What do you do? It seems like such a simple, harmless question, doesn’t it? And generally, it’s one of the first questions we ask when we meet someone. It’s so ingrained in us to care about what someone does to pay their bills that it’s basically the first thing we want to know about them. Why is that? You are not your job. You are not what you do for a living. Every single person on this planet has inherent worth, regardless of what they do for a living. It’s time we started to recognize that.
You Are Not Your Job
It’s incredibly easy to say. And it’s also easy to pretend that we don’t judge others on the work that they do. But who are you more impressed by, the school cafeteria worker or the school principal? I think it’s safe to say that most people’s gut reaction would be the principal.
I get it, the principal probably has some college and tons of experience in the field of education. They are probably ambitious and passionate about their work. That’s great. Those are pretty good qualities to have.
But what do those things really tell you about a person? Does it tell you that the cafeteria worker is taking care of his elderly parents while the principal is cheating on his wife? Or does it tell you that the cafeteria worker has tons of money saved because he lived below his means his entire life, while the principal is up to his eyeballs in debt? No, a job title doesn’t tell us any of those things. So why do we judge people on it?
Why Do we Judge People on Their Jobs?
I guess asking “what do you do” is much more socially acceptable than asking “how much debt do you have” or “Are you cheating on your partner”. Apparently, those types of questions make people feel uncomfortable. Asking someone what they do for a living has become the socially acceptable small talk question. And the reason is clear: it lets us know their place in the world. Oh, you’re a doctor? You go with the important people. You’re a construction worker? Sorry, you go into the working-class group.
We as a society have decided that certain jobs are more meaningful than others, and we treat the people who do those jobs accordingly. And, it’s as if we all had a silent agreement to look the other way when someone in an esteemed profession is actually a terrible person. How could they be terrible? They are a doctor!
The truth of the matter is that there is no way of knowing what type of person someone is based on their chosen profession. Many people have the privilege of being able to choose an esteemed profession because they came from wealthy parents who helped them every step of the way. Many others who may have the aptitude for it can never achieve those dreams due to the circumstances of their birth. Does that make the doctor a good person? Does that make the person born into poverty a bad person? No.
What Does Make Someone a Good Person?
I know I ranted a bit in this post about job titles not translating to goodness, and that begs the question of what actually does make someone a good person. That’s not an easy thing to answer. Everyone has different morals and values, and everyone has a different idea of what constitutes goodness.
Now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I’d argue that a person’s profession says very little about whether or not someone is a good person. It may tell us about their financial worth, but I’m tired of that being paraded around as the end-all-be all of what makes a good person. You are not your job, and your job doesn’t define your worth. What really makes someone a good person is how their actions impact the world around them, and how they treat others (in my humble opinion).
Changing the Conversation
I know it’s difficult to overcome a lifetime of social programming, but I think we need to change the conversation. Instead of asking a new friend what they do for a living, ask them what their favorite hobby is, or how they fill their free time. When people ask you what you do, don’t let your job define you. Tell them about what you do in your free time, what your hobbies are, and what your passions are. Let’s create our own stories – and highlight what we are most proud of in our lives. That may be your chosen profession, but it may be something completely different. Work just may be how you pay your bills, and that’s ok!
Changing our Perspectives
Once we are able to change the conversation, we can start changing our perspectives. We can start understanding how the myth of the American Dream has influenced us, and work to undo that programming. Then, we can start valuing people based on who they are as a person rather than how they contribute to the economy. Who’s with me?
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.