Print this Post

What Do You Do For a Living?

What do you do for a living?

For over twenty years, the question, “What do you do for a living?” was pretty easy for me to answer. I work in healthcare, managed care, consulting, etc. I work for such and such company. Either response was perfectly acceptable.

But now, I find that question difficult to answer.

A few weeks ago, I was attending a fundraiser dinner for my children’s school. Everyone gets dressed up. There’s an auction, food, drinks. There was entertainment. It’s not really my scene, but it’s for a good cause. So we attended and brought some friends with us.

While we were waiting in one of the food lines, we got approached by a guy who asks, “What do you do for a living?” My friend has an easy answer. He’s a doctor. That leads to a few follow-up questions, “What type of doctor?”, “Where do you practice?”, “Do you know so and so?” It goes on for a few minutes.

After the exchange comes to a stopping point, the guy looks at me and asks the same question, “What do you do for a living?”


Master the Art of Cocktail Party Conversation

I’ve never been one for small talk, but over the years, I have adapted. You really have no choice but to learn how to interact in these environments. I’m actually pretty good and can hold my own. God knows, I’ve had enough practice over the years.

But this time, I froze. Real deer in the headlights type of freezing. I felt the same panic I used to get when a teacher would call you out in class to answer a question that you weren’t prepared for. I had no idea what to say.

It wasn’t the first time since I had left the corporate world that I was asked this question, but for some reason, in this environment, immediately following my friend’s response about being a doctor, I suddenly felt completely at a loss.

I haven’t had a “real” job since last summer and the last thing that came out of that job was me getting laid off. I certainly didn’t want to go into that story with this guy.

Why not just tell him I was a consultant? Maybe because I’m really only doing that part-time. I am also spending time managing my portfolio and looking for real estate and other investment opportunities.

But is that really a job? Doesn’t everyone do that?

I also own a website and write articles about financial independence.

Wouldn’t any of these be good responses to the question?


What Do You Do For a Living?

The problem with describing what you do at a cocktail party is that it needs to be succinct. You need to be able to describe what you do in one sentence. And then maybe you get another 30 seconds to elaborate.

Saying I am in real estate doesn’t seem appropriate. I look at real estate as an investment serving to diversify my stock portfolio and generate an income stream. But I’m not looking at real estate as a career or as a job.

And saying I am an investor also doesn’t seem appropriate either. I don’t manage other people’s money. I don’t provide financial planning services? I don’t work for a bank, or a broker-dealer, or an RIA (at least not yet). I am actively managing my own portfolio but how is that different than others managing their own investment portfolio on the side?

And even saying I am an entrepreneur also doesn’t seem to be appropriate. I am not running a small business or building a startup. I don’t have employees.

Lastly, I am definitely not ready to say that I am retired. I’m much too young and still have much more that I want to accomplish. And I’m not ready to live off investment income yet. I am in the process of monetizing some of my investments, but honestly, I still like spending money and as such, I’m still looking for actively earned income.


The Fundraiser – Part 2

Sometimes in life you get a do over. And that’s exactly what happened here. Last night, we actually found ourselves attending another school fundraiser – this one for a rival private school that our good friends’ children attend.

And before you start thinking we are fundraiser people, please know that these two events are the only events like this that we have attended in years. Seriously, we don’t do this very often. It just happened that we had two events within a month of each other.

But once again, I found myself needing to answer the question, “what do you do for a living?” And having spent time after the last event running through the list of everything that I don’t do for a living, I had an answer prepared.

I work for myself. I own a business that provides senior level financial advisory services to companies in the healthcare industry. I manage my personal investment portfolio and I am actively seeking out new investment ideas both for me and for my clients. And I own a website providing articles addressing the challenges and opportunities individuals face when managing their own personal finances.

I’m not sure why it was so hard for me not to have said this at the first fundraiser; but, now that I have had time to think, it seems pretty clear.


For any of you out there who are living the FIRE lifestyle, are you ever apprehensive about telling people what it is you do? How do you answer the question, “What do you do for a living?”



Permanent link to this article: http://financialslacker.com/what-do-you-do-for-a-living/


Skip to comment form

  1. Tawcan

    I think thats one of the silliest questions to ask a complete stranger. Why do ppl judge a person based on what they do for living? Instead of answering that question I typically answer by telling them what I’m passionate about in life. 🙂

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      Agree. That’s a good response to the question.

      At the event this past weekend, I met another “lifestyle” business owner. He’s an independent accountant and pretty much only does taxes. He works full-time for a few months a year and then a limited amount the rest of the time. Mostly, they travel the country in an RV.

      I could tell that he had the same trepidation talking about it as I did. Once he realized we were in the same situation (and I wouldn’t judge his choices), he got much more comfortable.

