Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Do You Do?

There's a scene in the most recent Jason Segel romantic comedy, The Five-Year Engagement, where Segel's character is at a party with his fiancee, and he is meeting all of her new colleagues in the pyschology department at the University of Michigan. There is a sequence of about three introductions where basically the same thing happens: he says he's a chef, and the other person says something to the effect of "so it's like Top Chef?"

This scenario totally resonated with me. Whenever I meet new people, which has happened a lot since moving to Philly in January, 95% of the time they'll ask me what I do. Let me just put this out there. I fucking hate when this happens.

Most people ask this question within the first minute of conversation. The dialogue will go something like this:
  • Statement 1: Hi. Nice to meet you.
  • Statement 2: Where did you move from?
  • Statement 3: What do you do?

Can't they ask something else? Why do they want to know what I do? Granted, most people I meet are grad students, either from med school at Temple or b-school at Wharton, so I think some of them may actually be interested in what I do. Actually, these are the only people I meet since the only two people I know in Philly go to those schools. And just to be clear, it's not just Philly grad students who are guilty. It's all of mankind.

In any case, I'm grateful for meeting these new people, but I really do despise when conversation goes down this path. I sometimes fall into the trap of asking the question, and I hate myself for it because I know I don't give a shit about the answer 90% of the time. I'd love for all of us to get a bit more interesting with our conversations.

To that end, I'm going to start changing it up. I'll start asking people to tell me one random interesting thing about themselves or what their very first concert was. Yeah -- it'll be out of the blue, and it'll probably be really strange, but at least it'll be more captivating than hearing that someone is a consultant/banker (or was a research assistant, in the case of med school students). And if they don't want to talk to me after that because I was too weird for them or they found me boring, then I'll be cool with that. At least I'll remember Max from Randomville, Kentucky, saw Rammstein for his first concert and that it was the most harrowing experience of his life.

Now, back to the main reason I hate this question and why I told this Jason Segel story. I work in advertising. It sucks. But I bet you can guess what people ask me when I tell them I work in the industry. It goes something like this (my thoughts in parantheses):
  • Response 1: Oh that's cool. (No, not cool at all)
  • Response 2: So, it's like Mad Men? (lak;jdlfjalsk;dfja;ldsfjakla;klf!!!!!)
  • Response 3: You're like Don Draper. (see comment to Response 2 above)

I'm not a (complete) jerk, so I'm polite & go along with it by telling them I guess it's a little like Mad Men but my role is more like Pete Campbell but not a smug prick. (I'm also polite because if I anger these people, I basically have no friends.)

I really want to tell people that my job is not at all like the show. It's 2012, not the 1960s. I have a laptop & a mobile device for work, so I can basically be reached all the g-damn time. Because of that, I can't escape for three-martini lunches. I sit through meetings all day, so I can't do any actual work until 5pm. I can't hide in my office, smoke & sleep on my couch for a few hours. Those cool ads you remember that you associate with advertising -- that's like 1% of the industry. Most of the work is not that spectacular. Not everyone works on Nike, and not everyone is spitting out "1984" or a 90's Budweiser ad. There isn't a plethora of hot secretaries I can degrade or sleep with. So no, it's not at all like Mad Men.

In fact, it's more like this:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree with the sentiment that it's the "go-to" question that many people use (and don't actually care), but I ask that question because I truly do care. People spend roughly 90,000 hours (low estimate...40 hours * 50 weeks * 45 years) and I want to know what is so important to them that they feel the need to spend much of their life on it. The follow-up question (and one that's more interesting since they usually have a ho-hum answer to the first question) is, "if job X isn't what you want to be doing, what are you passionate about? what do you wish you were doing?". I find this a better setup then straight-up asking them about their passions (which people usually find off-putting or don't know how to answer). Maybe it's almost a small effort on my part to encourage them to go do what they love.

    Great post nonetheless.