What are you? Do you tell them at the cocktail party, or let them guess?

“So what do you do?”
In my younger days I used to dread that question at social events.
It often felt like my occupation defined me for those who asked.
Did you ever get that feeling?

Recently I attended a party where “Joe” was present.
Joe said he was a teacher, and that encapsulated “all that he was” to the very “fancy” group of engineers.
Their stereotypical rendition of what a teacher “does” quickly placed Joe in a box that they could understand.
So what “is” a teacher?

He works with kids, he is a bit of a kid himself, he stands in front of a blackboard, has no life, earns a mediocre salary.
“Done and dusted.”
That was how Joe was “boxed and packaged.”

I don’t like telling people that I’m a programmer.
Some immediately assume I’m ready to assist with each and every computer-related issue they can come up with.
I don’t live for computers and technology.
At least not anymore!
I do have what I believe to be a fairly interesting life outside of the technological realm.
But I guess some do see me as someone who never takes his eyes off a screen, working in a dimly-lit room 24/7.

I was a teacher for a few short years before crossing over to the dimly-lit room where I work 24/7.
I know perfectly well how teachers are often reduced to caricatures of what they really “do.”
But this happens to a lot of people in kinds of jobs.
For a year I also experienced being the “Military Stereotype” when I did National Service.
A soldier is an “uncreative drone”, a stoic and whatever else people would like to believe.

These days I make it a point to tell people that I’m a programmer with varied interests.
I do tell people I enjoy art, music, machines on wheels and philosophy – To name but a few.
The sooner I can divert the attention away from my occupation the better.
Trying to solve people’s real and imaginary computer-related woes are so tedious!

I also make a concerted effort to ask people about their lives outside of work!

I’m not going to change people’s adherence to stereotypes in my lifetime.
But every time I show interest in people’s lives outside of the work-environment I also remind myself that we’re all so much more than merely a “JOB!”