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'What do you do?' - at last I have an answer

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Editor's note: Nearly two years ago charmingly honest and unique NolaVie columnist and radio personality Brett Will Taylor said goodbye to New Orleans, relocating to New Mexico. Today we catch up with BWT in the Southwest as he reflects on his journey from Boston to NOLA to New Mexico, through which he discovered his love of sharing stories. 

It is the saltine cracker of the question world. An unimaginative query asked by unimaginative folk.
“What do you do?”

A question that demands a short answer (preferably just adjective/noun). And a period. “What do you do?” is never open-ended.

For years, the question didn’t bother me. Because I had an answer.

I was a student. I was in politics. I was a consultant. I was whatever society thought I should be. I liked that. It was safe, it was affirming and it was profitable.

But, then, about 9 1/2 years ago, I started to not like the question so much.

Initially, that was because I no longer had an answer.

“What do you do?” people would ask me when I was 41, 42, 43, 44.

“You know, I’m trying to figure that out,” I’d say. “There are so many possibilities, I’m really not sure which is the right one for me.”

Blank stare. “Oh, I thought you were still in politics. Well, can you still give me a check for Candidate X?” When I explained that I no longer had neither an idea of what I was doing nor money, the blank stare would turn into the back of the head as the questioner made a mad dash for the other side of the room.

Then, when I turned 45, 46, 47, 48, I again found an answer. Two actually. I was a shaman and I was a writer. People liked those answers because (a) it’s not everyday you meet a shaman and (b) deep down inside everyone wants to be a writer. I know because, whenever you tell someone you’re a writer the odds are great that they will respond not by asking about your writing but by telling you that their friends tell them they, too, should be a writer (even if they struggle with the concepts of complete sentences and subject/verb agreement).

But my answer no longer seemed enough. It seemed like I was trying to define myself in the space of a nametag (15 characters max, please). Worse, it seemed like my response was tied to product, to earning my keep as one particular cog in the very large wheel of society.

At the same time, you can’t avoid the question anymore than you can escape flies at a summer picnic.

So, what to do about “What do you do?”

Change how you respond. Break free of the tight conformity of conditioning and answer from a different perspective. One that addresses intent over purpose, motivation over money.

How did I do that? With a new answer. Ok, two. At first I tried, “I live.” But, good god, that’s about as imaginative as “What do you do?” Plus, it reeks of Gwyneth and her poop, excuse me, Goop.

Now, when people ask me what I do, I say, “I share.”

Because, in the end, isn’t that we all “do”?

We share.

We share our experiences. Our successes, our failures. We share what we have learned. The easy way and the hard way. Our beginnings, our endings and the life that comes between.

We share our stories.

Now that’s an answer I can get behind.