how to talk about your job when you’re embarrassed by it

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I moved across the country when my spouse had a great opportunity, and have struggled to find meaningful work (I also switched fields). I was unemployed for about a year. Now I have been working at the same company for just over a year, but I am working in a much less-skilled position than I feel like I could be and in a field I’m not interested in long-term. I’m not particularly interested in power or status or riches, but I feel like I am not contributing as much to the world as I could. Because being unemployed was so demoralizing, my job is good in other respects (the work is not difficult, the people are friendly, and the pay is fine, though not much room for advancement), and I still can’t figure out what my long-term goals are, I haven’t been looking for a new job.

My question is how to deal with my embarrassment about my job in social situations. I hate when people ask about my job, and though I can give a bland enough answer to not reveal my insecurities, it makes me depressed and anxious about social situations, especially when meeting new people. I’ve missed parties and other events because I couldn’t face the prospect of being asked what I do. I am dreading some upcoming events — my spouse’s company party, visiting our families, catching up with friends. All of these will require me to explain what I do and thinking about it makes me want to hide.

Do you have any advice for how to deal with insecurities about your job in social situations?

Readers, what say you?

{ 471 comments… read them below }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    What parts of your job do you like? I feel the same way you do about my actual work. So, instead, I’ll give a brief synopsis about the company (We’re the top teapot glazers in the country), a bit about what I do (I order all the teapot making supplies) and then more about what I do like – the coworkers, the insane amount of free food, the flexibility, etc. It takes the spotlight off my job and forces me to focus on the positives – which I also find has done wonders for my mindset.

    1. lalalindz22*

      Agreed! I’d talk about the things I do enjoy, and keep it general. I had a job I hated when I worked in publishing. I took it because I was laid off, and needed something, but then it ended up being far more admin work than I expected, and like 5% publishing work, which is what I actually wanted to do. I also had to work with customers and students a lot, and some people were jerks. I used to keep it simple, say I worked in publishing, and if pressed more would say that I enjoyed that I got to leave my work at work at the end of the day, and leave promptly at 4:30. Eventually I was then able to say I was going back to school, and was excited about that, because it took two years for me to figure out what I wanted to do.

      Now I’m in a job I love in the arts, and actually get to talk about my job with passion! I would also recommend changing the subject back to the person asking, since people love to talk about themselves!!

    2. MLB*

      In addition, don’t make excuses or try to “justify” why you’re doing what you’re doing. There are some people who may look down their nose at you based on your job, but most people probably wouldn’t care. And to the people who would look down their nose at you, you don’t need them in your life.

      1. boo*

        I agree with this, especially because you never know when you’re going to say, “I’m just a neurosurgeon, I mean, I know, ‘brains are gross,’ but it’s just something to pay the bills until my acting career takes off,” to someone who’s really proud of being a neurosurgeon. Or someone whose mom worked her whole life as a neurosurgeon and just died yesterday.

        I think the flip side is, you don’t HAVE to make excuses-most people have worked doing stuff that’s not the apex of their ambition. Even though culturally it can feel like You Are Your Job, I think pretty much everyone feels like they’re falling short somewhere in that category.

        So I think there’s room to say, “Right now I’m working as a cartographer. It’s really interesting, and I’ve learned never to go anywhere without a compass, but ultimately I’d like to move on to dog-napping. How about you, what do you do? Do you have a dog?”

        Or, if you’re not sure what you want to move on to, “Right now, I’m dog-napping for a private firm. I’ve had fun learning to drive a getaway van, but ultimately I think I’ll want to move on to something else. How about you? What do you do?”

        1. MoinMoin*

          OHH. Dog-napping like kidnapping dogs. I thought the job was taking naps with dogs, or taking care of dogs while they napped.
          That aside, I really liked your wording for this, as I’m in a similar boat to OP (so much so that reading the first paragraph I was trying to think if perhaps I’d written in to AAM and forgotten).

          1. Meghan*

            I like this interpretation.

            “It’s like dog-walking, but we don’t bring them back” versus “It’s like dog-walking, but we don’t exercise, we just cuddle.”

            1. AKchic*

              I love how “napping” can be interpreted two different ways, depending on the mindset of the person.

              1. Falafal*

                My daughter actually had a job where she got $25. an hour (for four hours) to cuddle with a dog. The dog’s owner did not trust her to walk or feed the dog (my daughter was a college graduate who had worked extensively with domestic and marine animals) but wanted someone to keep the dog company when she went out to the movies.

          2. Violet*

            It is really funny how “kidnap” and “catnap” mean entirely different things such that one could interpret “dognap” either way!

          3. Zirco*

            One of my team members recently was the victim of a dog-napping. One of his (very cute) dogs, Kukla, went missing from his backyard. He did all of the things you do to find a lost dog — call and visit shelters, post on NextDoor and Facebook, put up signs in the neighborhood. But every time he put up signs, someone took them down.

            After four or five rounds of putting up signs, he finally got a Facebook message from the person who had Kukla, who gave a very inconsistent and ever-changing story of “buying” the dog from someone for an exorbitant price, or “finding” the dog in the neighborhood. It was obvious that this person had taken the dog and was taking down all of the signs he posted.

            So, my friend took a few hours of work one morning to ransom the dog — technically “paying the reward”. Kukla is now back home (though she came with a terrible tummy ache), and his children are happy that “Kukla is back”.

        2. irritable vowel*

          Yeah, I haaate talking about my job so I usually say the bare minimum and then punt the conversation back to them. Most people who ask a question like this really are more interested in talking about themselves anyways.

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            A lot of people who ask this question are just looking for a topic to start a conversation about. Certainly there are people who are judgey, or who actually just want the question returned so they can talk about themselves, but there’s a fair number who just use it as idle small talk, hoping they’ll get an answer they can turn into a conversation.

            1. Anna*

              Agreed. And some jobs offer a built-in topic to discuss. (Beyond asking a doctor about that strange mole on your shoulder.) For example, I work at a library, so it’s pretty safe to assume that I love books. You could mention the book you’re reading, ask if I’m familiar with it, offer your opinion on it, and things could progress from there.

              Oddly, though, most people’s first reaction is along the lines of, “Oh, you must be really organized and neat.” Not much of a conversation-starter, but it makes them feel like they know me a bit better. I think that’s what they want more than an actual job title. So talking about WHAT you do, rather than what you’re called, is good advice.

        3. Luna*

          This is a really important point! A good friend of mine used to constantly diss admin jobs, but I don’t think she realized at the time that I was working as an admin (my actual title was “project coordinator”), and it used to really upset me. You might think you’re only putting yourself down, OP, but there are probably others out there who do the same or similar work so you don’t want to accidentally insult them too.

          1. boo*

            Ha there aren’t that many, I’ve only recently left the land of the lurking, but you flatter me greatly! Thanks :)

        4. Dana*

          This is so true and such a positive interpretation of the problem as well! How do I become a dog-napper??

          I often deal with this feeling even though I am proud of my job. My partner is a MD in a socially ‘prestigious’ field, while I work in an (interesting to me) administrative position at a top 25 US firm. It can be hard to be the follow-up to something that you personally feel sounds better than what you do. I often try to lead with what I do because the act of getting out first simply makes me feel better.

          This may only apply in certain situations – but when the role in reality is much different that the stereotype of that role, you can find comfort in providing that explanation briefly. For example, say you’re a CPA and a lot of people you know think CPA’s are all boring old men who wear brown suits with pocket protectors. In reality, you know that Auditors are great conversationalists because they deal face-to-face with clients all day. That little insider info can lift your spirits and be interesting to other people as well!

          1. TardyTardis*

            We have already gotten some amazing people come through the door to get their taxes done. (people, just have insurance all year. I’d rather do a horrendous Schedule A with a ton of employee expenses than play reindeer games with the estimator tool).

      2. ReanaZ*

        Yeah. A) Probably 85% of the ‘what do you dooooo’ question is just culturally safe small talk no one really cares deeply about the answer to (the rest is gross judgmentbut cut those people outta ya life) and B) People take their conversational cues from you. If you’re weird about it, they likely will be. If you’re relaxed, they’ll likely be relaxed.

    3. Just another fed*

      Yes, this is a great script! I do something similar when talking to people from my old field (academia). Sometimes people will go on to ask what I actually do at my job day to day, which can be hard to explain succinctly, but I’ve found that people mostly ask about the things I highlight as liking about my job, maybe the mission of the agency (which a lot of them wouldn’t know about) or not really ask anything else. I also sometimes pivot to my hobby, which is now a side gig, and there’s plenty to talk about there!

      1. Anonymoose*

        Yep. While I am a data analyst/report writer/supply orderer/scheduler, I basically just explain what my department does (” we evaluate and ensures that our medical and research education programs are successfully providing top value to our students”), and people generally leave it at that. Nobody really gives a shit that I frequently write reports that my boss rips apart and expects me to fix overnight, or that I can find a laptop at the lowest price, or that I can teach them how to use Tableau. They just want a quick categorization of how I’m contributing to the world, ultimately.

        It’s been a very successful response to the ‘so what do you do’ questions.

    4. No gifts*

      Yes! I’ve encouraged my partner to do something similar with their job – yes, the job title and function isn’t impressive but they get great benefits, lots of time outside, lots of enjoyable social interaction, can listen to podcasts for much of the day, etc. It’s all in how you frame it.

    5. Kate*

      I think you can even, if you like, skip the bit about your role. You can just say, “I work for a teapot glazing company, what about you?”

      I like my job and I’m reasonably proud of it, but I still answer like that frequently, because I don’t feel like getting into it. I very rarely get any follow up questions.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yes, I lean heavily on the organization I work for because most people know and like it. I pushed for a recent title change that sounds better, so now I am more open to saying what I do, but I would still rather talk about what my org does than what I do, it’s more interesting. Most people don’t really care about the day to day details of other people’s jobs anyway….

    6. Not Rebee*

      Agreed. I find that in social situations (especially reunions or family events with people you don’t see often) people aren’t looking for an in-depth answer and just because you’re unhappy with your situation (or embarrassed by it or whatever you are that’s negative) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find a way to make it sound as awesome as possible. They are often asking to see how impressive your job sounds (same with the “What have you been up to these days?” question). So I sit down and I rehearse an answer that makes me sound the most impressive without being especially braggy: “I work in the Y department for a new start-up company in the X industry that’s jointly owned between A (industry giant that even non-industry people have heard of) and B (other industry giant that even non-industry people have heard of).” Then, because it’s a start-up, I often have to explain the product a bit (essentially give an informal sales pitch) and then explain that I do all of the L, M, and N for the company (as we are a small company, even a junior employee can have almost complete responsibility for a number of large and impressive sounding tasks). By the time I’m done it sounds very fancy, considering I mostly fix other people’s typos all day ;) And if they ask more I can either talk about the environment (great coworkers, free food, flexible hours, great benefits, a very large raise from my previous position, autonomy and ownership of my work etc) or the company/product without ever having to address whether or not I actually enjoy the work that I do.

      1. Specialk9*

        I have a pretty strong philosophical objection to measuring worth by job title or salary. It leads me to try to ask people other questions (eg “so what do you like to spend your energy on?”) and I lean toward modesty in describing my job (without lecturing, because that’s annoying in a different way!). It just feels icky to contribute to the social stratification.

        I know that’s not directly the question you’re asking, but really you’re asking about how to be serene about yourself when ranking against others. And I believe that’s the answer – cultivate in yourself a genuine belief in the inherent dignity and worth of others (separate from status), and then work on extending the same generosity to yourself.

  2. Alexis*

    You can always play it off like, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!”, followed up with a chuckle. The thing is that somebody does have to do it. A job is a job and I hate that people look down on certain jobs and the folks that do them.

    If you’re still embarrassed, talk about what the job gives you. “Yeah, it may not sound like much, but it gives me the opportunity to develop a fabulous work/life balance.” or “I may be overqualified, but my job gives me more time to spend with my family, which is more important.” Find the positive in the job and play that up.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      That was exactly what I was thinking. Find a positive aspect/responsibility/part you like and make that the highlight of your answer.

    2. Mr. Rogers*

      Came here to say a very similar thing! I think it would really help the OP to focus on the positive side in both conversation and in their own head, since they’re the one getting anxious about it (even though as far as we know, no one has been rude?). And positioning it as just a temporary gig could help too: “For now I’m doing X. I want to change things up long term, but for now it’s great to have a low stress option that pays the bills. More time to do (fulfilling personal item)!” And then just immediately refocus the conversation on them or that thing you actually enjoy.

      1. GG Two shoes*

        These are great. Not to mention that if she wants to switch fields or get her feelers out there she SHOULD be going to events like this to network! Don’t be ashamed of what you do OP. No matter the job, your work is valuable.

        1. Elfie*

          Seconded. I can’t help but feel that no-one else is going to be as focussed on your job as you are, and anyway, you say you’re only embarrassed because you’re not contributing more to the world. Most of my jobs have basically been as a lackey to make rich people richer – there’s whole swathes of us “not contributing” in any meaningful way!!

          1. Elfie*

            Actually, I have had one job I would be embarrassed to copping to, and that was as a cold-caller for a carpet-cleaning services company (basically, fleecing naïve people of their hard-earned cash). I say would be, I’m not, but only because I was so dreadfully bad at it that I didn’t manage to fleece too many people (they were awful to their employees as well – work a 40-hour week for 50p an hour – why, nothing wrong with that, you didn’t meet your targets!)

            1. Raphael*

              Why is this fleecing people? Carpet cleaning is a good service. Was your company bad at it? Did everyone you called not need the service?

              1. NaoNao*

                Probably either it was overpriced or a subscription service that was extremely hard to opt out of.

              2. Elfie*

                It was more that we were selling special cleaning products that were actually just your basic liquid soap, and cold-calling (we actually used telephone books – a practice that here in the UK is now illegal). It was over-priced for what it was, and just generally a really dodgy business. They got shut down a few years after I worked for them, for their numerous dodgy business practices, including paying employees less than minimum wage.

            2. Samata*

              But even in that you can say “I work in marketing for XYZ” or “I’m in sales at XYZ”…. you don’t have to get in the actual specifics. I used to work for a roofing company and was a lead generator for their home division. Not glamorous, I had a cube, a phone and each day a stack of papers (that’s right, no computer) but I just told people I was a Marketing Rep. in the home division. I htink Elfie is right that people didn’t generally ask beyond that.

          2. G uk*

            One of my favourite jobs was being a lackey to other people doing a more important job. I liked helping. Any role has some element of helping and I like to focus on that. Help other people so that they can….. or make sure that the office isn’t full of people, help people find what they are looking for, give people a clean environment to work in, make sure there’s always a supply of cake/paperclips. That way it’s usually followed with a “I wish I had someone like you” which makes the conversation easier to switch back to them.

        2. Emmie*

          That’s a real good point. I recommend talking about the job you left to move with your spouse. I worked as (title, great thing about old job) when I was in old city. I’m doing x while I look for a job in my field here. If this is relevant.

    3. Bostonian*

      This is so true. My SO’s job isn’t very sexy, so he definitely is insecure about it in social situations. But on paper, it’s a great job: good schedule, great work/life balance, wonderful time off and benefits, he enjoys it and does very well at it, and he’s making a killing.

      This is usually how he handles it: he acknowledge that it’s not the most interesting thing in the world, but then says the company is great and treats him well, and he’s very successful.

    4. The Rat-Catcher*

      There was this woman who sent an email out because the toilet she used had pee on the seat or something, and said “I shouldn’t have to come to work and clean toilets.” Ooookay, but…someone does come to work and clean toilets? And I really appreciate that person and I’d sooner you leave than them…

      1. Luna*

        Ha! At my old company most employees were part of a few different unions depending on their job function. One of the unions went on strike for a few weeks, and shortly after that strike was resolved the next union up for contract negotiation/renewal was the one that included the custodians. Needless to say, the company made sure to give them what they wanted to get that contract resolved without incident, because NO ONE wanted the custodians to go on strike. The top bosses could have striked all they wanted and the rest of us could have got by fine without them, despite them having what most people might consider the more important jobs- but if the custodians went on strike all hell would have broken loose. “Important” is really a matter of opinion.

      2. Specialk9*

        I don’t understand. She’s not a custodian and didn’t want to sit in other people’s bodily fluids, or clean toilets when that wasn’t her job. She pointed that out, presumably to ask people to clean up after themselves. I don’t see how that’s rude at all.

        Now if she had made rude comments on the worth of a cleaner, hang her high. But this sounds like bitch eating crackers, frankly. (Ie I don’t see why you got upset unless you separately hated her for other behavior.)

  3. Bernadette*

    When I absolutely despised what I did, I would make a quick joke out of it. “You know those ‘free oil change’ pieces of junk mail you get? I edit those. So if you see any errors, just throw it away.” If the conversation continued, I’d just say it was a temporary step on my way to writing for SNL or being the next Mindy Kaling. If you say it in such a way that people knew you were joking, it kinda shuts down any probing. Or at least it did for me. Not sure if this specific situation is helpful, but I do think there are a few one or two liners you could come up with that would pivot the conversation. If not back to them, then at least away from your job.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think this kind of thing is excellent for any kind of complicated or boring job.

      I used to be an Editor for Technical writing documents for a software that helps with teapot inventory – I actually enjoyed the job but MY GOD I bored myself already with that statement. I learned the best response was [brief easy summary] + [thing I liked that other people can relate to].

      Mine usually was: “I write help documents for a software. My work day ends at 3:30PM and I can work from home sometimes!”

      My dad (specific type of engineer who specializes in specific piece of equipment for a larger product) usually says something like “I’m a teapot engineer. I actually help design teapots for Oprah!”

      People usually can at least say COOL to the second part and then we talk about something else :)

      1. boo*

        The other way I’ve sometimes found useful is to say something like, “It sounds boring, but I love it! Anyway, bean dip?”

      2. Amy*

        I totally get that! I have a good job and I love my coworkers, but it is unspeakably boring to explain. I can actually feel people cringing sometimes when I try to give even a brief description. Oh well!

        1. SansaStark*

          Same! I would looooove to talk for hours about the ins and outs of my industry, but it would bore almost anyone else to tears. Most of the time it’s just polite small-talk in which case people would rather talk about interests/passions, and the other times I’ve found that people are just trying to network “up” (I live in DC so this is a very real thing). Either way, steering the conversation to something else is usually pretty easy.

        2. Specialk9*

          My friend’s job is that way. He finds process to be fascinating so loves to launch into what he does, and people just glaze over. He should say something super high level about the ultimate benefit of all of that process, not the nuts and bolts. But not my circus.

        3. TardyTardis*

          When I was in accounts payable, I worked on the most recent novel during my lunch hour, and I could get going on that instead. A burned guy who can see ghosts and sails around the Inner Sea bent on vengeance, and paying his tailor’s bill, is way more interesting than looking at invoices all day.

    2. RJGM*


      I love your example — if someone said that to me, I wouldn’t even know what kind of follow-up questions to ask! I think that’s the case for a lot of jobs, which might make you feel better, OP; if your job is really generic, like “teacher” or “IT support,” people will think they know what you do, and may not want a ton more details. If it’s really specific, like “editor of free oil change junk mail” or “groomer of the rare Northern European llamalpaca,” people will likely offer a polite “oh, okay” and move on. Of course, either way, a subject change helps — “…So if you see any errors, just throw it away. Anyway, isn’t this bean dip fabulous?” — and you won’t have to worry about follow-up at all.

    3. mskyle*

      My line used to be “I’m a pharmacy librarian, but it’s not as exciting as it sounds.” Some people thought that was funny, some people actually wanted to know more, and some people just nodded in confusion!

    4. Cookie D'Oh*

      I’m not embarrassed by my job, but it’s kind of boring. I say that it’s like the movie Office Space, which is actually quite accurate. I take the requirements from the customers and give them to the engineers. I have people skills.

    5. Oranges*

      Very much this.

      I right now work in email marketing aka spam and I’ve found that if I’m relaxed about it most of the time it’s the other people who are re-assuring me like “well you gotta get food on your table somehow”.

    6. zora*

      This is good, I should try to do this. I’m underemployed in a boring admin job because of some career missteps I made, and when people ask what I do, I tend to be self-deprecating about it, which I know is a terrible way to handle it. Both for my own mental health, and because it’s uncomfortable for other people. But I haven’t known what else to say, because the reality is my job is boring and I should be in a better place in my career.

      I’ll figure out what I can make into a joke to make it it more about being funny and less about sounding bitter.

      1. Basically Useless*

        I worked fast food for nine years-Taco Bell- and I refuse to be embarrassed or anything by that. Is it glamorous or something you need an advanced degree in? No, but it’s also nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s hard, honest labor. And I’ve never had an interviewer be less than impressed I worked there for nine years.

        1. TardyTardis*

          The interviewers probably wondered if you could talk someone into bringing back the Steak Stack (promotion for a few weeks, I loved it). But seriously, it shows you’re a hard, steady worker unafraid of a mob at the counter.

  4. Grits McGee*

    I don’t want to say that you will never face employment-related snobbery, but people who are otherwise kind and reasonable will probably either a) not care what you do for a living* and b) take their cues from you. I have a “prestigious” job at an “interesting” organization, and my own grandmother gets bored of me talking about it after about 45 seconds. ;)

    *Unless they can benefit from it (eg- employee discount, free advice). Then they are very interested.

    1. BRR*

      “take their cues from you” is what I immediately thought of. My spouse moved for my job and had trouble finding work. He finished his PhD and was working a minimum wage job at a non-glamorous company. There was embarrassment at first because it felt like he couldn’t do better but most people understand that a lot of us have to work for a living and you can’t always find a dream job.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        You have a few people who are prying for social reasons, but 95% of people who ask about your job are just making conversation. And since the recession, I think there is a lot more understanding when people are unemployed or at a low wage job.

        1. Amber T*

          This. I feel like asking what someone does for a living is almost rude not to ask when getting to know someone? And writing that out now… I disagree with that on principle but not in practice (meaning, I don’t like that’s how it is, but I might feel weird meeting someone new and not asking them what they did/not having them ask me what I did). And most people reeeeeallllly don’t care whatever the answer is. If anything, if your job seems vastly different than mine, I might be curious about how you got into it/how you chose it/something, or we’ll just figure out the next socially “pleasant” topic like the weather or that sportsball game from last night.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s not rude to not ask! If you feel weird about not asking a common question, you can come up with other innocuous questions to ask instead so that the conversation just keeps moving until you don’t feel awkward for not having asked.

            1. Armchair Analyst*

              ummmm… it depends. It can be rude to not ask. For example, a man of my aquaintance (ok, my father-in-law) did not ask my mother what she did for a job when he met both my father and mother at the same time who are married to each other. His own wife, my step-mother-in-law, does not do employed work, but is certainly valued in her relationship for her unpaid contributions. I think he assumed the same thing about my mother and frankly it came off very misogynistic.

              1. CMart*

                Agreed, it’s very context dependent. I noticed that once I had a baby that new people of all sorts, if they knew I had a child, never asked about my work and then were often very surprised when I’d bring it up in whatever appropriate context.

                I don’t necessarily think it’s crucial for people to know I’m an accountant, but it does feel weird to never be asked (especially as I became an accountant and a mom on essentially the same day, they were both big happenings for me!).

              2. Trickle*

                The rude thing there was omitting to ask your mother her job while knowing/asking about your father’s job. If your FIL had asked about neither of their jobs it would not have been rude.

          2. Specialk9*

            And many of us are socially awkward with strangers! Argh I hate mingling, it’s so stressful. When I ask questions, I’m really just hoping to stumble on a topic so that the other person will do most of the talking. (And occasionally, super rarely, we stumble on a topic I actually care about, but I’m fairly quirky so usually it’s more me learning new things from others.)

            So if someone asks what you do, maybe they’re pulling out their social status yardstick, but it’s as likely they’re just trying to find topics in common.

            1. Someone else*

              Yeah, I find more often when not, if someone asks me what I do, they actually have absolutely no interest in what I do. They just know it’s a generally socially acceptable thing to ask when one is Doing Small Talk.

        2. Breda*

          Yup. It’s basically asking, “So how do you spend most of your time?” And if you think about it that way, it’s really easy to redirect to something you like spending time on more: “I do teapot data entry for now, which is great, because it lets me get home right at 5 and focus on my hobby of Netflix-watching! I just finished The Crown – have you seen it?”

      2. K.*

        My friend’s husband waited tables for a while after a layoff. He was an architect by trade. He was embarrassed at first but there’s nothing embarrassing about making sure your bills get paid on time. I worked part-time at a call center for a bit after a layoff; same deal (and that job surprised me – I was really good at it! I used to win prizes. I ended up becoming a trainer after about three months and worked there for six, until I landed elsewhere).

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Yes! Honestly, people don’t really want to talk about your job. Just say “Oh, I do (4 word basic summary). It’s hella boring. What do you do?”

      1. LJL*

        YES..this is the way I’d do it. I’d say, “I work at XYZ,” then try to turn it to their work . Most people prefer to talk about themselves anyway!

      2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

        I used to say (when I was at my former dead end job) “I work in Accounting for a company that makes electrical components. It’s as exciting as it sounds.”

    3. Murphy*

      I was at a dinner thing, and a woman went around the table asking everyone what they did. She asked everyone follow up questions except me. Good boost to the self-esteem there.

      1. Dee-Nice*

        My sympathies. I have a really boring, non-demanding job that many would not expect based on my educational background, and my partner has the kind of job that makes people say, “That is so cool! How’d you get that job?” Moreover, my partner’s job is the kind that many people have an interest in and I do not. So I end up coming off as this wet blanket. When people ask me about my job, I want to say: “You will learn nothing about me this way! Please ask about my hobbies!”

        1. Elfie*

          I have a job title that many people have said is The.Coolest.Ever (when they have no idea what the job entails), and quite often it’s extremely dry, boring, spreadsheet-type work. As soon as they ask for details, I can guarantee their eyes will glaze over within minutes. Just because something sounds great doesn’t always mean it’s cool and glamourous and exciting (and even if it is, it’s not all of the time!)

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            What is this mythical boring spreadsheet work job? It sounds like my dream come true!

          2. Dee-Nice*

            All 100% true! My partner’s job does tend to be actually cool about 70% of the time, though. I have no qualms of jealousy or anything like that, since again, that field does not interest me. But having a constant foil to my rather boring job is not the funnest. I definitely try to shift off topic as soon as I can.

          3. Breda*

            Hah, this is where if asked for more details, I’d be like, “It’s spreadsheets! *jazz hands*”

          4. Specialk9*

            Me too. My job sounds awesome, and ok fine there are some flippin awesome bits, but the parts I find awesome tend to just befuddle most people, and what they’re imagining I do is not at all what I do. Which… is pretty amusing, actually.

        2. Frank Doyle*

          Well, you can easily shift the conversation over to what you LIKE to do. (Especially if they ask what you “do,” you can answer with what you do for fun, rather than what you do for money.) “During the day I work at a chocolate teapot factory, but I’m an avid hiker. Last month I hiked etc etc.”

          1. Llama Wrangler*

            Yeah, plus one for this strategy. Even if they ask directly about your job, you can say, “During the day I work at a chocolate teapot factory, and I’m glad to have a job that pays the bills, but I have been putting most of my energy into my hobbies, like hiking. Last month I hiked etc etc.” You don’t have to let people’s questions about your work mean that you’re defined by it!

          2. AKchic*

            Totally. “My day job is data entry, which pays the bills and lets me buy a ton of wonderful costumes so I can harass people as a character during the renaissance fair. You should really come out sometime. I’ll get you to walk the plank!” Cue segue into fair, the acting community, different charity events around town (both costumed and not), different costumed events (cosplay, acting, etc.), and a wide range of other interests.

      2. Samata*

        I can’t decide if I feel worse for you individually, all the people who had to answer the follow ups, or just all of you in general for having to sit through that.

    4. RJGM*

      I came here to say the same thing — Grits McGee phrased it much better than I would’ve. Most people really don’t care, unless you happen to do something that matches their interests or, as Grits said, they can benefit from it.

      My job is very niche, hard to explain, and not very interesting unless you’re in the industry; I’m still working on the “four-word summary” that Kimberlee mentioned, but a single sentence followed by a question about the other person works wonders. It’s been said here a thousand times before: [most] people loooove talking about themselves, so if you ask a bunch of questions, you might be able to avoid this situation entirely.

    5. lalalindz22*

      Agree that people probably don’t care, and may just be making conversation. I love my job, and enjoy talking about it, but I also check myself when talking to strangers because they probably don’t want to hear me blather on about it. When I mention the more interesting parts, people just want to talk about that, and that often leads to talking about pop culture (in my job we do marketing for some things that have a big “nerd” culture). “What do you do for a living” is a good opener to get to know someone, but people aren’t asking to hear your life story, they merely want to find a way to relate to you a bit more.

    6. Reba*

      I have started to use “What do you do for fun around here?” as my go-to getting to know you small talk… it’s more interesting to me and sometimes it’s fun to see people’s expressions change when I continue the question past “do.”

      1. zora*

        I appreciate you. I am in a job that embarrasses me and I am cringing inside whenever someone asks the “what do you do” question.

      2. Specialk9*

        A friend on disability used to post about how painful it was to get that work question. I’ve heard similar things from people who are unemployed. My goal in small talk with strangers is peaceful topics that occupy is, preferably leaving us both smiling — I definitely don’t want to hurt anyone!

    7. Wren*

      Yes, yes, yes.

      I’ve had jobs with “prestigious” titles and I’ve had extremely menial “monkey work” jobs and at the end of the day there’s not much difference when people ask about what it is that you do. The biggest thing is that people “understand” certain jobs better than others and are thus satisfied with a mere title, like say, a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. They know what that is, and explanations aren’t necessary. Unfortunately most jobs don’t fall into nice little boxes like that and it becomes difficult to give a short, neat reply.

      Remember, they’re only asking you to be polite because this is an accepted small talk question or to try and categorize you because like it or not people love labels. Nearly every time they really, truly do not care what it is that you do, and will only care if they themselves are in the same profession or they think they can benefit from your knowledge or connections. They don’t actually want to hear about your work, and those that will be snobby about your job would likely find plenty of other reasons to look down on you even if you solved world hunger.

      So, pick one or aspects of the job that is easy to understand for others, state them breezily and then change the subject. Ask THEM what THEY do. Talk about hobbies. Talk about families. Ask them what they do for fun. Most people would much rather talk about themselves anyway.

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I think people look for a few things when they ask about someone’s job: to understand better what kind of person someone is (though the job title doesn’t always tell that!), trying to find something in common with that person, or looking for funny little stories about their life. If the job doesn’t give any of those then the discussion will move to something else.

        In my case, I have a degree in something that’s my passion but it’s hard to get a job in that field so for most of my career I’ve done other things, many of them short projects / temp work. So for a work question I would say something like: “I have a degree in teapot design but there are few jobs available in that field. Currently I work at X doing Y. It’s nice enough work and the benefits are great / it sounds boring but I actually quite like it / I don’t really enjoy working there but it’s better than nothing / whatever I feel about the current job, and I hope I could one day get a job as a teapot designer.” This way I get more follow-up questions about teapots (which I love talking about!) and the reasons why teapot designers have difficulty finding jobs in this part of the world (another thing I love talking about!) than about whatever temp project I may be working on.

  5. Another person*

    I’ve used (vague reference to field I work in) + “I don’t want to bore you with the details,” + subject change / non-work related question about them.

    It usually works, but there is the occasional prying person who insists on all the details.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I’ve heard you should talk about what you DO, which may not be what you do for money. Use the politician’s trick of answering the question you wish they’d asked. Maybe, “I’m working at the Gas N Sip right now, but my real passion is knitting / drawing comics / decorating our house” ?

      1. selina kyle*

        That’s really good advice and a good way to kind of keep the focus on stuff you actually WANT to talk about.

      2. Another person*

        I usually deflect and redirect to something I’d rather talk about. And if they still don’t get the hint and insist on talking about nothing but the paying job I don’t want to talk about (rare but has happened), I find an excuse to leave the conversation.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I think not answering the question at all might trigger people’s annoying curiosity (what are you hiding? Are you in porn? Why won’t you tell me? Are you a spy?) but a flat sentence – “I’m between jobs right now,” or “I’m a sales exec at Teapots Inc” and then the redirect works well. MOST people are only asking as a get-to-know-you-icebreaker. A few are trying to figure out if you can be useful to them in some way.

          1. Another person*

            I was responding to your response to my initial comment.

            The last person I met at a party who got super pushy for job details after my initial answer (my initial comment up above), as it turns out, was trying to find out if I worked with her husband. I found it a little odd that she went about it by asking for details about my job after my initial response instead of just asking if I knew him!

            I think most people see the initial job question (rightfully) as a less controversial conversation starter than “what church do you go to?” or “how many children do you have?” I am just glad that the vast majority of the time the short answer + talking about preferred subjects instead works for me.

          2. Eliza*

            Also, if you actually *are* in porn and there are people you’d rather not tell, I’ve found “I work in the publishing industry” is a technically-true answer that allows you to answer follow-up questions in equally vague ways.

            1. FoxInFlux*

              I actually used to work for an adult website in selling ad space to porn stars and agencies. It was actually a pretty interesting job, but not something that I shared with most people upon first meeting them. I found that just saying “I work in advertising sales” sounded boring enough to rarely get any sort of follow up questions.

              1. Eliza*

                Yeah, I’m in a broadly similar boat myself; I work for a niche multimedia publisher that handles a variety of content, including erotica. I like my work, and I’m sincerely proud of some of the LGBT content we’ve released in particular, but I still feel like I have to be a bit careful about what to tell whom about it.

            2. another Liz*

              This is like my husband’s “I work for the county”. As a sheriff’s deputy. Adding the second bit means an almost guaranteed descent into all things political, and he’d rather not go there when he’s trying to relax. A lot of doctors and nurses I know will redirect and avoid answering the question, as many people then try to get you to diagnose a problem they/their parent’s/ their aunt’s second cousin’s dog’s have. They don’t want to talk shop on their off time.

              1. Mints*

                Haha my boyfriend is a security engineer at a big, cool company, and when he’s being friendly he’ll answer “I work at Company” or (extra friendly) “I’m a hacker for Company” but when he doesn’t feel like talking it’s “I’m an engineer.” It was funny when I noticed

      3. No Mas Pantalones*

        I think I’d even forego the Gas n’ Sip part. When asked what you do… “I paint teapots, I do aerial cat wrangling, I enjoy writing obituaries for fictional characters and fanfiction involving the specters of those characters, and I really, REALLY love a good sammich.”

        When they clarify that they meant your JOB, say “Oh, I work to live, not live to work. My job isn’t anything but a means to an end.” Case closed.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This is good, people assume when someone asks what do you do, they mean what is your work. Actually they are looking for common subjects to chat about. Maybe you can train your brain to hear, “Throw some topics at me and let’s see what we have in common” rather than “where do you work?”

          1. Reba*

            Yep! This is why I have a personal policy of asking people what they do *for fun* first off, instead of work.

            I’ve been at a couple events where there were open, desperate brush-offs if you weren’t in the other attendee’s field/someone they could network with.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yes – which feels bad in the moment but is a huge relief in the end. People don’t usually hang a sign around their neck that they’re a tool and you shouldn’t waste energy on them, so them removing themselves that way is a big blessing.

        2. Lil Fidget*

          I like this, but I do think (as I said above) that this can trigger people’s curiosity MORE if you’re avoiding answering; they begin to think it may be something really juicy or shameful and it may become a bigger topic of conversation than you were hoping for. YMMV. (To clarify, this is rude of them and I agree they should gracefully accept the redirect when you offer it, but people aren’t always on point).

  6. Triumphant Fox*

    You could pivot the attention to your partner or just focus on your background. “My background is in X, but for I was lucky to find a position where partner got this great opportunity here.”

    In my experience, plenty of people say, “Moving here was a big transition. For now, I’m at a job but I’m still thinking about long-term goals as we get settled.”

    1. Turkletina*

      I adjuncted for a while after moving for my partner’s job. It was terrible, I hated it, and I was applying for dozens of jobs a week and getting nowhere. But a breezy “I’m adjuncting at University X for now, but I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do long-term” followed by an immediate subject change gave people the information they were looking for without making my job anxiety worse.

      The subject change is important! If you don’t want to dwell on your job as a conversational topic, you need to take charge and steer the conversation elsewhere.

    2. ClownBaby*

      I like this. Helps too because you never know who you will meet and how they may be able to help you in the future. When you narrow down what you would like to be doing, or even what field you would like to be in, you can be like “Before we moved here I was a Llama Groomer, now I am working as a Teapot Glazer, but I am hoping to make a move into Wheel Greasing soon.” Perhaps the person you meet is married to the Wheel Greaser CEO and can get you more information.

      Also, OP, if you are feeling unfulfilled or that you aren’t contributing enough, have you thought about volunteering? If you find a cause that really inspires you, take part. You can even gloss over your job. Oh, I am a Teapot Glazer, but my real passion is doing volunteer work for the local Food Bank…”

    3. Temperance*

      I might not use that phrasing because it might make me feel like an accessory to my spouse, which, if I’m already feeling sensitive about giving up my career for his, would be a sore spot.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Definitely use your move as a distraction. The thing I got hit with that was, “Oh X State. That is where all the snobs live.” I quickly learned to deflect that by saying, “I am so glad to be out and seeing other parts of our country. It’s so lovely here.”
      You might even be able to work in, “So tell me about this area. What do people put a high value on/do for fun/favor for schools or employers?”
      Try to turn the conversation so that they are telling you about the area and perhaps you can pick up a few insights/tips.

  7. Rachel*

    People just are asking to make conversation, and if you reply with a sour answer, it makes you look bad, not the job. However, if you reply, “I make teapots, but my real passion is in coffee pots!” and talk about that, it’ll stop the conversation about your job and instead focus on the things that make you smile and look your best.

    1. Mr. Rogers*

      Agreed, in my experience people are always happy to hear you talk about that interesting thing you want to break into, versus the boring details of your current gig.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Unless you’re a bit too passionate about the interesting thing! My friends told me I was a complete pain while I was getting licensed, because I thought everything I was learning was ultra cool and wanted to talk about it endlessly.

    2. Smithy*

      I was gonna recommend something like this – your job can be that place that lets you afford something you’re passionate about. That can be fancy coffee, Netflix series, hiking, pottery, whatever. If you can find a way to use it to pivot to talking about things you enjoy, then it also becomes less of such a defining piece about you. Lots of people have done jobs or are still doing jobs that don’t define them – but it lets them live other parts of their life.

      This can be particularly hard for lots of in the US who are told so often that our jobs define us or some areas are notoriously bad at making this a *big deal* (aka DC). But this also gives you time to think of yourself beyond work that may ultimately help you clarify what is important in and outside of work.

      1. Anita*

        I wondered if the OP was in DC or a similar job market where people are so self-important about their jobs. It’s hard because a lot of people here treat you as a social pariah if you don’t have a job that’s useful to them.

      2. Specialk9*

        DC is the WORST for that. But people don’t seem to be embarrassed about basically asking ‘so are you high enough status or a potential asset to me?’ to everyone they meet.

    3. Paxton Sparrow*

      I fully agree. Depending on how they ask gives you a lot of leeway. Often people will ask “what do you do?” – tell them what you are passionate about rather than your job. They’re just trying to find a way to connect.

      1. GS*

        “I sit at a desk/stand in a factory line/flip burgers to subsidize my llama farming hobby. You would not believe how much time/energy/money my most recent llama twins took. They decided to be born in 30 below…” and you’re off talking about something you like to talk about, and the other person usually likes when you’re into the topic at hand.

    4. Amy*

      This is what I would say–for this kind of making-conversation question, give an answer that lets you talk about something you’re actually excited about, even if it isn’t the most direct answer to the question. Yeah, “what do you do?” usually is intended as a work question…but you can just as easily answer it with “I’ve got my day job at X, but my real passion is Y!” and most people will be perfectly happy to talk about Y.

  8. O*

    Deflect the topic one way or another…. “I’m doing X, but what I’m really passionate about is…” or “Actually, I’d rather not talk about work, but I’ve been doing some really interesting volunteering at / just joined Y group / started Z hobby / gotten so curious recently about…” or start asking them more about their work/hobby/whatever…

    It can feel tricky to do this at first, but I’ve gotten a little better with time, and with realizing that people are usually more interested in being in an interesting interaction than they are in the specific question they’re asking.

    1. Arjay*

      Yes. “What do you do?” doesn’t have to be about work. I knew an attorney once who when asked who he “worked for” responded with information about his client base, not his employer. I don’t know if it was to deflect from the employer or strictly because he was passionate about his clients, but that always stuck with me. As does the advice to answer the question you want to answer, not necessarily the question you were specifically asked.

    2. Pollygrammer*

      Oh just lead with “for the moment, I’m doing X.” (I don’t like talking about future ambitions, especially with people I don’t know very well.)

    3. Nye*

      A friend of mine handles the question, “What do you do?” really beautifully. She replies that she is active in her community’s farmer’s market, she skis, she backpacks, she went to a crazy street party last weekend. For the record, she does have a job she’s happy in and passionate about, and she’ll talk about it if asked. She just doesn’t assume that “what she does” is about her job, and she tells people about the whole gamut of things that she’s involved in. This might be a nice approach for OP, especially since as O pointed out, the asker is probably just looking for a conversational opening.

  9. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

    I’m currently in a job that I’m not enthused about because it allows me to work while also going back to school full-time. I usually just give a very brief answer and change the subject to them and what their job is, or something else about them. Sometimes, I’ll say (in a light-hearted way), “Oh, I don’t want to think about work anymore than I already do,” and change the subject to something else. I don’t know if these will work in your situations… or how to handle it if the people continue to pry, though.

    1. Overeducated*

      This was something that worked for me when I was having a tough time in grad school and REALLY didn’t want to spend parties thinking about my research.I knew people were asking to be nice, or out of interest, so I’d say, “thanks for asking but I really enjoy getting a break from work right now! What’s new with you?”

  10. anonanners*

    It sounds like you are allowing your self-worth to be wrapped up in your job. This is a totally normal thing (I have experienced it myself, to a staggering degree), and it can be great when you have a job that you feel reflects well on you! But it can be really harmful when you don’t feel the job reflects well on you. My advice would be to work on re-framing your thinking about how your job and your life’s worth intersect. Can you focus on the benefits your job brings. Ex. you say that “the pay is fine” – what if instead, you thought about it as “the pay meets my needs, which is valuable. This pay helps me live the life I want outside of work [or whatever is actually true about the situation – maybe it’s the thing keeping you and your husband from struggling to make ends meet, or lief would just be a lot harder without it].” It’s really hard to do this kind of re-framing, so it may be something you need to work with a counselor on.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Reframing is kind of what I was thinking. OP, it’s OK to take a breather and take time to figure out what you really want to do. And not everyone has an achievable “dream job” (unless you know of a job where I can be paid to watch TV in my jammies *and* not have to write about it)! It’s not a bad thing to find a job that is simply kind of interesting sometimes and kind of challenging sometimes and pays well enough, although that’s not where you currently are. I brought that up because in the letter they hint at difficulty figuring out what they want to do or what will be satisfying, and they don’t mention a frustrating, fruitless, extended search looking for a job doing what they did before, so it doesn’t sound like the problem is just getting back into their previous industry.

      I might suggest stating that you’re doing X while you take some time to evaluate your career goals, and then actually do that! Go on informational interviews if you’re not sure what you would like doing. Take a class or two to see if you want to switch careers. Talk to a few career counselors and professional organizations. Maybe having that kind of goal will make this job that allows you the time and money to work on that goal seem more valuable and useful.

      1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        Great advice!

        Along with this is one thing I’ve noticed about these types of introductions while having a BoringSoundingNobody’sEverHeardOf (TM) Job is that you can answer and people will smile and nod and move on very quickly. And even if you feel successful in your career, these introductions can be painful and awkward. Seriously I once had a title that was Logistics and Data Manager or something like that. You should have seen the deer in headlights look I would get when I would tell people.

        I would often answer the “what do you do” question with,

        “Oh I’m a Logistics and Data Manager and yes it’s as boring as it sounds and no I’m not going to go into detail about what it entails you’re safe, so you’re a Llama wrangler huh, that sounds exciting, I bet you have some fun stories?”

        I always compare myself to Kelso’s dad in That 70’s Show where he’s trying to explain what he does to Kelso on career day. (seriously my husband knows what my title is, but he has no idea what I do at work. I think he tells people I reroute satellites?!?) At the end they are both so frustrated Kelso in exasperation says “I’m just going to tell everyone you’re a farmer!”

        1. RJGM*

          +1 – I accidentally stole this advice above. Refresh before you post, R!

          Mine’s similar, though luckily I’ve found a close-enough title that people mostly understand. Usually I’ll just say something along the lines of “I’m in [generic department that every company probably has]; I’m basically a teapot designer, but a variation of it that’s specific to just my company.” And people are like, ah, okay, teapot designer, I know what that is, and we move on.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      This is so true, and it’s something I’m working on myself. I over-identify with my career role and it’s really not healthy.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right on. OP it would be good to hit this one from two sides, externally and internally. I have had jobs that were just not where I should be, to the point that others said, “WHAT are you doing?”

        Goals, OP. Goals are the answer. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Then you can start to build a public explanation of what you do. When I first moved out, I worked 2-3 crap jobs to make ends meet.
        Hey, the bills were paid and I was proud of that part. Yeah, it was soul sucking and I could have done more for my self-care because my energy was zapped. One of the beacons of light was I had plans for the future. So I would say, “I am working here, fiance and I are getting married in x months.” You could say, “I used to do penguin caregiving, but there is not a lot of work available here in Texas for penguin caregivers, so I am considering a, b or c as options. And I want to look around a bit before I make that decisive move.” Key point, actually do that. Actually look around. Read ads, go through local papers. Collect up knowledge about your locale. You will feel better if you privately know that you are indeed actually looking around.

    3. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      This. You are NOT just your job, you’re a whole person that happens to have a job. It’s an important distinction.

  11. Jesca*

    When I have had less than savory jobs or have ajob without a recognizable title that I would rather not have to keep explaining, I have always just kind of been vague but boring to dissuade others from asking any additional questions.
    For instance, if you work as, I dunno, a Llama good cashier, you could say, “I work in Llama product support”. The goal is to sound really vague and boring, so remember that! It is the key!

  12. neverjaunty*

    OP, people will usually take their cues from you. If you treat it as no big thing, so will they. And you can make the conversation about them before moving on. “Oh, I’m in llama stacking. But what about you? I hear you’re a rice sculptor, that’s really an expanding field right now, isn’t it?”

    You have no need to be ashamed of honest work, whether or not it’s “prestigious” or easy for you.

    And anyone who gets snobby about it is a jerk. People do not become less interesting or worthwhile depending on their job level (or whether they have a paid job at all!)

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      > You have no need to be ashamed of honest work


      My grandmother loved me dearly (I was grandchild #1) but sometimes showed her love in less-than-supportive ways. Example: I am a genius and so should not be doing xyz retail job. (You understand that I’m not a genius, but I’m quoting here.)

      I finally pulled out that line on her: There’s no shame in honest labor. And she pulled up hard and agreed with me completely. After all, *her* grandparents had run a laundry in very early Oregon. She was easier on me after that, and no, I didn’t tell her about my own mixed/complicated feelings about that job.

    2. Front of the House Manager*

      I completely disagree that there’s “no shame” in honest work.

      I’m close to 40. I work in food service management. I’m so stressed out that I can barely function in life. I hide in the bathroom and cry at work because my life is just garbage now. I’ve given up on dating, because that requires self esteem, time, and energy (all of which I am fresh out of). I don’t have any benefits or savings. I’m living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford an Obamacare premium. I’m constantly getting extra work dumped on me. All of my admin experience is from years ago, and I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job translating what I do into what I can do in an office position in my cover letters to actually get an interview (let alone an offer I can work with) for anything interesting that will pay me what I’m making now (or more).

      And on top all of this, I’m not doing anything important at work all week. I’m wasting my life. I’m starting to get the pitying looks from family, and everyone’s attempts to empathize come across like they want to turn it into a damn competition.

      Damn right I’m ashamed of my job and how crappy my life turned out.

      1. KayEss*

        I’m ashamed that our country is in a state where businesses and society are able to treat people who are doing honest work that needs to be done and should have no shame attached that way. We are a real mess.

        I wish I had more to offer you than good wishes, but I truly hope that things turn around and start looking up for you. You, and everyone working those jobs, deserve better.

        1. Laura*

          I hated reading this. I agree with KayEss so much. Huge amounts of sympathy and hope for the future.

  13. Winifred*

    I would suggest talking about your work briefly (“I work at the local candle factory — great coworkers!”), then switching to discuss anything you’re passionate about. In my case that could be “I’m the administrator in a Unitarian church, but my passion is animal training and I’m planning to move into that as a third career after my coursework is done next year.” Perhaps also reflect that a great many people in this country (and world, and throughout history) do work that they’d prefer to not be doing, and that may give some perspective, and also consider that the only person who is “defining” you by your current employment may be you.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    If these are people you’re meeting in one-off type social situations, they are highly unlikely to give your answer more than a passing thought. People are inherently selfish and are most likely making polite small talk. At the end of the night, I’d venture the guess that the majority of them aren’t going to remember you or what you said you do.

    Now, if these are people you are building actual social relationships with or could potentially network with, I think you could say something like “I’ve been doing X since I moved out here. Before that, I was doing Y. I’m still trying to figure out what I’d ultimately like to do. What do you do?” Because, again, people are inherently selfish and most of them would rather talk about themselves and maybe that will help you figure out a path for yourself.

    Bottom line, and I know this is far easier said than done, but try not to overthink it.

  15. JustaCPA*

    Without knowing what the job is, its hard to give specific advice. If its just in general that you don’t feel it matches your potential, then you can just say you work for x company and then deflect to the person asking the question – “and what do YOU do?” Or “where do YOU work?”

    If it’s the company itself that gives you the ickies, then swap – simply state WHAT you do and immediately deflect. Most people who aren’t socially oblivious understand a pass when they get one and wont pursue it. Those that don’t understand and do further question you, well, just say something like – “eh, I don’t like to chat about work off the clock” and leave it at that.

    For family who is much less likely to be deflected, you can still say something like, it helps me stay busy while in “new city”. And then maybe talk about your ultimate goal. Or if you dont have one yet say something like, “it pays well enough and keeps me out of trouble while I decide what I’m going to do when I grow up!” (with a wink and a nod) Course my family would get the point by then. YMMV of course.

  16. Sarah*

    Take a broader tack. When someone asks what you do, answer with something outside of work.

    “What do you do?” “Well, I am a champion knitter/the top regional kickboxer/the director of the official Rush fan club.”

    People who ask what you do are usually looking to start a conversation. Take charge of it and you’ll have a more positive experience on both sides.

    1. Ersong*

      This is my track too. “What do you do?” is always answered with things I’m actually interested in. I read a lot, I’m really into the history of X so I do a lot of exploration on my own, I run a side hustle doing Y. If they ask what I do for work, I’ll answer them, but honestly, I work to make money so that I can do the things I enjoy doing that no one’s going to pay me to do. I had a quarter-life crisis when I realized I wasn’t going to make it in the field I’d been dreaming about since I was 12. Since that moment, I just decided my job wasn’t going to define me.

    2. July*

      I’m a little charry of this tactic, simply because it can make the person who asked feel as though you’re 1) hiding something and 2) mishearing them. In the former case, they may ask again.

      (Also, I once asked someone about his job. He spent some time going on about a summer job at a dude ranch he’d had in college. Afterward I asked two or three of his friends what his deal was until I learned he did some kind of computer thing for the NSA and had a high security clearance. “Oh, I work in tech security” would not have generated nearly so much curiosity.)

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      I want to meet this kickboxing knitting Rush fan.

      Srsly, I know a lot of people — some of whom have very interesting jobs — whose primary personal interest is different kinds of folk music or dance. Guess what *they* want to talk about in social settings? Hint: not their jobs. (This has the additional benefit of cutting right across class lines, which keeps things more interesting overall.)

  17. sally*

    It’s been my experience that most people don’t actually care what your job is – they just want to know what company you work at. My actual work duties are kind of niche and hard to explain, so I usually just talk about the company itself, which is usually enough to get me through that part of small-talking with someone.

  18. Scully*

    I like my company, and I like my coworkers, but I don’t necessarily like my job and I feel similar disappointment that I’m not doing more to better the world. What I do in social situations is instead of stating my title or job description, I just say that “I work for…” and I just speak about my company, not about me. It’s boring and bland and 100% of the time we move on to speak about a different topic. Or I conclude with “tell me about what you do!” or “your job sounds a lot more interesting, tell me more about it!”

  19. Thursday Next*

    LW, I hear you. I have similar social anxieties because I left my job two years ago to care for my two-special needs children, and I feel like I have very little to say when asked, “what do you do?” That being said, can you come up with a follow-up line or two to your bland answer? Something that might actually help you from feeling insecure afterward?
    For example, “It’s a change of pace for me, but I’m loving the opportunity to explore my new community. I moved from X and one thing I’ve found after living in Y for a year is…” In other words, steer the conversation a bit to your geographic change, which might help you focus on the reason for your move (spouse’s great opportunity) and subsequent professional changes.

  20. jleebeane*

    I worked as an admin for a security company for three years after nursing school, so I totally understand this.

    Can you perhaps talk about the company, rather than your particular role? I do this with my present position (mostly because my company deals in cancer genomics and my role is in client services, so the company sounds way cooler!). Something like, “I work for TeaPot Industries. We make dripless teapots so there’s never any mess!” I’m sure some people will still ask more, but maybe if you keep giving bigger picture answers, they’ll eventually accept it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I used to do this when I was at Exjob. If I said I was a receptionist, people would just look at me blankly and say, “Oh,” and it felt really dismissive. So I started saying,”I work at XYZ Company; we make custom widgets.” Then a vigorous round of bean-dipping*: “So have you tried Sarah’s bean dip yet? It’s amazing!”

      *From the Etiquette Hell site; refers to a diversionary conversational tactic.

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        I did this when I was working as a support tech for a learning management application. If I mentioned the name of the application, I’d get people venting at me about it for 30 min (legit, cuz it really did suck, but I didn’t want to hear it – especially after doing support all day). To avoid the negativity vomit, I rephrased it as, I work at University with online students! Sometimes it would still derail but it helped cut down on conversations I didn’t want to have.

  21. 42*

    Can you answer with “For now, I’m…”?

    But in the broader sense, I wish that the world at large wouldn’t attach a person’s perceived value on the work that they do, or the industry that they’re in. Has anyone ever commented negatively on the work that you do?

    1. Temperance*

      Okay I’ve actually had that experience. I’ve done some immigration work, which I’m actually pretty proud of, and some of my less-enlightened relatives and others where I grew up have accused me of trying to give away good American jobs to furriners. I’ve been point-blank asked if I’m helping “us” or “them”, to which my canned response is that people with legal status pay taxes and are as American as we are, and if you actually support the legal path to citizenship, you’d be fine with me doing this work.

      1. Future Analyst*

        Same. I work in immigration law AND automation, so I’m a real hit in the redder parts of the country.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I have too. For a long time I worked for a company that most people thought was “so cool” (to which I’d respond, “I like it, but my work isn’t that exciting!”) but many others thought was destroying our country and making us all zombies (I’m in media). I’ve had people actually scoff at me. Sometimes they scoffed at my industry in general, which was just oh-so-pleasant. One person said, “Oh really? I’m sooo sorry.” Most of the time I walked away. The “so sorry” guy actually got, “Why on earth would you say that?” and much further follow-up, but that was because I’d already dealt with years of that crap and he was a massive jerk. Before, I would just clam up and say something banal.

        But the larger point is very true: most people don’t jump to the negative, especially when making small talk. Polite people generally smile and nod. People like to make connections with others, so often the, “What do you do?” is an opening to, “Oh, my brother’s in sales too! He loves it,” or, “My mother’s sister’s cousin works for that company, do you know X?” Practice turning it around and asking a question back, make it about the other person.

        Family, however, is a different story. OP, you have my sympathies. There’s a lot of really good advice here, and I hope it helps!

      3. Lissa*

        Ooh that’s interesting, because I was reading this post thinking “jobs you’re embarrassed about” as being jobs people think of as low status. This probably comes frommy own experience working in food service for a decade. I heard a lot of lovely classist comments and other such things, and overall one of the things I hated about that work was how it was perceived, and I know that sounds really obnoxious.

        I’d put jobs that are “controversial” in a different category, because it’s not that they think *you* are talentless/stupid etc. it’s that they disagree with what they think the political etc. ramifications of your job is. I imagine people who work in oil companies, birth control advocacy orgs. etc. would get that too.

        1. Temperance*

          FWIW, the people who’ve given me the most shit about doing immigration work are in what you would consider low-status jobs. So classism wasn’t even on my radar, TBH.

    2. Sualah*

      Sort of. I work for a big financial institution and was trying to help a family member find a job in my city, so I was sending some entry-level postings. He sat me down and explained he could not work at a company as ethically challenged as mine, what with how we get people into debt and charge interest and all.

    3. Squeeble*

      I haven’t had anything outright negative, but sometimes people do look a little perplexed or bored when I’m at a reading or some kind of artsy event and respond to the question with “I’m an admin assistant.” Almost like, what are you doing here? But I am trying to let the awkwardness remain with that person more and more these days.

    4. Megpie71*

      I’m unemployed (in Australia). I figure I’m keeping Centrelink bureaucrats busy checking to see whether I’m due for a robodebt; I keep my employment service provider busy scheduling fortnightly appointments to find out whether I’m working yet; and I keep the Murdoch tabloids, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the Institute of Public Affairs (a right-wing glibertarian think-tank) all busy demonizing me and people like me. (Oh, and the 20 job applications I’m required to send out per month keep a lot of HR people busy as well). So while I may be unemployed, I’m a cause of employment in many others. Think of me as a one-person economic stimulus!

      (Yes, there’s a certain level of both sarcasm and irony in this answer).

  22. going anon for this one*

    In my case I find being as vague as possible helps. I’m an environmental lawyer. When people hear this they go “oh, like the kind Erin Brockovich worked with.”. I actually am the kind who worked against Erin Brockovich. Before this I worked for a tobacco company and helped them lobby the government. When people heard I lobbied the government they thought I lobbied against the tobacco industry. When I was in law school I spent my summers at a firm that worked with the NRA and helped them lobby. Most people would assume I lobbied against them.

    I am purposely as vague as possible, even among my family and friends. People have assumptions and I don’t like having to explain in the face of hostility. I’m not embarrassed about my job, I’m vague to avoid misunderstandings. I just tell people I’m a lawyer and if they ask more questions I just answer that my work is really bland and boring and I don’t want to bore anyone, or that due to privacy laws I can’t discuss the things I do at work. It works like a charm for me.

    Good luck OP. I’m sorry you are stressed about this. I wish you well :)

    1. also going anon*

      “Lobbyist” is a bad word to some people no matter which side you’re on. I lobby on civil rights issues and still get people implying that what I do is corrupt and ruinous to democracy. Also, I once told someone that I worked at a reproductive rights organization and they asked me, “for, or against?” Weird reactions abound!

    2. Yankee Reader*

      My spouse is also an environmental lawyer. I have learned to quickly say, but not for Greenpeace because that is what people always assume. There are far greater nuances to what he does and he is really good at regulatory work. I usually change the subject or if we are together quickly divert my husband onto another topic because he can get boring really fast about his job.

    3. Pollygrammer*

      I know someone who worked in pharmaceuticals, for one of the companies that has a less-than-stellar track record ethically speaking, and he would say “I do [X] for [X company.] So, you know, evil.”

      1. This Daydreamer*

        An old friend of mine used to be a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. He said his job was selling drugs at the university.

  23. Asperger Hare*

    I was recently let go and I feel your pain on having to have that awkward job conversation when you’re feeling quite low and demoralised. I really empathise.

    You mention that you haven’t found an answer bland enough not to reveal insecurities. What about something like, “I work in [field e.g. finance] at the moment, but I’m looking to move back to [former field e.g. topiary].”

    Or something even simpler, like: “I work as an [job type e.g. executive] but I’m looking to move into [other job type, e.g. financial administrator].”

    I have used examples like this when quickly explaining “I was let go,” but then leading straight into “-but I have some interviews coming up!” and then the follow-up questions tend to be about the interviews because they can latch onto that as the conversational direction.

    Perhaps even a – “Oh, no, I don’t like talking about work at all!” and then change the subject?

  24. Jubilance*

    Keep it general “I’m in sales” and then pivot to something else – “did you try the bean dip?”

    If someone wants to really engage you about your work, you can redirect by asking about their job – “oh my job’s boring, tell me about your job at Herding Cats Inc!”

  25. Momma Said Spock You Out*

    Oh man, I feel like this letter could have been written by my husband. :( We moved several states away, back to our home state, for my job after I graduated with my master’s, and he was unemployed for over a year before getting a job in a restaurant, a position he’s been in for a year now. He’s happier having a job than not, but he still gets embarrassed/ashamed that he’s working in a restaurant with a master’s degree, especially (I think) since his parents paid for his schooling.

    I’ve tried to tell him that it’s nice that he’s available often for our dog and for me (I have some health issues, sigh), so maybe you can emphasize the work/life balance that you get from it. I think a few other comments have suggested finding the positive and playing it up, which is also good. (My husband gets an employee discount and since we both like the food in the restaurant, we get good deals on food we both like.)

    1. Yikes*

      Glad to see that for once a man made the career sacrifice. It always seems to be the woman who puts her career on the back burner for her husband.

      1. Minnesota*

        I am in my 50s. My husband has put his career on the back burner for me and our family for 30 years. I know many other families where the woman’s career comes first, too. It isn’t always the woman who puts her career on hold.

      2. OP*

        I am a man, and fine with taking the backseat to my wife’s career! I’ve decided she’ll be the main career woman in our family, and I’ll contribute in other ways. It will be easier once we have kids, but for now I struggle with feeling like underutilized at work and also there’s not a ton of ways to contribute at home (we both cook and clean, etc.). Once we have kids, I expect to take on most of that work, which I think will help make me feel fulfilled even if my career is still stagnated.

    2. To Some Degree*

      I was in a very similar situation. My husband moved for me to attend grad school, couldn’t find a job for months, and then took a job as a barista. (He has a degree and was in a white-collar job before we moved.) When people asked what he did, he answered confidently, and would often get into discussions with people who found his passion and knowledge of coffee really interesting! It was such a great lesson for me, as his partner, not to be apologetic or embarrassed. I was proud of him for working hard and excelling at his job, even though it wasn’t prestigious. OP, think of Julia Child’s mantra: No excuses, no apologies. Good luck!

  26. Dinosaur*

    “Oh, I’m in [blank] field, but my real passion is [insert hobby or former field or whatever]. Enough about me, though! What do you do?” Then ask enough follow up questions so they get distracted talking about themselves and forget to ask you more about your job!

  27. This Daydreamer*

    Do you have any free time? Volunteer! That’s something you can definitely take pride in, and it will help you network and figure out more of what you want from a job. Alternatively, is there a hobby that you really enjoy? Spend more time on that. Both volunteering and hobby work will give you something to talk about that it will be easier to take pride in.

    Also, honestly, unless you’re working in the PR department of Child Murderers of America, I think you’re being way too hard on yourself. There aren’t many CEOs making millions of dollars out there. Considering how many people are struggling to make a living in this country, there is nothing to be ashamed of in having a steady job.

  28. C.*

    It sounds like you like the people you work with, so talk about that! You can stick to talking just about why you like working with them (like enjoying group work, they’re good social support, someone always brings in awesome cupcakes on birthdays, etc.), or if you are talking to people you feel comfortable being honest with, you can say that while this is not your favorite job, you’re happy to work with people who are friendly. You really are lucky in that respect; I have a few friends who are in jobs they hate where the people are also mean and undermining. The position you’re in sucks, but it does sound like there are positives you can talk up in social situations.

  29. Megan*

    Is there a way you could frame the conversation around what you’d like to be doing? “Oh, I’ve been making widgits for Acme, Inc. for about a year now, but I’m feeling a bit restless in the job. I’ve been thinking lately about knitting sweaters for turtles/designing double-spouted chocolate teapots/writing owners’ manuals for robot puppies. How did you, Person I’m Currently Talking To, get interested in your line of work? Was there something that drew you to it?” A) People love to talk about themselves, so that gets you out of the conversation about your job, and B) maybe it gives you some ideas about how to figure out what you do really want to be doing. I took a whole bunch of career aptitude tests while I was working my pay-the-bills job, just to see what they came up with, and it pointed out some interesting things I hadn’t thought about.

  30. Sparkles*

    OP I am in the same boat as you. My husband’s job has moved us quite a bit so my career has been put on the back burner (which I agreed to when we got married). I am not proud of my job, it is mind-numbingly mundane and I too, feel like I could be achieving much, much more. I took it because it was offered at the time of our move and I needed something.
    Is there any way to word what you do to make it sound more interesting? That is what I usually do when people ask what I do. Essentially, I am a paper pusher in a dead end job with no chances of advancement, but I use fancy/ important words to make it seem better, or I will just give a broad generalization as to what I do and then flip the topic of conversation to be about them or something else.
    I also have started back up in school to switch my career path. I went with something that I can freelance or work from home no matter where hubby’s job takes us. I will usually focus then on my schooling rather than what I do for a living.
    Don’t beat yourself up! You are doing better than you think and I definitely don’t think your friends and family will be judging you for that.

  31. cutie honey*

    imo, an important thing to remember is that no one actually cares that much. think about it: when you ask someone what they do for a living, or where they went to school, or any other random, bland icebreaker, are you really that invested or interested in the answer? unless it’s somehow related to you/your experiences, probably not. my college experience was convoluted and somewhat traumatizing, and for a while I would get really stressed about talking about it. i finally realized i could just be like “oh i went xyz college” without all the ~drama~ and associated explanation and whoever i was talking to would be like “cool” and then we could move on to other, more interested topics– because unless they also went there, the likelihood of them actually wanting to know more or talk about is basically zero. keep it short and move on, and no one will bat an eyelash.

    1. AVP*

      That’s true! I think of those types of questions as trying to find a lead into a more interesting conversation…

  32. Mona Lisa*

    Oh, LW, I totally feel you on this. I left a toxic work environment for a job that would pay me significantly more but was not as challenging or interesting as the work I had been doing. I came up with a bland description like “I support X programs at Westeros University. It’s not much, but it pays the bills!” Usually I’d try and turn the conversation back to the other person. People like to talk about themselves so, if you ask them a follow-up question about their work or pursuits, they’ll typically be happy to oblige.

  33. gmg22*

    This is such an interesting question, because my experience has been that these kinds of feelings are, or can be, very dependent on geography and the culture of whatever area you live in. When I lived in DC, I spent several years kind of cobbling together a work life from part-time gigs and freelance work. It was all interesting and engaging, but of course we’re talking about a VERY career-driven place. People perfect the “halfhearted glance at your nametag, ascertain you’re not important enough to talk to, glide eyes straight over right shoulder, move on” thing at receptions, etc. So I constantly felt like I had to prepare to “explain” myself work-wise and that someone would always be there to say “So, is what you REALLY want to do X instead of Y?” Where I live now (back in my small New England home state), quite honestly no one could give a crap what you do for work as long as you enjoy it and it pays the bills. I can’t tell you what a relief it is.

    So I guess my question for LW is, thinking in terms of how people feel about work and career, what kind of culture does she live in now, and what kind of culture did she leave? Because my answer would honestly be different depending on that — whether the advice is how to strategize about how to let people’s careerist comments slide off your back, or whether it’s to just be honest about your job being an “yep, OK for right now, nice colleagues etc” situation, if you’ve ended up someplace where you might be pleasantly surprised that people are less judgmental than you expect.

    1. Just another fed*

      Oh DC… The first questions when meeting anyone in this town are what do you do and where are you from. I grew up in one place, went to undergrad in another, grad school in a third, and none of those was DC, plus my background and job are not related at all. So, I end up explaining my life Odyssey all the time around here…

  34. WillyNilly*

    Volunteer! Join a cause you believe in (or start one). Then when people ask what you do, you can deflect “well for money I work a plant that manufactures the tips of shoelaces, but my real work is what I do with my local Animal Rescue CSA First Responder team.”

          1. Lisa B*

            It’s a kids cartoon- they did a whole episode on the aglet. Very cute, completely random, and makes people do a double take when my 4 year old points out his aglet is ripping. :D

            1. Rainy*

              Huh, I wouldn’t have thought you could get a kid to watch 20 minutes about aglets. I, on the other hand, would watch the hell out of a documentary on aglets. (I used to do costuming.)

          1. Elizabeth*

            Yes, it is an animated series that played on the Disney Channel. The humor works on multiple levels in most episodes. My nieces & nephew all watched it and were weirded out to find that my husband & I did, as well.

            Look on YouTube for the “Aerial Area Rug” sequence.

  35. Temperance*

    LW, do you have any interesting hobbies? I might just sidestep the question totally and say something lightly about how you would rather talk about much more interesting things than work, but you’re on the board of your local X organization / volunteer with puppies / are working on that crime novel and ask the person what they do for fun.

    Skipping out on potential networking opportunities isn’t the way to go, IMO. It sucks that you had to give up your career to support your spouse, and it sucks that you’re in a less-than-fulfilling job now.

  36. AVP*

    My partner also struggles with this a bit…he’s in a field that’s fine and interesting if it’s what a person wants to be doing, but he hates it and hates talking about it and has had a hard time breaking into the very-competitive industry that he’d rather be in. I’ve noticed that in social situations he’ll say something like, “well, I work for a small company that does teapot logistics, but I’d REALLY rather be a music engineer so let me tell you about that instead.”

  37. Reinhardt*

    What’s worked for me, and may work for you, is to dodge the question by making up something ludicrous and running with it. For example, I’ve been a professional zombie hunter and a male underwear model (anyone who sees me in real life knows this is clearly not the case)

    Have fun with it, and be entertaining at the same time

  38. Marley*

    Come up with a one sentence answer that you can say with a straight face, then change the subject.

    Feel free to throw in something about following your husband to whatever city you’re in now. People will get it.

    Meanwhile, can you seek a hobby or something else to add to your life satisfaction?

  39. Snark*

    My feeling is that OP is feeling anxiety and depression not about her current job, but about the greater context of not having a long-term career plan, feeling underemployed and underutilized, and that their current job is a poor reflection of their ambitions and self-image. I second some of the suggestions about finding meaningful volunteer opportunities, and would also suggest perhaps finding a career counselor or other support to figure out what that long-term plan might be.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I thought the same thing, “I’m not sure that OP’s real problem is the job itself, it’s more about how they feel about their life right now.” Yes, a counselor can be helpful and/or some kind soul searching (be gentle with yourself as you do it, I mean – I get too hard on myself if I don’t try to frame this correctly!).

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Agreed — this is what I was going to say! It sounds like the OP knows how to have the conversation fine, but needs some help reframing stuff inside her own mind, and there are professionals who can help with that. Or even just a good frank session with a good friend.

      That said, I can echo the folks who recommended just turning the question around quickly. This works with all kinds of questions! “What do you do?” “Oh, just a boring office job — how about you?” Then if they want to, they can get into their own job, or you can move on to how great the cheese plate is or whatever.

    3. OP*

      This is all exactly right. I haven’t had anyone be snooty about my job, and it actually sounds more interesting than it is. The actual conversations with other people go fine – as many people have said, no one really cares and we move quickly on to other topics. My embarrassment is all inward-facing. I used to have a job that I liked a lot and was happy to talk about, but had a terrible lifestyle (long hours, lots of travel, etc) – I am happy to have left that behind. My trouble is that I have no idea what kind of career I want now (my old job was in a fairly niche field, so there’s not other jobs in that field with a better lifestyle). I’m in this job, but it’s not really leading anywhere, and I don’t know how to figure out what to do next. For now, just thinking about it makes me really upset, so I’ve been trying to just coast. But while I’m doing that, any reminder of the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life is upsetting. I know it is all in my head and plenty of people would be happy with my job, and after being unemployed for a while it is definitely better to have a job than deal not having one … but I still struggle with feeling like I’m falling behind where I want to be and feeling like I should be doing more challenging work or work that is leading to a fulfilling (to me) career.

  40. Health Insurance Nerd*

    What if you started your answer with “Right now I’m doing (insert high level description of your job now)” but then also add what you’ve done historically and what you’re hoping to do in the future? So “Right now I’m doing teapot customer service to pass the time, but my background is in rocket science and I’m hoping to find something more in that vein in the near future”.

    But also, please know, unless you’re telling people that you’re doing something truly objectionable (like “right now I’m clubbing baby seals….”), no one is likely to feel one way or another about your job.

  41. Rainy*

    “Oh, I blah blah, but I’m really passionate about my Funko Pop unboxing YouTube channel” or whatever. Minimal info about work, replace with the thing you WOULD like to talk about.

  42. Jam Today*

    Oh wow. I guess I’d start by saying that with few exceptions, nobody you meet in social situations really cares what you do for work. If they ask, its because they’re making small-talk, not because they really want to go in deep on it. I’ll also submit that, particularly in this economy, most people understand working at a job because you need a job and will either be neutral on it or enthusiastically sympathetic to your situation.

    I guess I’m not clear on why LW is embarrassed by her job? It sounds like a fine job: good company, manageable workload, good coworkers, decent money… Especially because she’s not interested in status or titles, this seems like a pretty decent fit. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing, and believe me there are plenty of us who would love nothing more than a job we can go into in the morning, do some stuff, get paid enough to let us live an enjoyable life, and then go home and not think about it again til the next day. I kind of envy that, actually.

    1. Lisa B*

      Well, but think of if they were a marketing manager, and now they’re flipping burgers. NOTHING WRONG with either job, but that kind of a change would understandably make some people uncomfortable discussing. I like ideas that have been suggested to just put it out there (networking!), and say “well, back in OldCity I was a marketing manager, but I’m finding it tough here! I’m working at YumBurgers now until I find the right spot.” Simple, said without embarrassment, and they’ll take their cues from you.

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      I’ve been in the OP’s situation. Got laid off, and all I could find (it was 2009!) was a survival job. It paid half my former salary, which was fair, because the job could’ve been done by a fifth grader. Yeah, it was honest work, and it paid the rent…but it did take me awhile to get over the shame of “wasting” my talents and education. This was about me and my ego, nobody else had a problem (besides my mom…sigh).

  43. Sarah*

    So, I hate this idea that we’re defined by our jobs – especially because the thing I’m passionate about doing isn’t what pays the bills. So when people ask what I do, I say, “For fun or for money?” I am not my job. I do my job to make money. And then when they laugh (they always laugh), the 80% of them that follow up with “For money” get an answer like, “Well, right now I’m… but hopefully one day I’ll…” That way I can focus on what matters to me while still answering the question.

    1. Snark*

      It’s SUCH A BORING QUESTION. Seriously. I go out of my way to not ask people what they do unless they volunteer it or I’ve hung out with them enough that I consider them people I want to get closer to.

      1. Sarah*

        I judge how well dates are going by how much time we spend talking about our jobs. If I know the intricacies of a dude’s daily workload it’s because we had nothing else to talk about. Even if your job is fascinating to me, if YOU are fascinating to me, I’m much more likely to ask what got you interested in that line of work than I am to ask about the minutiae.

      2. This Daydreamer*

        Preach it! I used to hate the question when I worked retail. I only got over it long after I had to leave.

      3. Tuesday Next*

        It probably is boring but it’s a fallback for people (like me) who are socially awkward. Don’t judge us too harshly :-/

        That said, I’ll be using Jules the First’s suggestion in future: what’s keeping you busy these days?

    2. Be the Change*

      I like this, “For fun or for money?” And I would be one of the 20% that said “For fun, of course!” :-)

      I’ve changed to asking people how they spend their time, rather than what they “do.” It feels a bit awkward and precious, since what-do-you-do is so ingrained, but I feel like it is more respectful of different life paths.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      As a DC resident, I know we’re in a culture where WORK IS LIFE and it’s really important for me to remember that it doesn’t have to be that way / shouldn’t be that way everywhere. I assume it’s the same in other big cities but I’ve only lived in this one – it was definitely less of a thing in small towns.

    4. Rainy*

      I love what I do for work, and I loved my last role, and I loved the thing I did two roles ago (the two in the middle…meh), and those are all very different things, but I would legitimately rather talk about the art I make or what I’m reading or watching currently or about pets than about work. I love it, I *can* talk about it endlessly, but most people don’t care. (If I ask what someone does for work, I’m *very* interested, but that’s because of what I do for work, and I *will* ask follow-up questions if the person is amenable to them. But I am weird. :)

      But I have a number of disabled friends who can’t work, some of whom had to leave behind much-loved careers, and a lot of other friends who are underemployed or working in jobs that they hate that aren’t what they trained for, and it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that at any time probably half the people one meets are in your or analogous situations. Instead of “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” I try to remember to ask things like “What do you do for fun?” If work comes up, that’s great–I am endlessly interested–but I’m also happy to learn about your volunteer work with octopodes as part of the getting-to-know-you process.

      1. Jules the First*

        I like “what’s keeping you busy these days?” because it gives conversation partners the option to answer about their work if they really want to, or something more personal if they prefer.

    5. KatieKate*

      A former boss of mine used to ask “what’s your story?” or “what are you working on?” to give people the option to answer work/non work answers. I picked it up, and it always gets much more interesting answers!

    6. Beancounter in Texas*

      My work is an integral part of my identity, and I do understand that not everybody feels this way, but it’s one of my most asked questions. It’s also why I turned down a really appealing bookkeeper job at a gentleman’s club – I couldn’t imagine telling my mother where I worked or having her come pick me up for lunch.

  44. Kit*

    I’m so blue collar my name is embroidered on my shirt, so I do know what it’s like to work a job that isn’t world-changing. But the thing is, people don’t care that much about how important your job is or isn’t. People like to ask me about my job because they’re often never really talked to someone who does it.

    Of course, I like my job, so I like talking about it. But since your hobbies boring to you, make it a boring conversation topic and bring up something you do like talking about, like, “Oh, I’m working as an admin assistant. I like the hours since it gives me a lot of time to work on my rice sculptures.”

    1. Tuesday Next*

      It really depends what you mean by changing the world.

      My work involves making systems and apps useful and easy to use. I’m not doing anything dramatic or newsworthy but I know that I can make someone’s day better by designing a better system.

      I suspect your work is similar. Making one person’s day better *is* changing the world, in a small way.

      1. Kit*

        Well, I’m a butcher, so you could (and some do!) argue that I’m making the world a little worse each day.

        But I get what you’re saying and I do find meaning in my work. I get to educate my customers about the food industry and help them make more sustainable choices.

  45. Not Today Satan*

    I feel this. I used to work for a foreclosure firm (a law firm that represents mortgage companies in foreclosure) which upset me ethically, but maybe even worse was my embarrassment about it. I’ve always run in idealist/lefty circles, so I felt a ton of shame about it, and I DREADED people asking me what I did.

    But (and I think this applies to most things people feel self conscious about)… no one cared. I’d say “I work at a law firm”, dread the follow up question (“what kind of law firm?”) and I seriously don’t think it EVER came. People just weren’t curious enough to probe.

    I know this is different than the LW’s situation, but I think the same principle applies– people probably don’t care what you do. I know tons of creative, smart people in low level or boring jobs. It is what it is. Worst case, you can just say “Oh I do X, but it’s boring” or in some way indicate that you don’t want to talk about work.

  46. Hiring Mgr*

    “I’m hear to have REAL conversations, not engage in pointless small talk…Now tell me your deepest fears”

    1. cutie honey*

      not even joking, this a way better icebreaker than “so what do you do?” and i am stealing it for my next social enagement

      1. Not Today Satan*

        If someone asked me what my biggest fear was as an ice breaker I would promptly find a new conversation partner.

        1. Snark*

          Seconded. My reply would probably be “Being asked what my greatest fear is! NOW EXCUSE ME I MUST REFRESH MY DRINK.”

        2. cutie honey*

          if you’d rather wax poetic about tps reports go ahead! but i’m here to probe your inner psyche and eat some canapes, not necessarily in that order!

    2. Lissa*

      “My deepest fear is that I’m going to try to make small-talk with someone and they’re going to ask me my deepest fear . . .”

  47. Panda*

    When I was embarrassed about my job, I played up the fact that it wasn’t stressful and left me with plenty of mental and physical energy for my volunteer work, which I am very passionate about. My volunteer work made me feel like my life had a purpose and fulfilled me in ways my job didn’t.

  48. I heard it both ways*

    Most people don’t really care that much about what you do – it’s just an easier opener to start a conversation. My job is kinda boring and most people don’t get it so I just say that I work in computers, on the mainframes and then ask them what they do or ask them something else to pivot the conversation to a different topic. Rarely do they ask me more questions after that.

  49. Nessun*

    When I was first starting out in a new job I hadn’t planned for (but took for the benefits), I was a little sad that it wasn’t in my field or what I considered “meaningful work”. I took a vacation 3 months after I started, and an older stranger at a party asked me what I did. I answered, “Oh, I’m just a receptionist” – and he spent the next hour explaining to me why to Never Ever Ever say you’re “just” something. He felt that all work had value, and that as long as I was doing my work to the best of my abilities, I should be proud of it. Never mind that I fell into it, or that I studied something else, or that it wasn’t work that would save the world – do a job, do it well, and know that it’s not ever all there is to a person. I took his words to heart – and I did my job, did it well, and found value in that, and in the life I lead. (Incidentally, I never left the job – I moved up year over year and now I’m a C-Suite EA with 15 years behind me with the same firm, and I love what I do!)

  50. bunniferous*

    When I got married decades ago I was working a temporary job at a company that made sandwiches for convenience stores. My husband to me sent in a blurb to one of the newspapers we were announcing our wedding in (is that still a thing?) and for my job he put down I was an *assembly technician*. When I confronted him he just shrugged and said I assembled sandwiches.

    There are many ways of handling this but to be serious for a moment what I would say is that right now you are working at (whatever the job is) as your day job but your passion is blahblahblah….I am now in a career finally but sometimes a job is just a job and I refuse to wrap my identity in either. If you project the right attitude you will be fine.

  51. Erin*

    Oh gosh, I sympathize. I was in secretary/receptionist/admin roles for nine years after college before finally landing a job in my field (writing).

    A couple of years after graduating from college one of my professors was retiring and one of her former students organized a dinner for her and I was invited. I drove over three hours to go to this dinner to hear about how my former classmates were teachers and were otherwise thriving in life after college in ways I at the time couldn’t even fathom.

    When asked what I did I said, “Oh, I’m just a secretary right now.” My former professor smiled at me and said, “Don’t say ‘just!’”

    I always kept that in mind going forward and tried to say my title clearly and firmly, resisting the urge to squirm away from it. Sometimes I would add additional information like, “I’m a secretary for financial firm, we deal with venture capital and private equities.”

    Later when I switched jobs I could say, “I’m an administrative assistant for a farmers market, but I also do their newsletter and wear a lot of hats.”

    Later when I again switched jobs and started freelancing I could say, “I’m an admin at an accounting firm and I also freelance for X newspaper and Y magazine.”

    So, two pieces of advice here: I’d practice saying your role with confidence, even if you don’t feel it, and I’d add any additional information you feel might be relevant that could step it up a notch.

    Maybe something like, “I’m a receptionist for marketing company that does really great work for our clients, and I’ve also been volunteering with X organization.”

    1. Goodluck!*

      Ooo, this is great advice! Lots of jobs are very important, like admins or secretaries, but the title itself doesn’t get that across. Way to go on finding a way to be so confident in yourself!

    2. Merci Dee*

      I have learned over the years that there’s no such thing as “just” a secretary, administrative or executive assistant, receptionist, or office manager. Some (naturally not all, but some) others tend to look down on these people, but it’s been my experience that this mindset is absolute insanity. In the vast majority of companies, the men and women who fill these positions are the ones who know where the bodies are buried – they know much more about what’s going in the workplace than I ever did in my accounting positions. They were the first ones to hear about new or departing employees, changes in procedure, changes in vendors for everything from office supplies to snacks, and everything else that went on at work. Their job descriptions may have been considered humble, but they were the ones that usually kept the wheels from falling off the bus because they were involved in so many different aspects of the business. I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some truly amazing admin support people, and I do whatever I possibly can to make their lives easier when they have to come to me for assistance instead of the other way around.

      For all the administrative employees out there who ever wonder if what you’re doing makes a difference, please know that it certainly does! No matter how small your tasks, no matter how routine your work, there are people that notice and that are fully aware that they couldn’t do what they do without your dedication and effort. I couldn’t have succeeded in my career to date without the wonderful direction and help of a number of admin support staff, and I am grateful that some of them went out on a limb to help me when they certainly didn’t have to.

  52. Goodluck!*

    I can really relate to this one, because I was in a job I didn’t like for a while because my spouse was in a place for work.

    I think you need to start thinking about what you want to do in the future with your career. It sounds like you’re okay right now, but that you want to be somewhere else, and you’ll feel better once you’re headed towards that. Going back to school? Applying for other jobs? Even just focusing on activities outside of work, such as volunteering? Whatever makes you feel like you’re moving towards the future you want. Because then you can say, “Oh, right now I’m working as a , since it was what I found first when I got here. But I’ve got plans to and I’m really excited about that!” Or – “Oh, I work as a , but my passion lately has been refinishing furniture!”

