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?”