      View Comment
  2. Martin - Get FIRE'd asap

    I hate being asked that question from strangers. First off, why do you want to know? Is it really any of your business? Are you just looking to one-up me or am I potential client? Anyway, if I’ve had a couple of beers and feeling a bit cheeky, I’ll tell them I’m a grave digger, or that I’m an investigator with the tax department. That one often shuts them down. The other one I get when I tell people I’m retired is “how can you be. You’re far too young “. I get the impression that old retired people hate that the most. Probably because they think retirement is an exclusive club for over 65s and I don’t belong. Oh well. Take it or leave it.

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      I guess if you had to work 40 plus years in order to retire and then you see a 30 something already retired, you get a little irritated.

      View Comment
  3. FinanceSuperhero

    Ah, the dreaded small-talk-with-people-you-barely-know conversation. I used to despise being stuck in similar situations, but I am learning to like it more and more each year.

    Your post got me thinking about how difficulty it can be to explain oneself when you are in a situation such as yours, or like me, in the midst of a significant career transition.

    In the future, you could always respond that you are CEO/CFO/COO of FinancialSlacker. THAT might lead to some really incredulous looks and interesting conversation. 🙂

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      You’re right. Maybe Financial Slacker will become my primary business. I actually feel like I already spend more time on the site than I do on anything else.

      View Comment
  4. Route To Retire

    I think society considers people to be what they do for a living. Recently, OurNextLife turned me onto the book “Your Money or Your Life.” I had never read it before and I’m still not quite done with it, but the author talks about separating your life from your job.

    So, funny enough, I’ve actually been thinking about this question. Instead of saying that I’m an IT manager, I almost want to say that I’m an investor with a current job at an IT company. I still haven’t quite figured it out, but it’s good to hear that others run don’t have the most appropriate answer either!

    — Jim

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      There is a segment of the population that seems to believe you are what you do. I don’t feel that way.

      What you do to make a living is just that. Nothing more. It’s a way to earn money to pay for the things in your life that cost money.

      My family. My friends. My contributions. My time. That’s what I treasure.

      View Comment
      1. Route To Retire

        Well said!

        View Comment
  5. our next life

    It’s so funny… one of the reasons we moved out of the big city where we had been living was because we were sick of that question. Now, in our small mountain town, no one even asks it. Our closest friends have only a vague notion of what we do. It’s awesome! I’m probably a weirdo on this, but I’m excited to tell people either that I retired early, or that I’m a writer or artist or professional traveler or full-time blogger or something totally non-traditional. 🙂

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      I am hoping that I will get to that point as well. For me, having spent so many years on the corporate track (MBA, Big 4, PE, etc.), this period of my life is so short comparatively, it still doesn’t entirely feel like me.

      I felt pretty non-traditional when I told people I lived in one city and flew to another city 3 hours away every week for work.

      View Comment
  6. East Coast Dame

    I hate this question for a somewhat different reason: I’m a lawyer (strike #1), and I do criminal defense lawyer (strike #2). I get the worst looks/comments from people when they find out the short, blonde girl in front of them spends most of her days helping “criminals” (they seem to drop the alleged part) stay out on the streets. That I’m a public defender and don’t even make a ton of money doing it is strike #3.

    People are so judgmental of other people’s choices, but alas, they can’t all be baller personal finance bloggers with big goals in life.

    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      A few months ago, I sat on a jury for a murder trial. It was my first experience with the legal system (I am happy to say), and it was quite an experience.

      Apart from the details of the case, which were incredulous and I could see it being made into a movie at some point, the other thing that really stood out to me was the professionalism of the lawyers on both sides.

      As I sat watching the trial, which lasted nearly two weeks, I couldn’t help but think about how much time and effort the lawyers had spent preparing for the trial and then thinking that these same lawyers probably had many, many other cases back in their offices that they were also preparing for.

      It’s hard for other people to really know what someone does and how hard it can be sometimes. But I walked away from the trial with a great appreciation for the participants in the legal system and what they do to protect everyone involved (including defendants) and keep society running.

      View Comment
  7. Dividendsdownunder

    I don’t like that question either. To classify someone by their profession makes a huge amount of judgements, how much they work, how worthy they are of society to talk to, how ‘noble’ the job is.

    When we finally achieve FIRE, i’m not sure what we would answer that question with.


    View Comment
    1. Financial Slacker

      Just answer, “I’m in real estate.” As much as it drives me crazy, it’s an easy response that most people will accept. And it sounds more reasonable than, “I live off my dividends and bond interest.”

      Since they’re asking that question anyway, they probably don’t really care what you do, they just want to one-up you.

      View Comment
      1. Dividendsdownunder

        It’s a shame that being FI from investments is such an odd / sort of looked down on way of life. They are the ones missing out, that’s for sure.


        View Comment
        1. Financial Slacker

          I just think it’s such an unusual thing to see someone at a young age financially independent. Unless they’re an entrepreneur.

          How many financially independent people under the age of 40 do you really know?

          View Comment
          1. Dividendsdownunder

            No-one, though nearly everyone would like to not work I bet 🙂


            View Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *