Man Up: How To Answer The Question, What Do You Do?


Photo courtesy Kaka & Epli

While at a social event, you find yourself standing next to a guy you don’t know all that well. He approaches you and you know the question that’s coming, “So… what do you do?” As males, its hardwired into our genetics to ask this within the first few minutes of any conversation with someone we’ve just met.

The default answer to this question is to use your job title, especially if you are proud of the status associated with your job. If not, there are more colorful descriptions used. I’m a resource manager for the city (trash collector) or I’m a petroleum transfer engineer (gas station attendant).

What is it that makes us men become defined by our jobs? Since when have we become only what we do for a living? It’s like being a father or husband is not good enough.

Something deeper going on

There is something deep in the core of a man that seeks to answer the question: Do I have what it takes? Can I come through when it matters most?

This starts as a child. We’ve all been there. It’s game 7, the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, 2 outs, you’re behind by 3 runs, and you are at the plate in your imaginary backyard game. In this game, with the countless times you’ve played, how many times did you strike out or pop-up to right field? None. You came through in the clutch didn’t you?

This same scenario continues throughout a man’s life. Although the playing field shifts away from home and into the business world. It’s a perfect transition. A world based on competition. Survival of the fittest at it’s finest.

For most men in relationships, once the competition is over to win the prize (the relationship with the woman), the competitive drive often subsides. Whereas in the business world, this drive rarely decreases. There is the constant fear of being replaced, outsourced, passed by. Plus the added pressure for the man to be the “bread winner” and provide for his family.

This pressure isn’t all tied to money either. It also has to do with respect. With the recognition that comes from success.

One of the stereotypes men are saddled with is that their career success or status is a measure of their personal worth. The time when a man is unemployed or not moving up in his career are often the lowest times for his self-esteem. He often will feel like a going-nowhere dolt.

Life is more than a job

It’s time to man up. Here are few ideas to help you think about life beyond your job title.

  1. Create life and family maxims. Live for something larger than yourself. If you haven’t spent anytime wondering “what’s it all for,” do so. As much as we don’t want to admit it, life is a team game. The world does not revolve around us. Be part of a larger story and share your life with others.
  2. Do what it takes regardless of how it looks. There are too many men that upon losing a job sulk and pout, rather than find a job doing menial tasks to help pay the bills. A good friend of mine worked at Cici’s in order to help provide for his family. Another at Home Depot. You can still hunt for another job in your field, but swallow your pride and reputation and do what it takes for your family.
  3. Dreamline. What are you going to do when you retire? Tim Ferriss proposes that it’s too long to wait to do things you enjoy when you are the least physically capable of enjoying all you’ve saved. Incorporate your dreams into life now. Enjoy the time you have now. Try a mini-retirement. Travel.
  4. Break free of stereotypes. Even though most women still place the bulk of the housework on their shoulders, man up and help out inside the house. Especially if you are not the major breadwinner. Cook. Clean. Learn how to do laundry. Watch the kids.
  5. Play your part in the family. There is a chronic plague of fatherless homes in our society. An estimated 25 million children live without their father in the home. Increasing the likelihood that the children will have behavioral problems, drop out of school, abuse substances and for boys, continue the trend of absent fathers. Whether you are in a relationship with your kid’s mother or not, it’s time to be involved in their life.
    To fathers of daughters, teach them what to expect from a man. To not settle for less than a man up man later in life.
    To fathers of sons, masculinity only comes from masculinity. That is the only way it is passed on. Teach him about being a man. Let him “cut his teeth” with you. Talk to him. Wrestle. Don’t be afraid to show him affection.
    And finally, treat your kid’s mother with respect and love (regardless if it is romantic love or not).

So the next time you are asked, “what do you do?” try replying with the thoughts generated from the list above. Rather than giving a job title as your answer, tell them about your adventures with your family, the things you are doing with your kids, or better yet, share with them a few of your dreams. You will discover that life is more than a job, it’s an adventure.

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