not be even close to polite, based on those terms. Everyone asks everyone else what they do, the minute we meet. I’m guilty of it, too. It feels like the thing you’re supposed to ask.

    And it’s not so much that I don’t like talking about what I do. It’s just that I never know how to summarize it the right way. I don’t know how to start.

  22. Maria responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I was given the title “account executive” for my business cards for one sole purpose: according to my boss, “in case you sell something.” It in no way at all describes what I do. I usually just say I work in marketing when people ask.

  23. Raven responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    All I can say, Kate:

    Ditto. ;)

    (Only change “Bear” to “Craig” and “NY” to “Seattle”.)

  24. Deanna responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Kate…our society tends to value successful people. Success = money or fame. Let’s face it, most people are not overly impressed with housewives, moms, school teachers, book-keepers, waitresses…etc. Some of the best people on Earth have lower level jobs or don’t make much money, but we still tend to worship people who are rich. It’s not a good thing. I would like to see this change.

    I live in a very affluent area. I was hiking with my sister the other day and on our way to the trail we passed by one of the most expensive cities in the US. Everyone was driving a Hot car (we even saw a car that looked sort of like a Batmobile but I have no idea what it was only that it cost in the $200K range)and all the women were drop dead movie star gorgeous (and here we were in hiking clothes). I hate that I am envious of these people and I know better..but it still is a challenge for me.

    While those drop dead gorgeous women are having Botox or whatever they do with their husband’s hard earned money, I am teaching seniors how to stay fit, I am volunteering at the library as an ESL teacher and I am supporting my two young adult daughters with whatever their issue happens to be. I guess if I were blonde, hot and had all that confidence (the kind that beautiful women tend to have) I’d be too rich to be doing all these nice things. So maybe it’s okay not to be rich or successful as Americans tend to define these things and to do the things that make a difference.

    I know that when I leave this world, some people will remember me as having made a difference in their lives.

  25. Jennifer responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    There are moments when I can’t believe I’m 36 and still finding my way.

    I would have *a title* if that first adult job had been something I wanted. It wasn’t. Nor was the second, or third. The fourth was the right fit for my personality/interests, but it separated me from my kids. I would not have seen my daughter get on the bus for kindergarten. That seemed like skewed priorities to be working on becoming *somebody* while my kids were just becoming somebodies. So I quit that job.

    Within another 18 months, I was homeschooling my kids. Again: no lofty title, but ideals galore.

    If your priorities are set early on in life, and you either keep those priorities (A) or you can tolerate the work even if it’s not what you expected (B), then you’ll be titled pretty early on.

    That has not been me.

    I met a wondrously humble young women in yoga training. She was finishing her naturopathic doctor internship. She had been a marine biologist before that. She was barely 30. When I asked her how she got through all that science, she said that when her dad died of cancer, she knew she wanted to become a doctor who found natural ways to health. The drive was there; the title was incidental.

    So if you get the title as a matter of COINCIDENCE to what you love/live for, then, to me, you’re honoring that title.

    If you go for the title first, you’re a whore. And believe me, I’ve been a title whore. But I don’t have the stones to do something *just* for the title. It would be dishonest to my soul.

  26. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    @Jennifer
    Aw, I don’t like the word “whore” at all, but I get what you’re saying. I guess when I imagine having a title, I imagine it being the kind you described as coincidental. I love this work, and look! Here’s a cool, understandable title that conveniently comes along with it! If it’s just for the title, you might hate your life. But then, titles can also be very practical, and maybe a fancy title leads you somewhere you want to go more quickly…sort of like how going to a big-name college might. It feels a little complicated.

  27. Jennifer responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Sorry–did not mean to name-call. I mean it’s like wanting something for the image of it, not for the thing itself…the highs/lows/struggles/triumphs. It’s just wanting to be perceived a certain way (which I am owning as part of my less-enlightened side, too). You have a title; what you don’t have is the automatic respect granted to other titles.

    Sorry about that “whore” thing again. I would edit if I could.

  28. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    @Jennifer
    No worries at all! Please don’t feel bad and thanks for clarifying.

  29. J responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    I have a title. Actually, I have several titles: Ph.D. Candidate, Assistant Director, Freelance Translator.

    The thing is, the former is actually a big problem. Because many people assume that graduate students are like older college students, when actually we are a lot more like underpaid, overworked, disgruntled entry-level employees. If I never again hear from a family member “when you have a Real Job” or “when you are a Real Grown-Up” it will be far too soon.

    Since, you know, in fact I am making ends meet with THREE real jobs, and have been financially independent for six years. Grr.

  30. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    @J
    Damnit, you’re reminding me of the other thing I meant to talk about in this post and completely forgot to– what do you do when you have too many titles? When you make money from multiple sources or when you just do a lot of different things every day. Thanks for bringing this up so succinctly. I wish I’d remembered to discuss it in the post!

