Can We Change The Subject?

Recently, I went over to my boyfriend’s parent’s house for dinner. I don’t normally spend time with them, but every now and again I’m subject to a visit and an awkward conversation. During the dinner, they asked me a simple question, “how’s work?” My heart froze. I didn’t want to answer. I would’ve given almost anything to talk about something else. Wouldn’t you rather ask me about my trip to the gynecologist? Can we talk about the last time your son and I engaged in sexual intercourse? Anything was better than talking about my job.

And, that’s when it hit me. Even though I’ve known it all along, when you’re an adult and enter the workforce, you’re immediately defined by your job. What do you do? That’s the first question we ask a stranger when we’re at a social gathering, right? If you’re a doctor, you must love helping people and have a high level of intelligence. If you’re a bartender, you must be an alcoholic or have breast implants.

For my job, I’m a board operator for a radio station. I barely work 15 hours a week, and I do the same thing just about every day. Nine times out of ten, I get paid to read a book and make sure nothing goes wrong. This position is really destined for someone in high school or college. Someone who wants to learn the ropes, get their experience, and get out. I lost my job almost a full year ago, and this plus an internship and a few volunteer opportunities has been all I can find. And, I know what you’re thinking. Why has it taken her a whole year? Why doesn’t she take the first thing she can find? Oh, so she’s living at home. Why is she mooching off her parents? Doesn’t she feel terrible? What could she possibly be doing all day? Why doesn’t she try harder?

I know some of you are asking these questions because these are the questions my own friends and family members have asked. Every time I see them, they ask me how the job hunt is going. And every time, I try to give them short, yet informed, answers. I don’t want them to keep asking me questions. Because, no matter how sympathetic their tone of voice is, their eyes tell me a different story. And please, it’s embarrassing enough that I was making $48,000 a year, full-time, full benefits, right out of school, and now I’m barely part-time, making $8 an hour, no benefits, nothing.

I know that this is not an uncommon situation. With the crazy economy the last couple of years, many people lost their jobs, took a job they didn’t like just to pay rent, got a pay cut, etc. But, the last thing we all want is to have the people that we love most in our life think of us unfavorably. There have been times when I’ve asked myself, do my boyfriend’s parents think little of me? Do they think I’m using their son? Do they think I’m good enough for their son? Do my aunts and uncles think I’m a spoiled brat? Are they embarrassed for me?

So, this holiday season, let’s cut everyone some slack. At the gatherings you have with your family and friends, how about we ask the question, “what’s new in your life” or “how are you?” instead of, “how’s the job/job search/the unemployed life?”

Granny Smith – over and out

41 thoughts on “Can We Change The Subject?

  1. Hahaha I love this. I’ve discovered the same thing, only with my field of study. The way I see it, any one thing you do shouldn’t define you. You’re the sum of various parts.

    Great post!

  2. I always hated that question. In my 11th year of working in the same shithole restaurant with no hope for advancement through that company, I re-ignited the search for a career in a field more closely related to my degree.

    Once my co-workers learned of my hunt, it was a relentless barrage of HOW’S THE JOB HUNT GOING? questions, and, after countless turn-downs and ignored phone calls and unreturned e-mails, all I could do was shrug my shoulders, as if to say, “well, I’m still HERE, so how do you think it’s going?”

  3. Insightful, Granny, and also a sign of the times. Hard to believe, but once upon a time, asking someone what they did to earn a living was a question that civilized people did not ask. It was as off limits as asking someone what religion they believed in. (In those days it was assumed that everyone believed in some kind of religion, preferably a Christian one.)

    Nor did one ask if you were previously divorced, for whom you voted in any election, or what you were having for dinner. If a neighbor asked any of these questions, the word soon got out that they somehow moved into your neighborhood by mistake. Perhaps they inherited their house, or enough cash to purchase it, but they certainly didn’t belong there. Social ostracism ensued.

  4. Loved this! In an effort to appear sympathetic, we can be the most callous to people we care about. There are a million things to talk about-why do we have to allow te conversation to be dictated by the one thing?

  5. Ugh, I feel your pain. I hate that it’s literally the first question anyone ever asks “What do you do?” and then you feel awkward saying that you’re still hunting for a job or that you’re working someplace that’s “beneath” you. You’re right–let’s stop with the questions, cut everyone some slack, and just enjoy the holidays. 🙂

  6. I feel ya! But also got to remember to not let people’s opinions and “judgments” of you define how you feel about yourself. You know you’re awesome and that you’re trying hard – and that’s what is most important!

  7. I can definitely relate to this! We also tend to have awkward conversations about homeownership because apparently that’s what everyone does as an adult. I hate how superficial things tend to define us as a person.

  8. I used to be bothered by others’ snarky comments, usually those who were very close to me, about my career but then I stopped caring because I decided what I need to do takes time and everything at its right time. You should stop bothered too. And yes I agree that we should cut others some slack and let them live peacefully. There is a thin line between being concerned and just being nosy.

  9. I’ve always liked, “What do you like doing in your free time?” more than “What do you do for a living?” 🙂 And if the two are the same, then lucky you or lucky them!

  10. Just having read the first few sentences, I refuse to be defined by what I do to earn my survival. You do not have to either. Just simply tell your in-laws, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to take a holiday from talking about my job since I have to spend so much time doing it. If they have a problem, that’s their loss but it doesn’t have to be yours. I sense you are still in your youth and would like to enjoy it before being pushed into the age of its loss. At the same time, you would be enhanced by allowing them to talk about their lives and what matters to them–take an interest in them–and also do the best you can at your job and try to develop great relationships with your coworkers because you will spend most of your life with them, like it or not. Joke with them and feel the relish of being a team player. Just a tidbit from as independent a person as possible who must live in the real world. 😉

  11. Now that I’ve read the whole thing, young lady behind the bespeckled aperture of granny, it’s clear you are experiencing your family as shallow, unappreciative, too focused on unimportant things and having too much control of your life. Your writing inspires my first impulse to say they’re never gonna cut you slack so cut them loose. But as a practicing SGI Buddhist, chanting NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO, I’ve come to learn that it we, not others, who set our own limits. Finding work is not easy; it is a full time job. You’ve probably heard this a million times. But what you probably haven’t heard is it all begins with how good you feel about yourself, how powerful you feel each morning. It means networking, befriending people, listening to them, doing everything you can for them because that’s the help you need comes back in ways and at times you least expect. It means putting everything you can into the job you have now, appreciating that it allows you to do your thing and enter the world of great stories by reading books because most people don’t have that luxury at work. And it means that your parents and in-laws care about you and that financially better off and happier. You are making their son happy so they want the best for you. Maybe I am idealizing the picture but how you see things determines how they come out. You, like everyone else, despite what we’ve all been told, have infinite power to create any life you choose. So choose well. And choose wisely. It all begins within.

      • You’re welcome. Because I chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo I can see life more fully than those who don’t. We have 9 senses known as the 9 consciousnesses. But without NMRK, we are only able to be in touch with 7 of them. The deepest 2, karma and the pure Buddha mind, are all but hidden to the ordinary mind.

      • People are like caged animals when they see their lives determined by external forces and people. Once they can see and feel the karmic thread of their life without beginning or end, the knowledge that they are always free and always responsible liberates them from a heavy burden. But it is chanting Nam myoho renge kyo that enables them to experience and be aware of their eternally happy essence that is the Buddha nature. Then you can not only see the point I raised abstractly but feel your unmitigatable freedom in the depths of your bones. So chant Nam myoho renge kyo and visit 🙂

  12. “I don’t want them to keep asking me questions.” — I know this may sound like a stupid question, but have you considered just telling them that? 🙂
    I get the frustration. I’ve been unemployed and had those questions. Sometimes I’m tempted to just claim I have an ‘awkward’ job (gynecologist, septic-tank cleaner, something like that) and leave them flustered because the conversation just died a sudden and painful death. Thing is, people don’t think (most of the time) when they ask these things. They don’t really want to know. Kind of like the “How are you?” greeting. People who are chronically ill LOVE that greeting.

  13. Hello Granny Smith! Very true what you shared. Or God forbid you say “stay home mom”, like it means “lazy”. Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you found something that blessed you. I will be sharing more soon on hearing the voice of God. You also keep up this great work! 🙂 have a great day!

  14. Don’t worry about people thinking that you ought to take whatever comes along, job-wise, because just taking what you can get can be worse than no job at all. take it from someone who drives “volunteer” as a cabby. Sometimes, making very little is worse than making nothing at all. It sure doesn’t pay the bills (two checks a month that don’t amount to a hill of beans soon allows bank accounts to crash and lives seem wasted).

    As a writer, I know the scorn. Many do not believe writing to be a worthy pursuit, even thought they will go out of their way to go to B&N and buy the latest book from Nora Roberts or Piers Anthony. Yet let one within their own family become the dreaded “w” word, and suddenly it becomes “Oh, that’s nice. What do you really do?” or “Couldn’t you pick something else?”

    But I know, also that had I picked to be an actor, artist or musician (don’t tell anyone, but I am all these as well…especially when I have to put up with family who do not understand that talent should never be wasted) that I would have received the same reaction. The arts, it seems-though they go to the movies, watch television, listen to the radio, read books, or go to the Art galleries to buy way-too-overpriced pieces of “splatter art” that some two to six-year-old could make for free.

    Jobs come a dime a dozen, when they are “settled” for. Fulfillment comes from doing what you are passionate about. Sometimes, we as adults tend to forget this and try to make others conform to our standards…especially when we are the parent. But don’t worry. Things will get easier at some point and you will find what gives you passion.

  15. Thanks for finding me. This is a good article and conversation.
    Once when my son was in his twenties, he said, “Dad, They told me I was screwed up.”
    I asked, “How did that make you feel?”
    He replied, “Well I thought about it and I figured out
    There ain’t no screwed up
    You are who you are
    And they can take it or leave it.”

    My motto: “Everything is going to be all right.”
    John Schulz

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