    I think in these situations it’s easy to blame our self-esteem, and while that’s a part of it, it’s understandable that you’re not happy in a career you don’t want! So remember, your feelings are *totally reasonable*. This isn’t a problem in your self-esteem, necessarily (though if it is, “The Self-Esteem Workbook” is a great buy!), but a problem in your career – you don’t currently have the career you want. What can you do to feel better about your life as it is right now? Once you feel like you’re on the road to where you want to be, even if it’s slowly, it’ll really help you feel better about the present.

    Also, specifically – his coworkers could not care less what you do beyond politely asking, your family and friends will love you no matter what. You’re almost certainly more worried about your career than they are. Which means you can easily get out of these questions too – “Oh, I’m currently doing , which was all I found after we moved – but who wants to talk about work when we’re out, I’ve been obsessing over refinishing furniture lately!”

    Good luck OP! :)

    1. Goodluck!*

      Oh no, I guess I formatted things in a way that wasn’t acceptable, and my blanks got lost. After ” But I’ve got plans to “and “Oh, I work as a” and “Oh, I’m currently doing” should have more readable “insert job/plan here.” Oops!

  53. Reframer*

    As other commenters have suggested re-framing things in your own head recognizing that your job title doesn’t in any way define who you are as a person. As long as you aren’t scamming people or like a loan shark enforcer or something a job done well whether its scraping gum off the bottom of tables or whatever is something to be proud of. I found the book Every Good Endeavor to be helpful in seeing the value of work no matter what that work is. (It does come at the topic from a Christian perspective so just FYI) I plan to re-read it this year.

    I’ve recently stopped asking people what they do in those small talk social interactions and started asking people what keeps them busy. If they choose they can use that opening to talk about their career or hobby or kids that’s all fine by me. Its something that I feel like it doesn’t assume “job” as much.

  54. CatCat*

    I think developing a script in advance and using some suggested here may help you preparing to handle questions (and being prepared may help with the anxiety), but if the anxiety continues, I’d suggest working with a counselor to help you work through the anxieties.

  55. Murphy*

    OP, I sympathize. I was in that boat for a number of years, so I can really relate. I’ve dreaded those types of conversations too. So I don’t have a lot of advice, but I know how you feel.

    For me it was a nonprofit and, while I cared about the organization as a whole, I didn’t really like my job, plus it was fairly low skill and definitely low paying. I had been trying on and off to get something, so even talking about work at all just made me feel really shitty. And sometimes people would hear where I worked and go “Oh you must LOVE working there” and I would just say “Eh, it’s a job…” or “It has it’s ups and downs.”

    It’s unfortunate that it’s such a go-to ice breaker question because for a lot of people, their job is a way to earn money and that’s it. I think it’s fine to give a brief explanation so that you’re not ignoring the question and then change the subject. Even a “Oh, let’s not talk about work…” can be OK. Good luck!

  56. Matilda*

    Honestly, my first job out of college I showed open disdain for when people asked about it – maybe not the best course of action, but I was fairly miserable. However, once I went back to school (the field I’m in requires an advanced degree), I would steer the conversation to that (I work at x, but I’m currently in school to become y). Before that I tried to focus on the people I worked with; my boss was wonderful, I had kind coworkers, and my interactions with clients were overall pleasant (also, usually stating that I was figuring out what to do next).

    And, there is nothing wrong with a job just being a job. People need to make a living and pay bills and just being happy to be gainfully employed and able to do those things is more than fine!

  57. earl grey aficionado*

    I’ll be following this thread closely since I’m in a similar situation…I write romance and erotica (especially erotica) under pen names for a living, which can be awkward to explain. Worsening the awkwardness is that my college coursework prepared me for a much more prestigious career that, due to my disability, I’ve decided not to pursue.

    My tip (to paraphrase evergreen AAM advice) is that people will take their cues from you, so try and project the kind of response you’d like reflected back. If you’d prefer a joke-y response, practice saying a few light-hearted jokes about your job in the mirror, especially before parties–people will pick up that cue. If joking is painful, practice a few casual subject-changing responses instead.

    I think dealing with a jerk or two is inevitable since, well…people are weirdly superior about career choices. But I think taking this approach reduces the window of opportunity for jerks, and it’ll make it *really* obvious to everyone else that they’re being jerks. Hope this helps!

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Embrace it! For one thing, actually earning a living as a writer is a rare achievement. For another thing, it’s a really memorable line of work and a great topic for any party worth going to. Unless, of course, you’re getting stuck with really prudish people at parties, in which case you should seek out more open minded people to spend time with.

    2. Rainy*

      I think making a living as a writer is pretty freaking prestigious, especially given the difficulty of making that actually work!

    3. earl grey aficionado*

      Just to clarify–“making a living” for me means making enough to supplement my partner’s more substantial income, so thankfully the viability threshold is lower. (I’m making more than I’d get on disability, at least!) It’s not so much that *I’m* embarrassed as that there are awkward conversations with former classmates, professors, etc. who are sad I didn’t pursue my former career choice. My close friends all think it’s pretty rad and I’m happy where I’m at. :) But thank you!

      1. Rainy*

        I did advanced degrees in a humanities discipline that I subsequently realized had No Jobs (like, my bff got one of the three tenure-track jobs in our field in her first market year, and she’s the only classmate of mine across two grad programs and 9 combined years who managed it–she is a precious unicorn of a scholar, and also had to move to another country for it), and I think there are probably people I went to school with and professors etc who are sad I’m “not living up to my potential” or whatever, but I have a job I really enjoy and am somehow good at, live in a beautiful city, and get to leave work at work, which none of my closest friends (professor, lawyer, professional musician) get to do.

        1. earl grey aficionado*

          @Rainy: This is so applicable, thanks for sharing. My undergrad degree heavily emphasized academic research, and I had a lot of talent at it–I think everyone assumed I was going to be a “unicorn” who’d go straight to grad school and thrive there, but I knew I couldn’t keep up the workload. Hence my current situation.

          Which leads to a second piece of advice for the OP: getting your self-worth all tangled up in your job and your “potential” can be devastating if your career takes a turn. (It’s made my own disability tougher to swallow, for sure.) I know your situation is not ideal, but you now have a golden opportunity to build up self-worth in other spheres of your life: hobbies, family, volunteering, local politics, whatever. That way you have an easy “pivot” topic (or several!) when work comes up.

          1. Rainy*

            I’m really glad. I think it’s awfully common for people who are good at the coursework of some fields to get pushed through the grad school pipeline without any acknowledgement from the people urging them to do the master’s, do the PhD, that there’s probably not going to be a tenure-track job on the other end of that pipeline. “Career” is practically a dirty word for a lot of humanities faculty, and that’s a shame, because there are so many applications for having done graduate-level work and research outside of academia–but it helps if you know that a Plan B or Plan C is going to be necessary and are taking the various opportunities that are offered along the way to maximize your marketability after school. Leaving academia was super hard for me–it really did knock my identity and self-worth off its foundation, and it took me a while to recover from that.

    4. boo*

      Serious suggestion, earl grey aficionado, if the issue is saying that you write erotica specifically: hide behind the nom de plume! “I write fiction under a pen name,” then when inevitably asked follow-up questions, “Ah, that’s what the pen name is for!” or “It’s really important to me to stay anonymous, so I don’t like to talk about it,” or some other mysterious thing.

      If you’d rather not sound eccentric, or you think people will guess it’s erotica, you could also say, “I write fiction, but my name isn’t on it, so I can’t really talk about it.” I don’t know what your publishing situation is, but this is the model under which long-running series like “Goosebumps”, “Sweet Valley High”, and others operate, and if you’re vague about it, you can sort of hint that you write something like that.

      I used to be a ghostwriter, which is the coolest sounding job ever, but had me doing some projects that were actually the coolest ever, and some that… were not. Regardless, I was always able to tell people, “I can’t talk about my work.”

      1. earl grey aficionado*

        Lol, I’m A-OK with sounding eccentric, so a variation on this is usually what I share in social situations! I self-publish, which has its own stigma (though it’s an extremely viable model in the romance/erotica world), so it’s just easier to leave it at “under a pen name, can’t talk about it” and call it a day. Though if I’m in more relaxed company, I’m happy to crack jokes about the general subject matter–people’s first impression of me tends to be very straight-laced, so it’s fun to see the reaction. ;)

        1. boo*

          Ha, I think being okay with sounding eccentric might be a prerequisite for a writer, at least in fiction. And yeah, I’ve not written much in the erotica genre, but from friends who do my impression is that self-publishing is by far the better path, if what you want is to make money and have people read your work.

          Actually, (and I know you didn’t ask advice on this, but it just occurred to me) that’s a tidbit that you could probably mention if anyone is snotty about the self-publishing thing: “Actually, with erotica, self-publishing is where the money is-the way readers consume it means that you can actually lose out on a lot of revenue if you go through a traditional publisher.”

          But possibly you already do that! Also it’s not helpful in circumstances where you’re not revealing the genre. /advicebot

  58. M*

    OP, you should give yourself much more credit, you are out there working and supporting yourself while there are many people who have the ability to work and choose not to. I have a close personal relation who openly brags that they refuse to work and instead draws on unemployment and welfare, and feels they are ‘duping’ the system to their advantage. I cringe every time I hear them boast they are getting free money, and everyone with a college degree working for a living isn’t too intelligent. Don’t be embarrassed by any job, there’s always an opportunity to learn something or network.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      Your close personal relation is extremely unusual. People “duping” the system are very rare, and frankly are probably making more work for themselves doing that than they would just getting a job, given how difficult it can be to actually access social benefits.

  59. Gaming Teapot*

    I would be absolutely honest about it and simply say:

    “I recently switched fields and I haven’t quite figured out where I want to be going in the long run, so for now I’m working at company X, doing Y. I know it’s not very glamorous, but the people are great, the pay is alright for what the job is, and it gives me time to figure out what I really want to do.”

    That way, you address any concerns that people may voice up-front and you make clear that this is just temporary, but you also see the good things coming with this job (never underestimate what a blessing nice co-workers are!). Unless all your acquaintances are over-achieving snobs, they will probably be understanding of this.

    For context: I have a BA and two Masters and my first job out of university was in a call center, doing night and weekend shifts, to save up money for moving to another continent. Everyone from my family to my boss knew that that job was only a filler for me and no-one had any problems with that.

  60. Jana*

    Both my professional and personal circumstances are not in a positive place and I’m embarrassed to be in the position I am in, so I have some experience with this situation. People often ask pretty probing questions about others, which is especially off-putting when the questioner is someone you don’t know well or someone who gives clear signals that he/she is making judgment calls about you. Sometimes it’s OK to say no to social events because they aren’t worth the stress, but there are definitely events that you won’t want to (or aren’t able to) miss—the key is just to make sure you aren’t missing out on parties, etc. that you actually WANT to attend. The best solution I’ve found is to redirect the conversation. You can provide some details about your work, but since it’s not the thing that is most interesting to you in life, redirect the conversation to talk about what IS important to you: maybe you have a hobby that you’re dedicating more time to, a class you’re taking, a sport you participate in, or a place you’re volunteering. Just because someone else wants to focus on your professional life doesn’t mean that’s what you have to talk about. Sometimes people will want to steer you toward career because that’s what they care about, but sometimes people just bring up the topic because they view it as an easy conversation starter.

    It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to measure yourself by what’s important to others (or what you perceive as important to them). Obviously, if you are unhappy in your own situation, that’s something to work on, but don’t count yourself out based on what someone else may think is “success”. People have different paths and there is no rule (despite how society may seem at times) that dictates that your perceived professional success is the most important thing about you. Some people build their lives around their jobs, but that doesn’t automatically make them more important, more interesting, or more successful than someone who hasn’t thrown all in to a particular career. There are myriad ways to contribute and to build a fulfilling life. Chances are you have a hobby/interest/etc. that is indeed interesting and worth discussing with others.

  61. metoo*

    I hear you. I’m embarrassed that after 6 years of college education, I still am just a secretary. And always will be.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Aww, secretary does important work (or else companies wouldn’t pay for it!) and a good one is worth their weight in gold. And I definitely know EAs and office managers who are highly valued and make a ton of money. I thought Erin’s comment above did a nice job reframing this.

    2. Rainy*

      Admins make the office go ’round.

      As was made painfully clear to me recently when our admin was on vacation and we ran out of AA batteries for computer peripherals and no one knew how or from whom to order new ones.

    3. goodluck*

      First off, no reason to think “just” a secretary. Second, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do anything else. Maybe not exactly what you wanted, but certainly something else!

  62. LawPancake*

    I used to work in foreclosures on the bank’s side and I just came up with polite euphemisms like that I worked in loan compliance or something.

  63. cheeky*

    I think the most important thing to do in this endeavor is decouple you and your self-worth from what you do for a living. In our culture, we tend to conflate a person’s profession with their value as a person, which is a toxic mentality, in my opinion. Your job does not have to define you, but it sounds like right now, you think it will reflect badly on you. If you can develop a script about your job, in which you describe it in a matter-of-fact way (it doesn’t have to sound glamorous), and practice saying it using a nonchalant tone of voice, you may desensitize yourself and your own feelings about your job in a way that achieves what you want. Most jobs are not exciting or exotic or will make you rich, and sometimes even people in those kinds of jobs are loathe to disclose their jobs to people- for example, maybe they work in pharmaceutical sales or finance (two well-paid, professional jobs) and don’t like the reactions they get when they tell people what they do. I work for a utility company, and I’m very proud of the work I do, and sometimes, when I tell people what I do, they’re interested, other times they just want to complain about my company, and other times, I can see their eyes start to glaze over. You just can’t take it personally, and that takes some practice.

  64. I Feel You!*

    I agree with all the folks who have said that people are just looking to make conversation — if you give a vague answer and then deflect with a question about some non-work related topic, I think most people will go there with you. It might even make for better small talk than most people normally have!

    When I was in a similar position to you, I also found it helpful to remind myself that people didn’t really care about my exact title or responsibilities, and I could just talk about the things about my job that I did enjoy. It didn’t make my feelings go away, but hopefully it can keep from being so paralyzed by embarrassment that you are missing out on social opportunities that could enrich your life!

  65. Doroka*

    Hi OP,
    I can relate because being a foreigner, my visas are dependent on my job contracts, so I’ve always had less choice (and stricter time deadlines) for finding really good jobs I truly like. I live in a country well known for being a Welfare State with protectionists labour laws and aids, so usually natives really take their time to choose the ideal job while staying at their parents’ or touring the world. For cultural and administrative reasons I’ve never had this luxury and I’m currently underemployed.

    I think the best thing you could do socially is say you are looking for X but right now you are doing Y to feel and convey the fact that it was your decision -which is true! Many people will relate to wanting to feel useful and busy, especially in a new town you are settling in. It also means you are not lazy and that you really like to work; that you need to be independent…whether it’s true or not. These elements could also be seen in a very positive light in future professional interviews, unless you are writing from the country I’m in where you tend to be put in a box to stay in the box by employers, ouch!

    Personally, I’ve considered this year as a slow year at work and signed up for an Online Masters, I’m working towards my driver’s license and maybe the diving one as well, sports, volunterring and getting a cat this weekend :D I’m enjoying it because it’s not supposed to last all my life.

  66. Maya Elena*

    I’d say, if you don’t make it awkward, few others will.

    But also, I’d find a boring, familiar way to describe your job and company that lets you navigate the small talk and not bring it up again.

    E.g., I’m an “Analyst” (my favorite word) for Familiar Corporation INc., a nonprofit, Orange County Govt, a defense contractor (the latter are especially good if you work for an awkward activity, e.g. corrections, sanitation, cemetery).

  67. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    I haven’t particularly loved most of my jobs (and a couple of the ones I started out loving ended up being really boring toward the end). The way I’ve usually presented it if people ask if I like my work, etc. is “Eh, it’s a paycheck. But I love my company/boss/the insurance/half days on Friday/insert something that I really do like about the company here.”

    A LOT of jobs aren’t callings or passions; they’re ways to earn a living. And that’s totally okay. I know it may not be where you want to be right now — and my hope for you is certainly that you’re able to eventually do what you really want to do — but there’s no shame in working a job just to work a job.

    I worked retail for years and initially felt a bit of shame about it. But, it was an honest living, the company I worked for was great, and I actually learned a lot through cross training in different positions. It certainly wasn’t a dream nor were a lot of my talents/skills being used, but it put food on the table and wasn’t terrible the majority of the time. I finally realized if people wanted to look down on me for working my butt off for my paycheck just because I wasn’t in an office, that was on them. I was doing what I needed to to make a living.

  68. Naomi*

    It’s unclear from the letter whether anyone has actually been unkind about your job in the past, but if not, it sounds like you’re projecting your own feelings of shame onto people who don’t really care about your job and just want to make polite small talk. It’s unlikely that anyone else is judging you as much as you’re judging yourself!

    Most people probably won’t press too hard if you give a quick factual answer and then turn the subject back to them. (“I work in teapot sales. But I hear you’re a llama groomer, tell me all about that.”) If someone does ask follow-up questions, I second the advice to focus on something you like about your job: “It’s not very exciting, but the hours are great and my coworkers have been so welcoming.”

  69. JB (not in Houston)*

    This is a reminder to people to develop other bland small talk topics to start conversation.

    Yes, any topic could be potentially a land mine you have no way of knowing you’re about to step on, but it’s so so so so common for people to not want to be asked about their jobs. And it’s for lots of different reasons, from being unemployed to feeling embarrassed to not wanting to hear the inevitable lawyer jokes (in my case). I don’t like being asked because people don’t seem to understand my job and get bored by me trying to explain it, so it kills conversation rather than facilitates it. It’s a kindness to have different ways to move a conversation along and more likely to get you interesting conversation that everyone is happy to participate in.

    1. The IT Manager*

      True. It’s usually just small talk. It’s one of the main go to small talk questions in the US. Though I’ve heard that it is considered impolite in France to ask this. I think the commetariet’s consensus to develop a quick reply that moves into something you’re happy to talk about is the right one.

      I’m trying to shift from asking people what they do. I ask where they live since neighborhoods are distinct where I live. I ask what their plans are for the weekend or how do they spend their free time. I ask why they moved here since there are many transplants. “What’s your passion?” was tried and discarded because many people don’t think in terms of that.

      You are more than your job. I hope it is allowing you the work-life balance to explore what your long terms goal are. As that picture gets clearer, I hope you’ll be enthusiastic to chat about your journey with people, but you certainly don’t have to share more than you want.

      1. Jessica*

        When I lived in France, one day at the office I was chatting with coworkers about how everyone’s weekend was, and one of my French coworkers told a story about how she’d gone to a party, and someone she met at the party and was talking to had asked her what she did (what her job was). She was completely taken aback, because that was not normal. In telling us about it, she was clearly critical of the guy—the tone was like, what a weirdo, can you believe he asked me about my job when we met socially, who DOES that? I’m American so to me this was a fascinating window into her cultural perspective. It made me extremely envious!

    2. boo*

      I wish that I had more things at the tip of my brain for this-I try to avoid asking people about work, because I really do feel gross about the way our culture pushes the narrative that You Are Your Job, but the question is deeply ingrained in our national vocabulary (for lack of a better term).

      If anyone has suggestions I’d be thrilled to hear them. I usually ask people at a gathering how they know other people at a gathering; how long they’ve been in our city (I live in a big city with lots of transplants); how long they’ve been in the neighborhood. “What do you do for fun or profit?” is occasionally amusing, but it throws people off, and if I were asked just “What do you do for fun?” I’d be a bit thrown myself-the answers aren’t that interesting.

      “What is your greatest fear?” as suggested above, would make me think the asker was planning to arrange for it to happen, and “Tell me about yourself,” makes me think I accidentally stumbled into the wrong psychologist’s office.

      “What do you do?” is just as bad as any of the above, of course. Maybe we should all just go up to people and start talking about ourselves.

  70. Natalie*

    Sympathies! I’ve been there, both when I didn’t like my job and now when I do but I have a job that is a Boring Job trope (accountant). The former was definitely harder because I was judging myself more than I was being judged by others. Which isn’t to say that no one judges you for your job, but I was definitely adding to that feeling with a lot of projection.

    My personal preference is to keep things general and then deflect to something you do care about and feel proud of. Maybe that’s your background or preferred industry – hey, you never know who you’re talking to and what connections they have. Or maybe its a hobby or volunteer gig or dog training achievement. If you feel like you don’t have anything to deflect to, maybe it’s time to start volunteering or baking cakes as a side gig or taking a class. Having something outside of work can make it much easier to just put your head down and work when you have to.

    Or if you’d prefer to keep the focus off yourself, you could be a little dismissive of your job (not self-deprecating, mind you) and then turn it back to the other person. Something like “oh, I’m at Teapots, Inc for now. Kinda boring actually. Tell me about your llama farm?” in a casual tone won’t register to practically anyone, and most people love talking about themselves so the other person will probably pick up the ball and run with it.

  71. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    “Well, my background is in llama wrangling, but I haven’t had much luck finding anything in that industry since we moved here, so for the time being I’m working in hamster grooming. It pays the bills.” *smile, shrug*

  72. Bird Person*

    I’m not embarrassed by my job, but compared to most of my social circle (who tend to work in creative fields), I definitely have much more of a regular, pay-the-bills job. I like the work and the office culture, and I’m good at it; since I’m usually connecting with people over interests that have nothing to do with work, I often use all of that as a positive, with a focus on how it allows me to work on my own passion projects & have a rich non-work life.

    These are two of my go-to lines – feel free to borrow as needed:
    “I have god’s own day job – it never keeps me up at night!”
    “I work with really nice people, and I don’t wish I was dead on Sundays – what more could you ask for?”

    And OP, don’t be embarrassed – work is work, and anyone who’s actually snobbish about how you earn your living has revealed themselves as a jerk!! ;)

    1. Rafflesia Reaper*

      Is “god’s own day job” a reference to something? It sounds vaguely badass but I don’t get it.

      1. Bird Person*

        Haha – thanks! I think I heard the expression a while back, used to mean that something is really excellent, and just went with it ;)

  73. sometimeswhy*

    I have a job that people tend to Feel Very Strongly About one way or another. I have been cornered at parties by people who love what I do and by people who think I am the actual Devil. Both are exhausting so I don’t talk about work much in public or to strangers or to friends of friends anymore.

    My default response is “Oh, I work in [baaaaaaarely detailed field*]. But I also volunteer at [well-known and beloved local institution]” and then I hold forth about my volunteer gig which I will talk about ALL DAY and never gets old to me and people either receive it warmly or get bored and wander off. There are people who I’ve known tangentially for years who will introduce me as “sometimeswhy who works at [volunteer gig]” and I always say “Mmhmm! I’ve been volunteering there for X years…” before I fix the poor new person with my unbridled enthusiasm.

    * like “children’s book publishing” or “environmental science” or “family law”

    1. Snark*

      I was once asked what I do at a party, and replied quite plainly that I was an environmental scientist. Guy flipped his lid about climate change and got in my face. Ended badly.

      1. Not that Anne, the other Anne*

        I have learned to just say I’m a generic scientist for that exact reason. My particular subfield has the word “eco” in it, so I get all the usual reactions to that.

      2. sometimeswhy*

        InDEED. You are welcome to sit next to me.

        Sometimes my brief description triggers the extremes on either end but I suspect those are the ones who would’ve gotten around to their pet conspiracy theory anyway and I just handed them a short cut.

  74. accidental manager*

    I remember no longer being able to say “I am a TeapotMaster” which had some intimidating hierarchical messages in it. I hated that it mattered – I hated that it mattered to ME. I found myself trying out “I used to be a TeapotMaster but right now I’m serving coffee” or “I work for a small local coffee company” or “I work part time in the coffee service industry right now – this gives me time to focus on my current passion of Tea Ceremonies. I love to attend them and I’m taking a class too.” If I had a partner or dependents when I was in that situation, I think I’d probably mention them, even though I hate reinforcing the idea that men have careers and women have lives in which jobs are not definitive. Like, “Before we moved here I was in teapot mastery, but while we’re getting settled here I’ve taken a break from that. One of the great things about this city that I’ve been enjoying is …” or “Back in England I was a Teapot Master, and my partner was home in the afternoons for Eustace and Jill. But this is such a great opportunity for him that all of us were excited about it. … Oh, I might go back to Teapot Master service later, we’re in no hurry to make changes … ”

    Nowadays, I have a set of answers that people are comfortable accepting (they’re all “what I do” phrases rather than “who I am” phrases) and I’m comfortable giving. It might not be as much that my job got more important-sounding in the meantime, but that I kind of got over feeling ashamed of not being a Teapot Master so it got easier to say. Mostly people don’t care; they’re looking for some shortcut descriptions of who I am and what to talk to me about, so I give them whichever easy one I feel like. (The timeconsuming hobby I couldn’t do while I was a Teapot Master is something I often throw in, and then we talk about that.)

  75. Media Monkey*

    honestly, people don’t care, they are just asking to be polite (I appreciate that you care and are conscious of it). most jobs nowadays aren’t easy to understand/ explain to someone outside of that industry. my answer is “i work in the media side of advertising” – if i say advertising, they think i create the ads, if I say media, they think I am a journalist –
    and people’s eyes glaze over as soon as i say it. “i work in finance/ engineering/ retail” if you are ok to mention the sector, or “admin/ HR/ accounting” if you prefer to mention the function. if you feel embarrassed you might say “i am currently doing x to fund my dream of rearing llamas/ going back to school to study teapot design” or “i used to glaze teapots and it’s an area i am looking to get back into”.

  76. AnonEMoose*

    There’s nothing to be ashamed of in doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay – even if that work isn’t what you’d prefer to be doing, or isn’t what you’d consider to be the best you’re capable of.

    If you’re looking for something you’re passionate about, maybe look into volunteer work in something you care about? My job is fine, I mostly like it – but it’s not my passion in life. I think that’s true for more people than you might realize. So, maybe just use some of the answers suggested above, and then steer the conversation elsewhere. It’s mostly just small talk, and most people aren’t going to be judgmental about it – those who are have told you far more about themselves than they have about you.

  77. Malibu Stacey*

    I agree with the others that I think people are just trying to show an interest by asking what you do.

    When I was in my mid-20’s, I went to Vegas with my then-boyfriend. One of the TSA people at the Vegas airport was a guy I went to high school with – in the midwest. I was really surprised to see him because it was so far away from home (this was before Facebook so I had no idea he lived there). I remember vividly that he said, “You might think this job is beneath me but I make a lot of money doing this.” It really made him seem like he had a chip on his shoulder because my surprise was really about running into him halfway across the country; it had nothing to do with the fact that he was working for TSA.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I was talking to someone recently about running into some college classmates when I was working retail, looking for a job after grad school. I was SO embarrassed about it; one day, there was this old friend of mine, obviously doing well, a junior associate in a big law firm, and she finds me slinging books. What on earth could she have thought of me???? I went out of my way to tell her I had just finished my MA and I was just working there to pass the time, blah blah blah.

      And you know what? I think she was just happy to see me. It had been 4 years and we’d lost touch, she was living in Dallas, and she had come into the bookstore to pass the time. It’s not a giant deal, but I am kind of sad now that I felt so defensive, especially since I loved that bookselling job and would still be doing it if it paid decently. I met such wonderful people there, co-workers and customers alike.

  78. DiaphanousOkapi*

    LW, I really feel for you and can relate to your situation a bit. I’ve had jobs that I’ve felt embarrassed to talk about with people, especially in social contexts where most people are working in fields I would love to be in (living in DC, it comes up a lot). Lots of people take a while to find their stride professionally, and I sympathize with the struggle during that time!

    One response that I’ve used when someone asks, “What do you do?” is to playfully ask, “What would you guess that I do?” It adds some levity to the situation and, if the person is game, invites them to engage with your personality a bit more. You may also get some insight into possible professions to explore as you seek the right fit. If multiple people guess that you’re a therapist, for example, maybe consider how you feel about pursuing that line of work.

    Other responses that I use:
    – very quick and broad description (job title, organization) and then IMMEDIATELY switch the conversation back to them
    – very quick and broad description (job title, organization), then “It’s not really where I see myself long-term, though, so I’m reassessing my strengths to figure out where I want to be!” then re-center the conversation on the other person, or change the subject
    – very quick and broad description (job title, organization), then “And how do you spend your time?”
    – very quick and broad description (job title, organization), then “But I like to spend my time doing XYZ”

  79. Linzava*

    I used to say, “I’m currently working as a (current role) but I’m a (previous role). This allowed for social events to double as networking opportunities. It also allows you to talk about what you’re passionate about. Any questions can easily be answered with,” My husband had an amazing opportunity, so we moved here.” It happens and people understand.

  80. Naomi*

    Ooh, I know how you feel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a party and had people literally just walk away. Party tactics I have used, “Oh, nothing I really feel like discussing at the moment.” “I do stuff.” “Just working for the money right now while I get my career in order.” Or “Hey, I moved across the country for my husband and I’m still getting my footing.

    Also, keep asking them questions to engage them in a conversation that takes you out into the bigger world and eventually from jobs. People love talking about themselves. Just keep asking questions.

    But honestly, what’s more important than figuring out what to say, is how you feel. You have a job. You are a contributing member of society. You made a bold choice by supporting your spouse and moving. YOUR JOB DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE. That is a lesson that has taken me years to learn. It’s changed everything for me. It’s who we are as individuals, how we interact with the world and how we treat others that matter. Right now you need to treat yourself as you want others to…with kindness and respect. You did a really good thing.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      People literally walk away when you tell them what you do for a living? Do you club baby seals for a living, or have you socialized with some awful people?

      I struggled in my career for years, and I found it was a good way to weed out opportunists and social climbers – frankly, I’d rather not hang out with people who are so hung up on jobs/money that they wouldn’t socialize with people who didn’t have a “good enough” job.

      1. GriefBacon*

        It happened to me a lot when I was in retail. A lot of it was the part of the country I was in (a prestigious research university employed 25% of my city), but I would meet people in bars, or at church, or randomly out and about and when they asked what I did for a living, the conversation would almost immediately end when I answered — probably 75% of the time. And this was in the recession — ie, when a lot more young people were underemployed/doing whatever job would hire us,

  81. July*

    I have been in a very similar situation: my spouse is very successful in a high prestige field. When we moved here I was working in a very junior role in a low prestige field, and I felt terrible about it for basically every reason one would. Here’s what helped me:
    *Working out a list of people who were exceptional but whose careers were occasionally crap. Albert Einstein made a pretty inept patent clerk, for instance. I’m no Albert Einstein, but, if he can have bad professional moments, it’s unremarkable that I should too.
    *I also thought a lot about the kinds of people who are really judgmental about junior teapot polishers, and concluded those people are jerks. Tea pots aren’t going to polish themselves, and these workers have value. In feeling a lot of shame about my job situation I was 1) being a jerk to myself and 2) assuming that other people were jerks too. Neither one of those habits is a good one, so I spent a lot of time muttering “don’t be or look for jerks” to work my way free of them.
    *I made a plan to improve my situation. Bad situations are so much more endurable when you know they’re temporary. This enabled me to say things like “Right now I’m working as a junior teapot polisher, while I pursue a career as a rice sculptor.”

  82. Cajun2core*

    Did I write this letter and not remember sending it in? I have been and still am in the exact same position because I was laid off. I was also unemployed for about a year. I went from making over $70,000 in a high-tech position to making $18,000 as an administrative assistant. My wife has a tenured faculty position so it is not like I can move to get a better paying and more prestigious job. It is tough. What I did was tell people the truth. I told them that I was in the tech field but had gotten laid off and was working as an administrative assistant until I could find something better. Most people were very understanding and those that weren’t, well frankly put, I didn’t even notice. They were at least nice enough to not be mean about it.

    There is no reason to be insecure. Just tell the truth. Say that you moved because of your spouse had a great opportunity (which is an honorable thing to do for you spouse) and that since you can’t really get back into the same field that you were in before, you took the first job you could get and that you are still trying to figure out and implement your new career path. It has only been a year. You have had many changes in the past couple of years and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking time to figure how the rest of our career life.

  83. ManyHats*

    Own it.
    I am the person who performs the initial phone interviews for my company, who has as one of our Core Values “We take pride and ownership in our work.” If you don’t show pride in what you’re doing even when what your doing is crap, then that counts against you. Working as a teapot scrubber when you really want to be a teapot analyst? That’s wonderful! I’m glad you’re eager to improve yourself. But if you are asked about what your responsibilities are/were at your currently or most recent employment, don’t brush off the question. Answer with something like “I scrubbed teapots. Before this job, I never knew how many nooks and crannies there were! I’ve earned a respect for all things teapot scrubbing and the people who do it.” Or something along those lines. Once you’ve fully answered the question, then go on to state what it is you’re really passionate about.

    1. ManyHats*

      Whoops, just realized my response was a bit off-topic since I was referring to job interviews and not social situations.

  84. B*

    Been there!! I would say “Oh I do x and y and in my spare time I like to do …”. A lot of people understand that you may not be passionate about your job, most people aren’t, but are doing it to have something to talk about. Instead of talking about your job you can talk about your hobbies, your travel, your favorite shows – something you do enjoy. It’s matter of changing to a subject you do enjoy.

  85. Former Retail Manager*

    Apologies for any repeats…haven’t read all prior comments yet.

    First and foremost, you are not your job. Your job does not define you. I think the issue here is how much pressure you are putting on yourself regarding the importance or lack thereof of your current position.

    I think it’s fine to say “I’m a teapot creator at XYZ corp. I love working there, but work isn’t my life (or something similar maybe if you can’t pull that statement off without sounding standoffish). I’m really passionate about saving cats/volunteering with the elderly/travel/etc.” And then jump into something you’ve done recently that you feel great about. It’ll give the person you’re speaking with a chance to discuss things that they are passionate about as well.

    As Alison has said before, many people just work at their job to pay the bills and fund their true interests/hobbies/passions and that is beyond fine. Your job doesn’t need to define you/save the world/be your biggest accomplishment/or be the most interesting thing about you. The less emphasis you put on it, the less emphasis others will put on it as well.

  86. dovidbawie*

    I’d recommend checking out the Ken Coleman Show—it’s a career advice podcast/radio show geared towards helping people figure out where their passions & talents intersect. He pretty much asks callers the same series of questions, so you could do the exercises yourself, but it’s also super insightful to listen him walk through it with others. It may not help with small talk, but could help you figure out career goals.

  87. Bess*

    I find my current job fulfilling but many previous jobs felt the same way as you, LW. There definitely WERE a few people in my life who judged those jobs–if it was “admin” it wasn’t good enough or whatever. Surprise, those people ended up not being super great friends or romantic partners! So I would say that if you’re getting those signals from people, try not to let their opinions overly eat away at you. And what others have said above is true–some won’t care as much as you think!

    Another thing–the primary thing is your own feelings about what you do. Until you resolve those, you’ll always feel weird talking about it to others, even others who couldn’t care less. There’s nothing wrong with a job that pays the bills. You are far more than your job!

    All that said–is there anything you can start doing to inform yourself of your options in this new line of work? Are there higher up positions (not necessarily at this company) that would provide meatier work?

  88. Jaybeetee*

    I’m a child of the recession (graduated 2008) and have had many jobs ranging from “not proud of” to “overqualified” to “this is terrible and I’m going to leave as soon as I find literally anything else.” It’s only in the last two years or so I’ve gotten jobs I feel good talking about in a crowd (I’m in my early 30s). Buuuut I’ve also learned that’s a bit of a dysfunction on my end. Very few people are actually judgmental about other people’s jobs. No one you meet at a party is going to go home later and say “OMG, do you BELIEVE Nancy works as a telemarketer? Let’s never invite her to anything again.” So when you’re getting so anxious about this situation that you’re considering staying home from social events, remember that really, very few people are going to actually be judgmental about this.

    That said, there are a few approaches you can take when actually asked. One is to just simply state what you do, then ask the person something else and move the conversation along. Another, as suggested above, could be to just say which company you work for, without getting into what you do. Or make a joke out of it, or own it and say something like “I took a telemarketing job to pay the bills when (Spouse) and I moved here. I’m still looking for something in my field.” But they’ll take their cues from you. If you’re visibly embarrassed/uncomfortable/upset, that will make the situation more awkward then the mere fact of you not having your dream job at this point in your life.

    You have nothing to be ashamed of. You took a job to pay the bills, and most people understand that. Many people end up there at some point or another in their careers. Instead of feeling embarrassed at not having something “better”, try to feel good about the fact that you’re doing what you gotta do to keep your household running, and that you’re not “above” certain work when it comes to supporting your family.

  89. Nicole Finkbeiner*

    In public relations, we use the AND idea to switch to something positive that you do want to talk about.

    For example:
    “My current role is x, AND I’m really enjoying this new volunteer project I got involved in recently……”
    “I’m currently doing x AND it’s giving me time to catch up on my reading, I’m currently reading this amazing book….”

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I do this with all kinds of stuff I’d rather not talk about. People have the conversational attention span of gnats, it basically always works.

  90. Aphrodite*

    I’m an admin assistant–not great and there are definitely people who look down on it and me for being one. But . . . I recently got transferred to a new boss and he is utterly, totally, completely fantastic. Dear god, it’s gone from being hell on earth to heaven on earth. I can add in how great he is and how much opportunity he gives me when I also tell them that I work for “adult ed” of our community college. If they want to know more, I can talk about all the great classes I help schedule..

  91. Kat*

    I was in a similar situation recently. We had moved to a new state and I was out of work for about a year and then worked part-time for another year for a neat company in a boring but low-stress job that I was very over-qualified for. (One of my kids had a really hard time adjusting to the move and needed support that full-time work wasn’t going to allow.) I found myself feeling embarrassed to tell people what I did too (even though I shouldn’t have been!). I tended to be vague and talk about the parts of the job I did enjoy – “a lot of admin stuff” or “support for marketing and production” instead of “receptionist for office where the phones rarely ring and no one visits”. When I started looking for full-time work I struggled a bit on how to talk about this period with employers, and worried it would make me seem aimless or flaky. I settled on something like “For the last two years I’ve been volunteering and working part-time as I’ve gotten to know the area. Now that [CITY] feels like home I’m ready to return to full time employment in [INDUSTRY], blah blah blah.” People seemed to accept that explanation positively and I even had interviewers tell me that it was a smart move because this area can be challenging for newcomers! I didn’t take me too long to get a good job offer and now I have a non-boring, moderate-stress job at a well-respected organization that I am well qualified for and also has room for me to learn a lot of new things!

  92. nnn*

    “What do you do?” is really code for “Give me a starting point for interesting conversation”. In general, asking about a person’s job achieves this because it tells me where they have expertise that I don’t have, and I can ask them questions that teach me about how the world works while making them feel smart.

    You can address this by directing the conversation towards something about yourself you’re interested in talking about:

    You: “My job is really boring, I’m an office clerk. But it has good work-life balance, so I have plenty of time to volunteer as a dog-walker at the animal shelter.”
    Me: “OMG doggies! Tell me everything!”


    You: “My job is really boring, I’m an office clerk. But the commute is easy, which is fantastic in this cold weather.”
    Me: “I know, right? I can’t remember the last time it’s been below -20 for so many days in a row!”

    You can also address this by expressing interest in your interlocutor’s job:

    You: “I’m an office clerk. You?”
    Me: “I’m a teapot maker.”
    You: “OMG, teapots! I love tea!”

    (Even if you’re not interested in teapots, in a turn or two of the conversation you can shift topics.)

    Also, your job might be genuinely interesting to people who aren’t familiar with it. The last person I talked to who seemed embarrassed about her job was doing blue-collar work in a field of construction that I’d never even heard of, and I genuinely wanted to know all about it. But she seemed reluctant to talk about it when faced with my white-collar work.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      This is how I see it too – It’s literally just small talk to find something to talk about; they aren’t there to grill you on your job.

      I had a job I liked but sounded boring to others (technical documentation editor for an obscure software program). I always say something like: “I write help documents for a software – and my work day ends at 3:30!” and then we’d talk about how cool that is and the things I have time to do in the afternoons and what would they do with that time?

    2. Squeeble*

      This! I completely get that people get uncomfortable with the question, for various reasons: you don’t like your job, don’t want it to place a value judgment on you in society, it’s mind-numbingly boring, and so on. But you’re right, it’s just a starting point. You’re not required to go on at length about the way you make money if you don’t want to.

    3. Christmas Carol*

      Remember, “What do you do?” is just the grown-up’s version of the old snappy line: “What’sYourNameWhere’sYourHometownWhat’sYourMajor?” everybody chants at their first seven-hundred-forty-two mixers during freshman college orientation. And it’s just about the same in importance.

  93. Jules the Third*

    OP, it sounds like you don’t want / need advice on how to respond (“I can give a bland enough answer to not reveal my insecurities”) but rather, how to deal with *your feelings* about the job ([anticipating being asked about my job] makes me depressed and anxious about social situations).

    I have so been there done that – I’m diagnosed with OCD and managing my anxiety has been a decade-long struggle. As you see from the comments, you have a lot of company.

    This is something where you’ll have to experiment to find out what works for you, and I’m actually going to channel a different advice site in giving you ideas – Captain Awkward (side note: my god would I love to see a team up with AAM, CA and Dear Prudence, where they guest post on various letters)

    First: Be thankful that the end of the year party blitz is behind us. Deep breath, hold for a count of 6, let it go, thinking about how you don’t have to face anything that intense until summer! Months and months away!

    Second: Build a strong Team You – certainly your spouse, hopefully members of your family, friends you want to catch up with, or people you already know at a party. Consider a therapist or life coach to help you manage your feelings of anxiety – I reach out to a pro when my feelings interfere with real life, which in your case is ‘have avoided parties’.

    Enlist some of them as your shields.
    * Tell your spouse and family that you trust in advance what you’ve told us.
    * Maybe ask a chatty family member or friend to spread some positive news, a week or two before a family gathering, that you want to talk about (eg, we just moved to Place and got a Pet!) – that can help crowd out ‘what job are you doing these days’ conversations. You don’t need to tell them about your anxiety, just call them up with some news.
    * For work gatherings (yours or spouse’s), don’t tell people about the anxiety, but try to find people you’ve already met, who’ve already had the job conversation with you, and ask them questions about their interests. Spend time at the party deepening existing acquaintances instead of meeting new.

    Third: Consider asking your regular doctor for a health panel. My OCD became unmanageable after I had a kid, and the biggest help (after talk therapy) has been treating my hypothyroidism and low vitamin D, both of which can be tested. D’s especially important in the US in winter.

    Anxiety is, iirc, the number one negative emotion people in the US deal with (yes, assuming you are US). You’re not alone, and there are ways to deal with it.

    My gut and experience say that you are feeling anxiety and your feelings have decided to focus on your job as the reason. The job is actually going ok, but anxiety likes to have a hook to hang its hat on.

    Good luck and internet hugs to you.

    1. OP*

      Thanks very much, you’re exactly right. I’m very insecure about my self-worth, and my job is a constant reminder that I’m not doing as well as I think I should be. I feel like I don’t add anything to the world – anyone could do my job, and it’s not even that intrinsically valuable (even to my company, though they do keep paying me so I guess they think it’s worth it somehow). I feel like if I had a more challenging or fulfilling job I would feel better about myself in general, but I don’t know how to get there and haven’t really had the energy to try – it’s just so overwhelming to figure out what a fulfilling career would look like and what I could actually become qualified for.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Yeah, I know the feeling. I got lucky – I’m smart enough / privileged enough to get an MBA and then I stumbled into a job that lets me support recycling computers for a fortune 100 company – so, get my green on *and* get paid well for it. I still feel bad for not being more politically active, but being the main breadwinner limits some of my options and time availability.

        There’s other paths, though.

        *IF* you feel up to it, consider volunteering. I’m not religious or particularly handy, but in the US, Habitat For Humanity is a great volunteer opportunity. It’s well-run, sustainable, fairly quick gratification, huge impact, and you can be really flexible with your commitment. Red Cross is not as well run (donations to clients-wise), but their on-the-ground people get great training and are actually helpful. Big Brothers / Big Sisters is a bigger commitment, and big impact if you can stay with it for a while.

        Or just take some classes for fun – a foreign language or economics (yes, I’m weird, I know. But I *like* economics.) Aim for things that might be careers – accounting, intro to marketing – from a local community college or one of the reputable on-line free sites (eg, MIT). My impression is that you’re young enough to still try different things.

        I do think you should spend some time thinking about the base anxiety, this comment sounds even more like you have an anxiety problem, and it’s just focused itself on The Career.

        If it helps any, I floated around a bunch of different jobs (retail, tech support, web development) before I did the MBA – I was 32 when I graduated. I found a career I really liked through the classes (supply chain – I get to solve problems all day!), but I’d never realized it existed before then. My family’s from academia, I’d never known how diverse and interesting corporate jobs could be.

        All that said, I do work for a soulless corporation that will fire me anytime my area becomes obsolete, but I kinda get the feeling that job insecurity is just life in America these days. (And that, right there, is my anxiety speaking…)

  94. Blergsday*

    I’m not embarrassed by my job, but I HATE discussing it – I work in Law Enforcement, which is VERY polarizing and EVERYONE wants to relate either a very positive or very negative experience with a cop (and I am not a cop). I’ve taken to just saying “oh, I do boring work for the government. And you?” The people who ask those kinds of questions in the first place are usually comfortable talking about their own jobs at length and then have forgotten that I basically brushed them off.

    I would recommend this tactic. You could say, “oh, I have a boring job in customer service. And you?” or “I work for a retail company. It’s actually very boring. You?” or “I’m doing admin work for a shipping company – I know, snore, right? You?” The key is to make them think you’ve told them something when you’ve actually told them nothing. I guarantee less than 5% of people will ask a follow-up question.

    It’s also interesting just how bland these social norms are. I went out of town with friends over New Years – we all share the same outdoor hobby – people that I have known for YEARS, and we realized that half of us didn’t know what employment the other half had. Since we actually care about each other and have interest in each other through our sport, it had never even come up and we never discuss work together! Differences between friends and acquaintances, I guess.

    1. Lt. Frank Drebin*

      I work in federal law enforcement. I usually say the same thing (“boring work for the government”), because it’s true.

  95. GriefBacon*

    I’m in a similar type position at the moment, and I usually go with “I actually work in accounting at XYZ nonprofit at the moment, but my background is in teapot analysis.” And make sure my tone suggests that it’s weird that I do accounting, but normal and comfortable that I did teapot analysis. (If that makes any sense).

    When I worked in retail and was embarrassed by it, I’d go with “Well, when I’m not running my Etsy shop and applying to law school, I manage a teapot shop.” That way, I was able to put my actual interests out front and make it clear that I do more than my just my job.

  96. Rachel*

    You can’t control how other people react to your job description. I’ve had reactions ranging from “WOW I’d love to do that” to “I would slit my wrists if I did your job” (I work in advertising). If you think people are judging you because you’re ‘just doing X,’ you’re more likely to dwell on any seemingly negative feedback and feel even worse.

    I took an admin job in 20s when I was dealing with pretty severe anxiety. I felt like a total failure in my comparison to be college classmates who were enrolled in law school and doctorate programs. Looking back, I’m glad that I gave myself time for therapy, reading, classes, and learning how to be a decent person in the workplace. All things that are so helpful in managing my full time, demanding job.

  97. AKchic*

    Sometimes, we don’t like our jobs. Y’know what? We don’t have to. You don’t have to feel that your job is fulfilling, joyful and rewarding in order to put your time in and collect a paycheck. You don’t have to be saving the world in order to justify all of the college education and/or student loans (or money your parents helped you with).

    It’s okay to think your job has all of the mental stimulation of a toothpick on the counter. You can even admit to people that the job you do isn’t actually your end-all-be-all for a career. It’s *how* you say it that will stand out. The knack is saying it nicely, without bitterness or anger, with a touch of humor and class. Both to acknowledge that you know the job isn’t forever, where you wanted to be, but you will do your best while you’re there and it gives you the freedom to do what you want while you’re there.

    Example: my current job. I make great money. However, it’s tedious, boring, and frankly, the only reason I’m here is because of contracting requirements. A high school graduate with 4 hours of training could do this job part time for minimum wage and nobody would notice the difference. I came to this job after many years in high-pressure, high-drama work. Addicts and criminals, both state and federal level. Nearly 20 years of career has been low pay and death threats. I was extremely burned out and I needed a break. This job allows that. And at nearly twice by old salary, with much better medical benefits.

    What do I say when explaining my job? I do data entry/administrative work. That’s it. I keep it as vague as possible. Sometimes, if I’m asked where, I will admit it’s a government contract. However, I happily say that this job is steady and allows me to leave my work at the office and focus on my home life and gives me time for my volunteer work and pet projects. My job funds my life and the life my kids need and enjoy. Where we were living paycheck to paycheck and scraping up a dollar to be able to afford the fuel just to get to work the next day, I can now rest a little easier knowing that there will be an extra dollar in the bank.

    Your job may not be saving the world at large, but it is keeping your little pocket of the world on an even keel, and that’s something.

  98. KEG*

    I went to school to be a designer, worked at a landscape firm but wasn’t busy learning, growing, etc. So I took an admin job at an architecture firm to see if that was a better fit (with the intention of doing my masters if it was). I decided design wasn’t for me but continued to work as an admin at the company. It used to be hard a few years ago when the conversation would still be “where did you go to school” and “what did you study” and “what do you do?” “…oh” I used to dread that convo. Now when people ask me what I do I just answer matter of fact, “I’m an admin at an architecture firm” and change the subject. I also try to avoid asking people what they do, as the logical return question is to then ask what I do.

  99. Wendy Darling*

    I’m in a similar position — I’d been out of work for a year after quitting a terrible job and now I’m doing work where I’m seriously underutilized. They’re not using ANY of my coolest skills! But the pay is perfectly decent and the people I work with are lovely.

    I tend to talk less about what I do (it’s boring) and more about what the company does (I do boring work in the service of some cool products), and also the things I like about my job — the really nice, funny coworkers, the super flexible work from home versus office policy, the cool art deco office building, the fact that the kitchen stocks one snack and it is coincidentally my favorite snack, how I went on a 2-week vacation during which I did not look at my email and that was fine.

    If anything I find that people leave these conversations jealous of how low-stress my work is. And if not… oh well that sounds like a them problem not a me problem.

    I do want to move on from this job to something more challenging eventually, but for now? It’s a good stepping stone and it’s paying the bills and being generally pleasant.

  100. HR Caligula*

    I worked a job for a bit that I had absolutely no interest or value for their products so felt no pride or satisfaction at end of a working day.

    To help with this I shifted my value definition from the product to how the product got there and the value it provided along the way. First from the designers manufactures, logistics, warehouse, then retail, etc. Each step supported jobs and revenue. I could see the value in that.

  101. it_guy*

    I once had a (fortunately!) brief stint at a company that did pay-day loans. When I was asked what my company, a simple bland “It’s a financial company” was sufficient.

  102. TiffIf*

    I know this can be hard!

    Depending on the level of comfort you have and the level of familiarity you have with whoever you’re talking to and the situation you are in here are a few different strategies:

    –Redirect with a story about something amusing/fun that happened at work without necessarily talking about what you do directly. For example:
    “Oh, yesterday was a slow day and one of my co-workers got a bit bored and so she started singing and dancing to the piped music–it was awesome and really helped pickup a dragging shift!”

    –Redirect to a non-work topic: “Work is the LAST thing I want to talk about right now, its been such a busy week! But this weekend I am planning on binging the new season of Travelers on Netflix.”

    –Be honest about your feelings but low on details and then redirect: “Well, right now I’m not really loving what I do, but it pays the bills! How’s your Llama Grooming project going?”

    –Minimize the details and then redirect: “I’m in a customer support position for now, but I’m looking for a position more in line with my education in underwater basket-weaving.”

    You’ll notice a trend here–redirection. Most people aren’t really interested in the nitty gritty specifics, they’re just making casual conversation. A close supportive friend/confidant will want to know more specifics in order to help/support/commiserate, but other than that most people don’t need to know details.

  103. trilusion*

    When I had a boring job to pay the bills, I used to reply to “What do you do?” with a very straight face and “For money? Or for fun?” — that usually got a nervous laugh or an amused look. After that it was also pretty much clear that I would rather talk about hobbies or future job plans than about my current job. I also almost always had better conversations with people who replied with “for fun, of course!”

    I also strongly second the approach mentioned by other commenters: Try to focus on the positive aspects and don’t overthink it. Ask people what they do in return, maybe it will give you some ideas for the future.

    1. trilusion*

      Oh, and I just remembered that a friend always used to say “I’m Batman. No, seriously. Have you ever seen Batman and me in the same room? There you go.” and that led to conversations about super heros, new movies, or what super power people would love to have in real life.

  104. Magee*

    I think the majority of working adults don’t work because they love what they do or are strongly invested in the company. It’s mainly to just pay bills. It’s okay that your current job is not where you want to spend the rest of your career, and you should not feel bad about being their until you can find a place you do love.

    I think if you’re not finding fulfillment in your job right now, you should try to find hobbies or volunteering opportunities that do bring you satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. Those are great things to bring up when meeting new people. It’s totally fine to say, ” I work at X Company, but my real passion is painting (volunteering, reading new books, etc).”

    It also might not hurt to talk to someone about your anxieties surrounding your job if they are keeping your from social functions that you would otherwise want to go to.

  105. J Commenter*

    My partner recently had to admit that his dream job of freelance writing about his passion wasn’t paying the bills and got a job as a clerk in a grocery store. He tells people that his career is in writing and his day job is at Grocery Chain.

  106. Thlayli*

    Haven’t had time to read all the comments so this may be already covered above.
    If someone asks “what do you do” you don’t need to assume it’s about work. That phrase is basically the conversational equivalent of “let’s get to know each other”. Frankly they probably couldn’t care less about your job, they are just making conversation, being friendly and trying to get to know you as a person. It’s totally fine to answer something that isn’t about work. Talk about what you spend your free time doing or something else that interests you. If that seems confusing to you, frame it by saying “well for work right now I’m just working as a tea server just to keep the bills paid, and get me out of the house, but is used to work as a teapot glazer, and in my time off I do [whatever interesting way you spend your time].

    Also, most people are really not as snobby as you seem to think when it comes to people working in temporarily non-career type jobs. I have a PhD in mechanical engineering and since I got that PhD I have mostly worked as an engineer but have also worked in a stall selling mobile phone covers, giving private tutorials to school kids, and temped as an office admin in two quantity surveyors offices, as well as being a SAHM for 2.5 years. Your day-job is just work, it’s not you. There are times in everyone’s when you will be between career jobs, and it’s always better to just have a bit of cash coming into tide you over and allow you to really take the time to find a GOOD career next step rather than be completely unemployed eating through your savings and getting so desperate you’ll take anything remotely related to your career just to say you’re working in your field. Most people understand that.

    And frankly if someone is going to judge you poorly for taking a non-career path role when you’re between career jobs, or for being a teapot server at all, that’s a good indicator of what type of person they are, not what type of person you are!

    1. goodluck*

      Apparently I’m the only one who asks, “What do you do?” and doesn’t necessarily mean work! I figure a person can answer with whatever they do – work, hobbies, kids, etc. All I really mean is “talk about something you like to do!”

      To be fair, I think my way of saying it kind of it kind of makes that more clear… the tone of voice is much more lackadaisical, it’s hard to explain.

  107. BadPlanning*

    Do you have any wacky work stories that you can quickly transition too? Crazy customers? Fights over the work fridge? Your bizarre coworker, Fergus? Then you can be entertaining instead of trying to dress up your job.

    Whenever I start talking about my job, it generally bores people with in 2 sentences, so I have it culled down to the something super simple. People how might actually be interested ask certain followup questions and then I’ll going into actual detail.

  108. Serin*

    I read a book on networking that really spoke to me as a wonkish introvert (“Strategic Connections” by Ann Baber, if anybody’s curious), and one of the things it said was that you should think of the question “What do you do?” as translating to “What do you want me to remember about you?”

    So, for instance, “I’m a junior floor sweeper while I try to work my way into project management. The job isn’t ideal, but I’m finding some ways to build my skills while I look for opportunities.”

    It also said to talk about the part of your work that you like best, even if it’s only 5% of your time, and to remember that the point is to start a conversation.

  109. KJDubreuil*

    I am a veterinarian and I never never never tell people that unless they need to know or unless they ask so pointedly that I can’t avoid revealing the truth without lying. Not because I am ashamed but because if they know then I am immediately and forever pigeonholed into the person to whom you must tell animal stories and with whom you may only converse about your present and past pets, the way they died, how much it cost and your Aunt Martha’s poodle.

    I usually grimace a little bit and shrug and say ‘I work at an animal hospital.’ They often assume that I clean the cages or answer the phone. If the questioner is a complete stranger (eg sitting next to me on an airplane) I will either say the above, or go with a partial truth (‘I run a B and B’, or ‘I live on a ranch’ or ‘not much really.’) On my little ranch we do have a little Airbnb for pin money and when I’m not at my real work saving lives, at home cleaning up manure or changing the linens I don’t have much time to do much else.

    I own my animal hospital and have 20 employees. That means I get paid better than the kennel person but not nearly as well as the doctors that work for me. I am friendly acquainted with one of the guys who works next door to my office, and he loves my dog. I have been saying hi to him and he has been saying hi to my dog every morning for a year. The other day one of my employees was chatting with that guy and mentioned me as ‘my boss.’ The next door guy said ‘I don’t know your boss’ and my employee said, ‘yes you do, you talk to her every day when she comes in with Billy (that’s the dog.)’

    So, dear OP, even if you were a doctor, and owned your own business, you would have a dilemma about what to tell people when they ask the dreaded question ‘and what do you do?’

    1. DogTrainerGuy*

      I have the same problem. I work with assistance dogs. Once people hear that, I get every story about every pet/animal (please tell me why your dog is the worst again….wait, no, please don’t), questions about dogs, opinions/comments about service dogs, and so on.

      I really like what I do, but good lord am I tired of these conversations. With strangers, I have to decide whether to go there or not.

  110. Secretary*

    Is there a general answer you can give that sort of describes what you do?

    I don’t mind talking about my work, but I prefer other topics. When I’m in company and I’m asked what I do, I do two things:

    1) I give the short version. “I’m a Secretary.” instead of “I’m the Secretary for the Janitor at CrappyTeapots Inc.”
    2) I immediately ask about their job. If they already told me what they do, I ask them a question like “Wow, what got you into that field?” or “What type of lawyer are you?/What does your practice focus on?” or “I heard working for Google is like being in a playground all day. Is that true?”

    *Most people* like talking about themselves and what they do. Keep asking them questions and eventually you both will redirect the conversation to something else. The one who asks the most questions is the one who controls the content of the conversation.

  111. My desk helped Rose Dawson float on the North Atlantic Ocean*

    I can relate. A few years ago, I was surrounded by friends and acquaintances who were getting highly paid jobs in tech and consulting. Meanwhile, I got a job as a poorly paid assistant working for a very shady boss. (When I arrived on my first day, I was directed to my “desk,” which turned out to be a plank of wood placed on top of a drawer unit.)

    I definitely felt anxious and embarrassed many times, but I found that thinking the following helped:
    1) You are not your job. You’re more than that.
    2) Don’t compare yourself to other people. Focus only on yourself and what realistic goals you can set to improve your situation in increments.
    3) Life is a wheel of fortune; sometimes you’re at the top, sometimes at the bottom. I’m at the bottom for now, but eventually the wheel will spin again. I just have to hang on.

    When the inevitable job topic comes up in conversation, I find there are two types of people: those who don’t care at all and those who care too much. The former honestly don’t care that your job is unimpressive. They are the ones who understand that a person can end up in less-than-favourable circumstances for all sorts of reasons, and it’s not their business to judge or make assumptions. The latter will, unfortunately, turn up their nose at your job. The good news is that those people are seriously not worth your anxiety or embarrassment, so just moonwalk out of that conversation and don’t waste any more of your thoughts on them. It’s just not worth it.

    Most of the time, however, you won’t know what a person is thinking, so in the end, just remember that your “lowly” job does not, in any way, make you less of a person. I know this is cheesy, but just be kind to yourself.

    I hope this helps and wish you all the best.

  112. Coleen*

    I have a job that I am very happy with. It doesn’t change the world, but for me, it allows me to live my life the way I want and that’s what I usually focus on. I do X but I also volunteer with animals, build/renovate the home we bought, etc. Some people live to work; they live for the job they have. Some people don’t. I don’t. My job allows me to afford my life. Traveling, living comfortably, doing fun things. That is what I generally focus on.

  113. Lumen*

    Just make a joke of it, but not a self-deprecating one. (If you bash yourself while supposedly laughing about your job, that reveals how embarrassed you feel about it, which increases the discomfort for others, which makes you feel worse.)

    I have a very good job right now, but it’s pretty boring. I like the people, I like my benefits and pay, I know there’s opportunity for growth, I just… don’t care about the job or the industry. Which is okay. I am not here to fulfill my life’s destiny, I am here to earn income.

    So when people ask the Conversation-Making question of what I do, I give them my exact title and the type of company I work for: “I am a Spout Angle Design Pricing Analyst for a Teapot Manufacturer-Specific Billing Firm.” Then I wait a beat. Then I laugh and say: “And it is EXACTLY as fascinating as it sounds!”

    The worst follow up question I’ve ever gotten is simply trying to figure out what a TMSBF really does, and then I just shake my head and say “It is really complicated but not in an interesting way. [INSERT SUBJECT CHANGE]”

    It’s okay to work in a job that doesn’t thrill you. Being unemployed is so soul-crushing. And our culture places so much (often unnecessary) weight on ‘what you do’ as an indicator of ‘who you are’. Your job isn’t you. Your job is, it sounds, probably one of the least interesting parts of your life! So pivot to something you ARE interested in or really do enjoy doing and talk about that. People want to get to know you, and if your job isn’t a big part of that, treat it like the unimportant piece of trivia it is. People will go along.

    Unless they are jerks. And then you excuse yourself because you just saw an app tray pass by.

  114. Liane*

    If none of these work for you OP, Miss Manners has long advised that “What do you do?” can be answered as if the question was, “What do you do for fun?” or “in your spare time?”
    So instead of “I’m a Peon I at BoringCo” you say, “I volunteer at Local Baby Llama Shelter,” “I playtest roleplaying games,” or “I’m editing my grandmother’s genealogy journals that go back to 1516.”

  115. LurkingAlong*

    OP, I’m in a similar situation to you except that I am still searching for a full-time job and have been out of work for longer than you were. I also had a very prestigious, intellectually demanding and somewhat high profile job/career before this happened so it’s been a blow to my self-esteem quite a bit. At times I’m so down on myself even though I couldn’t even legally work for most of that time due to residency issues. So I have strong reasons like you do for being in the position I’m in. I know your question is focused on how to deal with social situations but I really think what helped me was what someone up thread mentioned of re-framing the narrative in your own mind and it will help you better communicate that.

    Focus on the positive and find engaging ways to speak about the negative.I know it sounds cheesy but it really takes mostly practice. I worked with a career coach, spoke with my partner about it A LOT, and also spoke with close friends. I also recommend working with a coach/mentor to help you figure out where you want to go career wise. I am struggling with that too and my coach has helped me with that a lot. Everyone is going through something in their life and it might not be as visible as a job. But I’ve found that when I jokingly say that I’ve become a professional homemaker and speak about my volunteer work and the hobbies I’ve developed it helps everyone be more engaged and relaxed, including me.

  116. Volunteer Advocate*

    Why don’t you volunteer in an area you’re passionate (or at least happy) about? Then, when you talk about your job, you can talk about your volunteer job instead! (“Me? Well, I work on a teapot conveyor line, but my favorite ‘job’ is volunteering for my local YWCA! We had such fun last week when…”)

  117. Ronno*

    It’s just small talk, sure. People have good intentions. And I’m fortunate enough to like my job, with comes with an impressive title for small talk purposes.

    But I hate this question, so I never ask it of others unless I’m at a professional function, and do my best to change the subject when asked.

    In a purely social setting, “What are you into?” is more genuine, surprises people, and warrants surprising (usually delightful) answers.

    Individually, we may not be using small talk to judge people based on the perceived capitalist value of our labour, but the fact that this is the #1 go-to question reveals a sad bit of truth: culturally, we very much *are* being judged by the value of our labour under capitalism. To hell with that.

  118. MommyMD*

    Every job you do well is a productive job. You are in some way aiding society. Even jobs with the most menial tasks. Do well at your job and be proud of your work ethic.

  119. Elle*

    No matter the content of your answer tone is important. If you sound embarrassed people will feel embarrassed for you. Try to keep your tone light, upbeat and casual. We are often our harshest critics and I think you’ll find very few people will judge you for your job the way you do.

  120. T*

    I relate to this very much. I went to law school, but have worked in executive assistant roles for the majority of my career. At first I was embarrassed because I felt like people judged me for not becoming a lawyer and doing admin work that I didn’t necessarily need grad school for. (I live in NYC, which is particularly job-snobby and competitive). I also spent a lot of time trying to make my work sound more substantive than it really is, but substantive work and your value to your employer are not mutually exclusive.

    Over the years I’ve come to realize that defining yourself by the work you do is an unnecessary and self-imposed burden. And that people will generally pick up on your insecurities about your job and respond much better and less judgmentally if you’re just matter of fact about what your actual job is and acknowledge that it’s a less than ideal situation.

    My script is usually something along the lines of “I work for a real estate developer. My job is mostly administrative, which isn’t what I thought I would be doing at this point, but I’m learning a lot about the industry and getting exposure to people/ideas that can be really useful going forward. Plus, I have a lot of time to get personal stuff done: travel planning, etc!”.

    A lot of people, no matter where they are in their career or how successful they seem to you, feel like they’re behind or not contributing enough to their field/society. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

  121. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I started college at — in my view at the time — a prestigious private college, took a semester off after my first year, then transferred to the state university in my hometown. For years I was embarrassed by my new alma mater, and I’d give both colleges when asked where I went to school. I’d been a top student, and thought of myself as someone who should have been attending Harvard, not State U; embedded in that was my (privileged, uninformed, classist) beliefs about who I was and who the other people at my school were.

    The problem was my own snobbery, and that’s not something I want to coddle in myself. I used the “fake it til you make it” strategy to get over it; I just said where I graduated from and let it be done. I actively didn’t let myself use any dismissive techniques (“I go to State U, and I’m going to grad school at Prestigious University next year,” or “I go to State U. The geography program there is amazing.”)

  122. Matilda Jefferies*

    I actually love my job, but it’s one that most people haven’t heard of, and it’s not very easy to explain in a “making small talk at a party” format. So instead I talk about where I work, which is a highly visible part of the municipal government. Pretty much everyone in the city interacts with my division in some way, so everybody knows enough about it to make pleasant conversation.

    Remember that the conversation itself is the goal here. In this situation, people usually want to get to know you on a pretty superficial level – they’re not usually trying to get into all the details or specifics of what you do for a living and how you feel about it. So grab a couple of the scripts and tactics from this thread, and don’t overthink the rest of it. You’ll be fine!

  123. LemonLime*

    I just wanted to chime in about the deflecting with humor approach. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let me share about how it backfired on me. I was in a group of people I didn’t know well, and one of them asked me what I did. I was feeling so awkward and embarrassed about where I was career wise (so much different than I thought I would be at this stage in my life) that I answered very flippantly, trying to laugh off my position as something I wasn’t really invested in. After I made my remark, the lady next to me half-smiled and reminded me that she, too, was in that line of work.

    I felt so awful, because it was clear that I had hurt this lady by being so dismissive of her work, as well as mine. In my attempt to make myself feel better about my own circumstances, I had made it clear to her that I didn’t value what either of us were doing.

    I think back to that now and want to say that it’s good to be mindful of the value of all work. You never know who you are speaking to, or who else might be listening. It may not be what you wanted to be doing, but I think it’s important that any attempt to laugh off your job doesn’t come across as you trying to be above that kind of work. So many of us do work that isn’t what we dreamed, that isn’t prestigious or exciting, but there is always pride to be had in a job well done. I think a straightforward, brief answer followed by a change of subject will be a good option for you.

  124. Mimmy*

    I can relate to this – I’m happy to finally be working again, but it’s not something I want to do long-term. I typically say “I work with adults with (specific disability)”. If asked further, I’ll add that I’m an instructor or “I teach X” and sometimes even add who my employer is if I think the person will be familiar with it (a state agency).

    I’ll be sure to look through this thread because I too am never sure what to say, especially at networking events.

  125. SallytooShort*

    One of my best friends left a job at a bank to be a janitor at a very prestigious university. The thing is it was a great job! It was union, the pay was good (with annual increases), she could listen to audiobooks while she worked. There was nothing to be ashamed of at all. Considering the fact that she didn’t have all the school debt she was doing better than I was as an attorney at the time. But she was always embarrassed about it.

    She would mostly make jokes about it. But I find that people can find that awkward and off-putting too.

  126. oranges & lemons*

    One of my friends used to feel the same way, and she would usually switch to talking about her volunteer work or something else she was more invested in. I think most people are just asking out of politeness and don’t particularly care about your job, they are just inviting you to talk about something that’s important in your life. On the other side, I have a job that I think is pretty interesting, but most people couldn’t care less about talking about it.

  127. Shawna*

    We should also remember that what we might find boring/embarrassing about our own work might be a point of pride for the person who asked the question! It would be super awkward to be bad-mouthing a position or industry and then find out that the other person is doing the same work happily.

  128. Super Nintendo Chalmers*

    OP, are you me? Today is literally my second-to-last day in a job I’ve been embarrassed by since I started it a year and a half ago. I am leaving this job to move two states away to start my [I know we’re not supposed to say this, but who cares!] dream job! IT GETS BETTER.

    I took this job after moving states right after finishing grad school. I had the education, experience, and skill set for a really kick ass media or design job, but I just couldn’t fine one. I took a job that was WAY below my abilities and pay grade. It was basically a low paying, blue collar job that generally requires a masters degree. I hated it.

    But you know what? It was such an unusual job (most people had never heard of it) that people found it interesting. Or they just didn’t care. Or they were also in this role at another company, and commiserated. In short, I and only I passed judgement on myself for this job. Also, I hated it so much that it motivated me to find something better… and I did! I got that kick ass media job I wanted in the first place. You can find what you’re after, too. It might require a major lifestyle change and compromise with your spouse, but it’s worth it.

    And you know, I’m thinking about it, and I can’t really think of a job that I would look down on someone for having. I’m going to bet most people are the same. Work is work! Own it for now, and use your spare time to work your network and find something better. You can do it!

  129. Crystal*

    As others have said, it’s all about tone. I’ve had a few friends who literally couldn’t talk about what they do, I just knew they worked for DOJ. They would just say something like “I work for the DOJ but my job is not interesting enough to talk about so let’s get to the good stuff – what are you all watching on Netflix right now?” or something like that. PIVOT!

  130. Greg M.*

    is your job unhealthy for you? is it putting food on the table?
    there is no shame in not working, there is no shame in working. I work retail part time with 2 Bachelor’s Degrees. Own it. these days jobs are hard to get, working is nothing to be ashamed of. You are not your job, you are not your job, you are not your job. If you feel you have something else to offer the world beyond what your job gives you then find something outside the job to do, volunteer, make art, coach a sports team, solve a mystery, rewrite history.

  131. Manager-at-Large*

    Being prepared is 90% of the game here. You can go with “most of my career has been in teapots and other specialty ceramics; since moving here I’ve been working in insurance. My degree is actually in llama grooming”. No titles, no companies, just industries and majors. If that doesn’t work for you, you can name companies, name titles/roles or a combination of same as in “most of my career has been in financial services and banking; since moving here I’ve been doing general office work for a small company”.

    NB: it is worth noting that “what do you do” can be a really awkward question even if you are sincerely interested in the person, for many reasons, including that of the LW. The same is true if you ask “what is your degree in” – awkward if someone didn’t complete a degree. An opener like “what do you enjoy doing” or “how do you spend your time outside of work” might be a better choice if you are on the initiating side of a small talk conversation.

  132. Althea*

    As a person who often asks what people do, and is generally interested in it and often will ask more about it, it would help if you can direct the conversation away from your work pretty strongly. I will eventually stop asking people about it if they never seem interested in saying much, but it can take me a while. Most people don’t give a good signal, though. I’d be a little straightforward, and provide an alternate topic of conversation ASAP – often, if I know little about them, I’m searching for some topic to broach without having any leads on their interests.

    “To be honest, I find the work a little boring and I’ll probably make a change at some point. I prefer to focus on my quilting/cat training/rock climbing/fill-in-the-blank. I just finished a climb nearby and it was great!”

    “Yeah, it’s not a bad way to earn my income for now. But I’m really looking forward to my [Hobby thing] next week.”

    “It pays the bills. I’ve been catching up on my Netflix binging – have you been watching anything interesting lately?”

    I tend to be blunt, personally, so I probably wouldn’t mind saying something like the work is boring, or some reason I don’t like it, but you might be wary – if they do similar work it could be a tad offensive. If so, you can divert with something like, “You know how there is so much data entry? I know some people find it restful to have routine work like that, but I get more out of working with people. It’s good work and needs to be done. I wish I could say it was for me!”

    But as the person engaging with you, I would love you to help me get onto a new topic. So often people don’t want to talk about a topic, but don’t know how to redirect into something else. And as the person discussing with you, I tend to search for topics of discussion starting with where you live and work, so if you present an alternate pathway I would be so happy!

  133. Joielle*

    Ugh yes. My husband dealt with this a lot right after we graduated from law school. While studying for the bar, he worked as a CNA at a nursing home, and after we passed the bar he was waiting tables at a sushi restaurant while looking for a legal job. Honestly, whenever someone asked what he did, he just said “I’m a lawyer,” which was true – he’d passed the bar (or he said “I’m studying for the bar exam” when that was the case). I don’t think many people ever asked for more details than that.

    If you don’t have anything like that to fall back on, I think it’s also perfectly legitimate to just say something you do as a hobby. “What do you do?” “Oh, a lot of stuff these days, but I’m really into gardening right now! I spent all weekend looking at seed catalogs.” or whatever. Like many people have said, it’s just a conversation starter, not an interrogation about how you make money. If you become closer with someone, you’ll probably talk more in depth about your actual jobs, but no need to bring it up with casual acquaintances if you’d prefer not to.

      1. Joielle*

        Of course not, but that’s obviously not the career he trained for. Same as OP’s situation – there’s nothing wrong with having any job, but if it’s not what you want to be doing you don’t have to talk about it.

  134. Ell*

    I had a super embarrassing job that I hated and wasn’t as impressive compared to most of my peers. It was mortifying to me to explain, but I found as long as I said it in a cheery voice with a positive spin at the end then people were really receptive:

    “You know those people who knock on your door and ask for money for charity? I train those people and we raise a ton of money for refugees!”

    The response was typically more along the lines of “oh helping refugees is important, I heard a story…” rather than “door canvassing is obnoxious and sounds like it’s terrible”

  135. Geillis D*

    Own it. You moved countries, which is a huge challenge in and of itself (ask me how I know).
    My career has taken a hit that veered it completely off course and forced me to make a change, start over, and currently be at a position equivalent to people 15 years younger than me. Look at the big picture, and the grand total of the things you have accomplished. You should be pretty darn proud, even if they don’t always translate to a job title or paycheck.

  136. nep*

    This such a good question. I think we can all relate. And I think that many of us hate that we give a damn what people think.
    Even in my current job search, when I see a job that might be far less ‘advanced’ than what I’ve done in the past or perhaps short of my capabilities, I ponder how others might see it. That is ridiculous of me but there you go.
    I like thinking through things like this because it really helps get at this issue of how much weight we put in others’ opinions. I always try to remind myself of this line: I used to care what people thought of me, until I tried paying my bills with their opinions.
    Thanks for sending this question, LW. Hold that head high, every day for so many reasons. All the best.

  137. lizs*

    Yes! I dealt with this while I was waiting for a job in my field to open up/open up to ME.

    I found the best thing for me was to tell people what I did, and talk about the most interesting/rewarding parts of my job. And I also talked about my volunteer work, my field of study, and what kind of work I wanted to go into.

    It’s frustrating that the first question when you meet someone is “What do you do?”, for sure, so feel free to jump to a different topic ASAP.

    I think one thing you can take from the comments here is that almost EVERYONE has been in this position, so hopefully people should be understanding. Please don’t feel embarrassed or awkward, or isolate yourself on account of your job (or anything else)! YOU are NOT your job!

  138. The Rat-Catcher*

    There is no telling who wants what job, to be honest. I would love, love, LOVE to be an analyst someday. And yet, in The Devil Wears Prada:

    “Luckily, I already have my dream job.”
    “…You’re a corporate research analyst!”
    “…Yeah, you’re right, my job sucks.”

  139. thesoundofmusic*

    My spouse works for one of those companies that everyone loves to hate–went from a professional career paying 6 figures to an hourly job working for this company–why is a long story and not relevant here. (suffice it to say that age discrimination is a real issue in some industries). However, I am proud of him for doing what is necessary to help support our family–but it is difficult for him when it comes up in a conversation. I understand the difficulty. I keep reminding him that he is not his job and he can simply say he works in customer service and leave it at that. If people press, he says, oh please what I do is so boring, let’s talk about you! It generally always does the trick to change the topic.

  140. Nita*

    I’ve had jobs I was very embarrassed about, for various reasons. For the burger-flipping type jobs, I would just be casual about it and act like I’m proud of it… frankly, it was not even an act, because someone’s got to do it if people want to eat.

    Then there was a job at a magazine that felt like the most embarrassing one of the lot. From the technical point of view, I did a great job and am still very proud of it. However, the magazine content wasn’t quite my thing and worse, the editor was a rather distasteful character. While working there, I’d trip over my feet to avoid telling people what I did. I think I kept saying I’m an admin in a small business. Not strictly the truth, but I learned quickly that if you mention you work for a magazine, people want to know which one.

  141. Owlette*

    I could’ve written this question just a year ago! I have my Bachelor’s in English and creative writing, and now I’m an admin assistant to an Enrolled Agent in a tax firm. It is the most boring job ever, and it’s really embarrassing when I talk to other writers. But I’ve learned to keep the conversation light-hearted because people take cues from you!

    “Oh yeah, I work for a tax firm now,” *rolls eyes* “yeah, boring, right? Haha, but actually, my boss is a great guy, I’m learning a lot, and honestly it’s a great place to fund my fun writing projects. I’m actually working on a chapbook right now about…..” and just let the conversation move from there. Say the negative job part, find a couple of positives about the job, and then move it towards your not-so-embarrassing hobbies!

    1. AMT27*

      For me, doing work that is vastly different from a hobby or something else I want to spend my time doing is a definite bonus! I just completed my bachelor’s degree in accounting, and while I love accounting work I only really enjoyed classes that were about literature and science and absolutely not business-based. When you do one thing all day and go home and do more of that thing it can make you hate that thing (for me at least!). Nothing I do at home resembles my work life, and I prefer that.

      1. Natalie*

        Bleeeeeeeeh, it’s so exhausting, too. I was working as a bookkeeper while I took accounting classes. Whenever I decide to complete my masters, I am committed to just taking a year off of paying work and getting it done.

  142. babyfishmouth*

    I’ve struggled with this, as well, and one thing I’ve been trying to do is change my perspective on how we contribute to the world and find meaning in our lives. Though we spend a majority of our time at work, I think we also tend to define our job as who we are – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Maybe you can find something meaningful to do outside of work -volunteering, a hobby – that can be a source of fulfillment. Or join/start a special project, club or initiative within your job if possible.

    1. babyfishmouth*

      And to more directly answer your question – you can mention these projects instead if you want to have something to talk about in social situations that you are excited about.

  143. AMT27*

    I’d default to a somewhat self-deprecating ‘oh I sweep up after the llama groomer, but someone’s got to do it and it pays the bills!’ with a laugh. In the hopes that it deflects the question and allows for a change of subject (while in reality it will probably come off awkwardly because everything does). But honestly – your job isn’t who you are, its just work you do and get paid for. It may not be the job you want, but it’s where you are in life right now, and even if it feels like a step backwards some things in life are, and there’s no shame in that. You are where you are, doing the best you can, and all you can do is work towards getting to the thing or job you really want. As someone said above, there’s no shame in honest labor.

  144. Pam*

    I have health issues with my feet- a complicated disease that currently has me wearing a giant, custom made boot. I’ve learned that making a quick explanation that sounds cheerful and final shuts off the nosy ones. (My foot is crumbling to bits, so about those Dodgers….)

  145. a-no*

    My favorite deflection is onto the company I work for instead of what I do. “Oh, i’m a chocolate inspector at Chocolate Wowzas, it’s kinda neat they make such crazy detailed chocolate bars. I found out if you ever want to make homemade chocolates, you have to make sure you freeze all the utensils you’re about to use”. People often forget what I do after those comment as they are focused on the ‘fun fact’ which was the intention.
    Just try and channel your inner Chandler Bing, they knew where he worked but no one actually knew what he did.

  146. Donna Roberts*

    I have an MBA but am working well below my abilities. My husband drives a garbage truck and has no degree. Yet we run in fairly affluent social circles (due to my contacts and nonprofit work). My husband and I only got married a few years ago and when he was introduced to these new people who generally have high powered jobs and are quite wealthy, he was embarrassed to tell them what he did. But as they got to know him, they completely respect his hard work and he’s a great socializer. He’s funny and kind and solid. Many of my rich girlfriends married to men with “terrific” jobs tell me how lucky I am to have him (I agree!). So LW, be honest about your job, but not apologetic. You can even be jokey about it, i.e. “Driving a garbage truck is not nearly as fun as it sounds!” What you do now is not the sum total of who you are. You will likely have another job in the future and most people understand your situation because they have been there themselves. You can also say/joke that you work just to support your passion of glassblowing, or whatever your hobby is.

  147. Product person*

    OP, you probably already have enough suggestions on how to handle talking about your job, so I’m going to tell you a story that hopefully will help you reframe your situation.

    When I moved to the U.S. with my husband years ago for him to do his PhD, I came with a visa that prevented me from working. I continued to work from distance for clients in my native countries, but wanted to start doing something locally to get a chance to practice my English.

    I did some research, and apparently there was a rule that would allow me to work at the University my husband was attending. I got in touch with my husband’s advisor, who was also our friend, and asked him about it. He said the only job I was likely to be able to get was as a janitor. I told him no problem, I’ll go for it! He said he was impressed that I’d accept such a low job, since I have an MBA and even had co-authored a paper with a professor at that University.

    Well, turned out the rule that might allow me to work for the University didn’t apply to me. So, instead of getting a janitor job at the University, I ended up being hired by a well-known company that sponsored my working visa and offered a 6-figure salary from the get go…

    Had things turned out differently, I’d have proudly answered the question “so, what do you do?” with, “I’m currently a janitor at University XYZ. I like how it lets me meet people I’d otherwise never have a chance to interact with. In the past, I held Fancy Job in my native country, where I also published three books in my area of expertise, and I’ll probably go back to doing work in this area once my husband finishes his studies.”

    (Now, it’s possible that adding the “bragologue” at the end is a sign of my insecurity, but I justify it to myself saying that if the person is genuinely interested in learning what I do, they’d be interested in a more nuanced answer ;-).

  148. Truth Teller*

    OP, you say that you “aren’t interested in power or status or riches” but then say you’re embarrassed by a job that you perceive to be beneath you. So that first step is to admit that you are interested in these things. And you know what? That’s absolutely OK. Once you acknowledge that, you can go about setting long-term career goals.

    1. OP*

      Maybe, but I don’t think so. If it had turned out that for some reason my skills were well-suited to this job and I was really good at it, I would like it a lot more, even if none of the rest changed. I want to find a job that makes the best use of the skills I have, someplace where I have competitive advantage. Even if that job didn’t have a fancy title or particularly good pay and I was the low man on the totem pole, I think I would be fulfilled as long as I felt I was using myself to the best purpose. Now I have a job that I just kind of fell into and that I am average at, not one that is actually well-suited to my abilities. There are some jobs that are more prestigious that I still would think weren’t well-suited to me, and I wouldn’t be happy there either, even if I could scrape by.
      I just don’t know how to find that job, and how to get into it. My education is in something that’s also not really a fit for me, and while I think I might know other jobs that would be a better fit, I don’t know for sure and don’t want to spend a lot of time and money getting the right qualifications if it turned out not to work. So I’m stuck, and I feel terrible about it.

  149. AnonLibrarian*

    Not so much out of embarrassment but from a reluctance to talk about my job and have to explain what it was, I hated to be asked this question back when I was an indexer. Now, I’m a librarian, and even though most people probably have very little idea of what librarians do all day, they know enough about it to accept the answer and move on. I wish I’d come up with an alternative answer in those days. Looking back, “I’m in publishing” would have worked. I spent so much time explaining (or reminding) what an index is and then explaining that there are people who create such things. I think I might prefer having an embarrassing job over one that no one has ever heard of.

  150. a different Vicki*

    Thinking about a past job I didn’t really like, some true answers: “I’m a proofreader, and the commute for my current job is driving me crazy” (it was a reverse commute by commuter rail, almost two hours each way). “I work for Publishers Clearing House. Yes, really, they have an actual office.” “Right now, I’m proofreading contest fliers. Boring, but it pays the bills.” And from there I could segue into the state of the local economy, or the wonders of the Long Island Railroad, or my surprise that people would order baklava from a mail-order company rather than just go down to Atlantic Avenue to get some, and the way you get used to what is and isn’t available locally.

    Or you could just say “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about work.” I have a friend who, after fourteen years at one company, was finally allowed to give us a one-sentence description of the project she’d been working on. You may not actually be working on a classified project for the government, but they don’t know that.

  151. Kate*

    Lots of great advice above. I’d like to add:

    Don’t make assumptions about the backgrounds of the people you’re talking to. