What Do We Do For A Living?

I just spent my Sunday doing some wardrobe updating (shopping) followed by a swim. I was in a “Mather’s For Shoes” (shoeshop, duh!) shopping for some sandals and a lovely female shop attendant was helping me to pick an appropriate pair (I always take the advice of girls when it comes to fashion, they know so much more than me in this area).

We chatted a bit while I was trying on sandals and it turns out she just graduated a Business degree with a major in PR/Advertising. She was a little forlorn regarding her future job prospects, lamenting on the difficulty of finding work in her newly qualified-for industry, especially without experience. Her shoe selling job was quite casual and clearly she was suffering in the “just out of university and I don’t know what to do” phase of life (I feel the need to mention this article right now – Personal Congruency… At 21? How To Be Confident At Any Age ).

My mind briefly fluttered back to my days studying at university and I felt a momentary kinship with this girl as I remembered worrying about my ability to get work in my chosen study area after graduating. It was a short lived worry however as I quickly decided that having a “career” was not for me, unfortunately replaced with a new worry altogether – how exactly could I earn money without a “career”. Of course fast forward to today and it’s not a worry at all, but confidence is a lot easier in hindsight and with experience tucked into your belt.

I mentioned to my shoe-sales-lady that I also did a business degree and of course she asked me what I ended up doing (what job I got). Nowadays I don’t have an exact answer for this question, which I think is way cool, I like being mysterious.

Perhaps the most common question in the western world when two people meet each other is “what do you do for a living?”, and yes I partake in this ritual with genuine interest, however most occasions I’m given responses like – accountant, retail sales, admin officer, lawyer, IT, music, architecture, etc. All nice square boxes that clearly label what a person does in life. When it comes time for me to explain my calling in the working world the story isn’t so clear cut.

In the past I’ve run with “I run my own business” or “I have my own Internet business” or similar. Then after a few probing questions I’ve dully explained I run a student editing business, which hardly makes me the life of the party since I’m quickly labelled as an “editor”. I’m so far from being an editor that I always feel the need to explain that I run the business and do not do the editing.

Now though I don’t feel right saying that BetterEdit.com is my job either since I don’t devote the majority of my working time to it. It’s the whole Internet “thing” that I feel is my job (bordering on my life at times!).

In many ways I feel like a writer and the romantic in me wants to say that I am a writer. While I do draw some income indirectly as a result of my writing and I use my creative output as a pillar of my online projects, I don’t feel quite right stating I’m a writer, at least not yet. When I’m locked up in some apartment by the beach writing my first novel or even an eBook I might consider myself a true writer and state so with bravado when questioned about my life, but it’s not my label now, it doesn’t fit, at least not yet.

I’m really an online marketer, but that is a very blurry title – What is an online marketer? Internet business entrepreneur, that’s a good one, but doesn’t feel quite right either. I’ve made or make money from affiliate products, advertising, selling websites, referrals, hosting, design, eBay and other ways, but none of those activities fit nicely into a box that I feel comfortable stating as my job.

I’d like to say I’m a student of life – as corny as that sounds – it feels really good right now. I have so much to learn and what I really want to do is indulge in learning in areas that my motivation takes me. That doesn’t just include the Internet and business topics, although they are areas I’m always furthering my education. There are other areas I work on and study such as, psychology, spirituality, existential thought, sport, human interaction and whatever comes my way.

I’ve decided that the best answer to the what do you do? question is to say that I make money through the Internet, quickly clarify that no, it’s not through pornography, leave it at that and see what happens. Sometimes it’s easiest to follow up with “it’s difficult to explain”, especially to those that are not heavy web users, whose eyes gloss over when I mention words like “blog” and “AdWords”. If they are web savvy then perhaps I’ve found an interesting person, someone that shares my affinity for the online world that I’d like to get to know or even better, another solopreneur that may share my lifestyle or have aspirations in that direction. People are always interested when I tell them that I make a full time income with only a couple of mandatory hours of work per day and that statement can be enough to garner interest in a topic they had previously limited to activities like “email” or “browsing” or “research for assignment”. There’s an amazing world working online, and I’m happy to introduce people to it if they show genuine interest.

To the girl that helped me with the sandals today – I haven’t bought any yet so I might be back. She showed enough interest in what I did that I gave her the URL for this blog when I left so you never know, she might be reading this. To everyone else, I’m curious, if you work online how do you describe your daily life to new people you meet that ask that all important question?

Yaro Starak
Student of Life

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  • Bob

    I agree, Yaro, the “what do you do” question is very difficult. Like you, I basically make my entire living from the Internet. It’s a combination of ad revenue from my blogs, about 20 e-commerce sites that I operate and other web related things. My policy is that if I give the answer that “I’m in eCommerce”, if they have to ask beyond that they probably can’t understand. I am constantly looking for a better answer, though.

  • It really depends on what you do.

    Me, personally, I opened up my own company. (Simple, but Kinal Corp.

    As of now, I say I have given my two weeks notice to my current employer. I opened my own — legitimate — company and provide the services I have listed on the, simple, company site. After telling them the services, I also tell them that I have a few ideas that I am trying to explore and that I am “going to see what I can come up with.”

    I see the reasons why you could defend yourself when it comes to the pornography section of the web, but I keep a as-a-matter-of-fact approach to the subject. It is one of the biggest industries on the Internet and I have no problem talking about ideas I have concerning the topic. I keep a non-chalant, strictly business, mentality about the subject because I would love a piece of the revenues that some companies earn. For example, Vivid Entertainment, make one million a week.

    I am not talking about starring in any films, but ways of generating revenue — through the web.

    Like I said at the start, it really depends on what you are doing, plan on doing, and how you want the information you are going to present, to appear to the listener.


  • As I live in South East Asia, I guess this question is thrown around quite a lot with both the local and expat community. It simply has the ‘So what do you do ‘in Thailand’?’ extension on the end.

    At 44 years old I usually reply with ‘Nothing!’ which pricks people ears up as their expressions begs for more information Folk seem curious as to where my income comes from, perhaps thinking he’s too young to retire so he must have either made or inherited some cash from somewhere!

    I then usually find myself telling them what I used to do out here first (when I had a proper job and a title) followed by something along the lines of ‘Oh, and I’ve been working on a web project for the past 12 months which I hope will generate a bit of cash in the long term. Obviously a bit of mutual chit chat is then exchanged before the conversation comes to an end with the stranger.

    So I guess tell people what I’m doing as opposed to what I do. I’ve never really thought about given myself a title in this new venture of mine.

    At this moment in time I make diddlysquat from my website besides my best efforts. Once I do generate some cash from this project, I bet I’ll have no problem then finding an appropriate title for what I am!



  • To describe what it is that you do isn’t always easy! I have also mused about this on my blog recently: http://darylcook.com/archives/100/.

    The way I see it regardless of definition, we’re all economic, social, psychological and spiritual beings who crave meaning in their ‘work’, whatever that may entail.

  • I stumble on the term when people ask what I do. I think just because I do it on the internet is irrelevant – it is a business so therefore I am a businessman. If people want to know more then I can get into other terminology.

    And a comment on the girl in the show store. I often get resumes sent to me from people about to graduate or recently graduated from business/marketing. Their work experience during their degree is often virtually nil. They try to claim working in restaurants/shoe shops as industry experience. Don’t degrees ask for industry placements any more? During my journalism degree I had to do 12 weeks industry work placement. Plus I supported myself writing articles for magazines.

    Today people come out of uni with a degree in theory of a topic – and it seems no ‘hunger’ or ‘entrepeneurial spirit’ to succeed. I talk to employers in all sorts of industries and they all express the same sentiment.

    So to the girl if she is reading this – don’t wait for an opportunity to be given to you. Apply your learnings and give it a go. Then you can reply to people when they ask …”I’m a tryer!”

  • Yaro my friend, enough of the business talk – we want to hear more about the girl! Blue eyes, blonde.. , Single .. ? 🙂

    Hopefully she’s brave enough to reply!

  • Bob

    Hey Aitch,

    We seem to be leading nearly identical existances! I am 43, an American but living in the Philippines. People always think… he’s too young to retire, what is he doing here? It’s always interesting, isn’t it?

    By the way, what are you doing in Thailand? 😉 ha ha

  • Blogger-Poet.

    Not as sexy as 16th Century Scottish Warrior-Poet.

    But these are modern times. We work keyboards instead of swords and ploughs.

    I know a lot of men are ready to rip their hearts out over this… screaming for just one-real-experience. Just one.

    But its the age we’ve been given. We gotta do battle here. And with these keys…

    Thanks for the thought Yaro.

  • Hi, I dealt with this issue some years ago. I posted the entry in 2003, but I wrote it in a hung over haze in 2001…. (http://www.x2o.com.au/blog/2003/09/secret-life-of-me-circa-2001.html)

    I dug it up and posted it…

    I’m still confused… but happyer and now my head doesn’t hurt…

    Peter Christo

  • Larson – Blogger-Poet, now that I like, but it’s definitely not applicable to anyone in the real world. Nice and romantic though, can’t help yourself can you 🙂

    Peter – nice post, I read it through, although I’m seeing black and white lines now – not a big fan of white text on black background.

    James – I’d like to indulge with you in some male bonding over a pretty girl but I’d have to start another blog devoted to that topic…hmm, now there is an idea.

    Thanks for the comments from everyone else too.

  • Luc

    I would have to say after reading everyone’s quotes on here, it’s amazing to see the different options on what is it that people do.

    Myself i’ve been caught saying a numerous array of things, everything from “Project Manager” to “Generalist” and i tell ya the one that works best is nothing at all.

    Most people need a way to classify what they cannot understand. I currently work but it isn’t on my list of things to tell people because i’ve been building business lately and am far more excited to talk about those. I enjoy doing and plan on doing more in the future but i realize that it all takes time.

    I’ve recently come to the conclusion of making a strong plan to stick to in regards to investing, running businesses and well even working. I like to say that i am currently (and always) in the ‘asset development phase’, but that’s me!

  • Hi Bob.

    To answer your question:

    ‘By the way, what are you doing in Thailand? 😉 ha ha!’

    The answer to that is perhaps ‘Enjoying the struggle’ (well to a degree!), which is the exact reason I frequent this particular blog.

    I believe I have a great idea, but need to learn a whole lot more on how to capitalise on it while at the same time maintaining a free service.

    To keep on topic, I guess I could give myself the title of an ‘Optimist in training’. There, how does that sound?

    If you’d like to contact me (as a fellow SEA solopreneur) you can do so from my site.



  • […] Anyway the update for that site is that I have written a sheet out for Shaun to peruse and look over. I will hopefully start looking for some cheap hosting soon. I was reading Yaro’s blog entry about him telling people his “profession” ( http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/330/what-do-we-do-for-a-living/ ) and it got me thinking. What do we actually do? I mean the guys who are making enough to live on, what is their job? Marketer, maybe. […]

  • I always say I do Internet Marketing and Web Design and help other people market their products online. That seems to get a nice “Ohh” or “Ahh” response and that’s that. Haha

    Sometimes if I feel like it I will say “I’m a Internet Marketing Mentor & Visionary”. But that’s only when I’m feeling a bit egocentric. 😉

  • […] I was having a chat with a pretty young girl at a bar near my house last Friday night. We discussed what we both do with our lives and as usual I faced some trouble describing what I do (see What Do We Do For A Living?). After covering the usual pleasantries we moved on to more deep and meaningful discussions and the topic invariable progressed to religion and faith. We shared similar beliefs and while we both don’t ascribe to a particular religion we do have faith. […]

  • Hi all,
    Isn’t it such a horrible first question???? It’s even worse when you have to fill in an online form and they either give you a tiny space to describe your occupation or a drop-down menu that is two miles long. My sister and I recently started up a business and when we went to the bank to open some accounts, they didn’t even have our “industry” on the list! To be honest, now when people ask me the dreaded question, I tend to say “Other” and try to look mysterious!

  • I love how you call it “wardrobe updating”. I have not quite gotten to the “just out of university and I don’t know what to do” phase of my life.. but I do hope I handle it well …. Actually I am quite scared for it. I can imagine it being difficult for you to tell others what it is you do for a living. You just don’t have a generic answer to give.

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