  31. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    @Raven
    Unrelated, but I’ve always wanted to go to Seattle.

  32. J responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Depends on who you’re talking to?

    When I talk to most people in Oaxaca I say, “I have two jobs: I work in the administration of a Spanish school, and I’m writing my doctoral thesis.”

    When I talk to activists about what I want to be doing, I frame these two things very differently, and emphasize the translation stuff, and the linguistic and educational aspects of both jobs.

    When I talk to my mom, I mostly tell her the bad things about both.

    Most of us do a lot of different things. We’ve got tons of hobbies and interests that are outside our paid jobs even if we have exactly one paid job with a title that explains it. So I think that this is normal. To quote a childhood friend, in turn quoting a friend of his: “it’s what you do in your spare time that really defines you.”

  33. San D responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    I love making the questioners uncomfortable,yet intriqued when I tell them I was a puppetry teacher in a highschool. You should see their expressions! Priceless. If you do choose a title make it conversation worthy, because really if you think about it that’s really what the questions are tryng to start. I also think people think they would love the “freedom” they imagine freelance would give them and wonder if they or you for that matter could survive doing that. Humans are curious and also awkward and I think when people ask you those questions its that combination.

  34. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    @J
    Ha! I like the part about talking to your mom. You always need someone who you can complain to about everything you normally try to make sound impressive.

  35. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    @San D
    I think you’re probably right about the people asking those questions. It’s not so terrible. It’s just awkward. And awkwardness usually means opportunity. Except that I’m awkward, too, in those moments, and so I think I generally mess the opportunity up :-)

  36. Yan responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    I have a title. Two, actually — one for my field, one for my actual job. Neither one means anything to most people outside the field, so at least it can be a conversation starter.

  37. More Musings on Money and Job Titles | The Young and the Careerless responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    [...] did brighten my day today was Kate’s musings on job titles over at Eat the Damn Cake (excellent blog, you should read it). It’s definitely something I [...]

  38. Birdy responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    I used to be all into the title thing. And then I got one (well, sort of, better than “Team Member”, lol) and still no one knew what I was talking about. And then I changed jobs, and for some reason the title thing went out the window and I don’t worry about it anymore.

    I’m slowly but surely realizing we are way more than what we do for a living. If you work a 40 hour week, you actually work less than 25% of your time! We act like work is all consuming, but its what we do in the rest of our time that we really really care about. And what you care about is much more interesting than what you do to fund it. ;)

    I think people ask how much you make because they think it sounds interesting and different. I have a few different hobbies and people always ask me if I make anything doing them, they could care less about my real job. (My real job is boring, honestly. lol)

  39. Claire Allison responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Maybe your goal for the next while at parties should be to divert conversations away from “what do you do” conversations to “who are you” lines of questioning. It might make you more comfortable to talk about your life and your activities and it will likely provide you with more interesting answers from participants. The trick, if NY is as you say it is, is to make the jump first when talking to people so you steer it your way. A good friend of mine just moved to Berlin to pursue his art and he says the most liberating thing about it is that no one ever, ever asks him what he does (i just caught myself writing to be an artist and had to correct myself there). They ask who he is, what he likes, why he’s there, but never what he does, and he is over the moon with how much happier it makes him feel to be in a place where that is not the focus of everyone’s lives and, by extension, their conversations.

    I think that’s going to be my goal for the new years parties I’ll go to. I too am in a weird place with questions and hating the “what do you do” especially since graduation is on the horizon- and the question shifts to “what are you going to do” and that just leads to a desire to hyperventilate. I think if it comes down to it I’ll say “I am a wearer of many hats”. I’m a grad student, an historian, a curator, a transcriptionist, a dramaturge, and somehow still incredibly lazy and prone to long bouts of watching TV shows in their entirety on Netflix. I also own many, many actual hats…

  40. Dianne responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 6:58 am #

    The housewife thing got to me as I have been struggling to “label” myself as only another housewife would understand. But all things considered and reading the comments something interesting came to me, I dont need a label as I dont need to feel i have to justify my life because I dont have a label. The next time someone asks me “so, what do you do?” I have decided my simple answer will be “at what time of the day?” . I anticipate confusion and will clarify by “well, at 4.30 in the morning i am on the road running but at 9am I am office exec for our home business. At 2pm I may be at a swimming lesson with my boys and at 6pm at the gym spinning. 8pm might be story time, 9pm conference time and 10pm me-time. So just for clarity, what do you do?” Hah, good one!
    PS. Thanks for awesome blog, got you by way of the Huffington Post which is a great read.

  41. rachel responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I’ve recently decided that when I’m asked what I do, instead of responding “I’m a grad student” I’ll say “I’m working on my PhD.” It’s more descriptive and I like that it’s a more accurate response, because it’s actually what I am doing and not a title. Similarly you could respond, “I’m working on a book, etc.”

  42. Deedee responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Hey…if you’re taking a poll….which I don’t think you are…but if you wanted to…and decided to do it…I’d vote for you to grow your hair back. :o )
    Just had to comment because of the above picture…

  43. Kate responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    @Deedee
    Nope. No poll. And no interest! I like having short hair. Even if long hair looked fifty times better, it snarls against my coat in the winter. And I can’t stand that. My short hair is a testament to non-vanity :-)

  44. lynellekw responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    I am a Pricing Administrator, which people kind of understand means I do something with pricing, but don’t really pay much attention to because it’s one of those could-be-almost-anything titles. And when I explain that I maintain pricing records for a healthcare company, they switch off a bit. At least, I know my mother does, because she’d rather than I carried the title I studied for (Speech Pathologist) than something that she doesn’t really understand but has to do with data entry. She definitely doesn’t understand that I’m the person primarily responsible for keeping 300,000 records of pricing in order, and extracting & manipulating 6,000 of those records to send out 40 reports every quarter – not to mention making sure those 40 people review and act on those reports. And finding ways to make sure those same 40 people provide & maintain all the audit trail documentation they should be keeping, while sticking to company procedures and demonstrating the 5 Key Attributes in our corporate leadership plans, working out what crazy stuff has happened to cause customers to be charged wrong, fixing it when it’s gone wrong, figuring out how to extract data from our archaic systems for the assorted ad-hoc report requests that come through and occasionally convincing customers that yes, that IS the right price and I can’t help it if they don’t keep their records updated… oh, and working in some time for self-development so that one day, I get to have a title that doesn’t end in “Administrator”.

  45. Kate responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    @lynellekw
    Not to really simplify a lot, but wow, that sounds hard.

  46. lynellekw responded on 30 Dec 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Sometimes I have to put it all down in writing to remind myself that what I do is Useful and Complicated.

    Incidentally, I cut off all my (waist-length) hair a couple of years ago, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I keep meaning to grow it out a little, but then I find myself back at the hairdresser saying, “no, a little shorter… shorter…”

  47. Krystina responded on 06 Jan 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Yeah…. so I am submitting this really late…trying to catch up though! My title is “administrative assistant for child, family and health services”. My title stands for secretary! LOL :) Yeah. It kinda makes me feel important when I say it. Even though I have to explain it.
    I have two people in my life who are obsessed with what everyone makes, not just myself. It is really rude not to mention annoying.

  48. Fun for the weekend, 1-6-12 « tiny squared responded on 06 Jan 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    [...] doesn’t know what to say when people ask what she does. Neither do I, because I don’t have a title either. Housewife? Home caretaker? Artist? Sometimes I [...]

  49. Eat the Damn Cake » marrying down responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    [...] have the same number of degrees, but he makes a lot more money than me. He has an impressive job. I don’t have a title. I work from home most days. I cook. He wants to cook, but doesn’t quite know where to start [...]

  50. J.P. responded on 20 Feb 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Such a good post.

  51. Eat the Damn Cake » when did writers get so outgoing? responded on 11 Mar 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    [...] As it turns out, there is quite a bit of handing out business cards involved. I haven’t made any because I am destined for failure and also I can’t think of a catchy enough design. It should be spectacularly catchy, I think. Unforgettable. It should make people laugh out loud, the moment they see it. It should make people want to offer me book deals. And I should have something amazing to put on it. I’m leaning towards “Empress of Everything.” [...]

  52. Eat the Damn Cake » what are the other things you do that make you who you are? responded on 21 May 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    [...] I felt like I’d never done anything. Like I was nothing. I felt like I couldn’t even do the one thing I’d picked. [...]

  53. Eat the Damn Cake » the only one eating all of the doughnut holes (a story about choosing a career) responded on 04 Dec 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    [...] embarrass myself in front my family and all of the family friends who would continue to ask me “so where are you working these days?” for, well, ever. Because writing felt delicious to me. I didn’t want to resist it anymore. [...]

  54. This week’s love fest : 01.04.13 | Roots of She responded on 04 Jan 2013 at 8:00 am #

    [...] your job title does not define you: In the end, I am most impressed by people who seem to feel good about their [...]

  55. Florence responded on 04 Jan 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Today I got a full-time job offer from the organization I work for (as “caregiver”, or “substitute instructor”, both titles I love). I would be a full-time instructor with other duties, and I’d get to create my own job description and my own job title. With all the job duties I’d love to do, it could get a little lengthy–I don’t think they’re going to want to put “Instructor/Director of Staff Support/Behavior Management Consultant” on my door. I think I just need to come up with a superhero name and be done with it!

  56. Eat the Damn Cake » women’s work responded on 21 Feb 2013 at 10:15 am #

    [...] I would like all of us to stop trying to explain that this place, where we are, it is only temporary, we’re going somewhere grander, somewhere more serious, somewhere with a better view and a fitted suit and a title so gloriously simple that we only have to say it to be appreciated. [...]

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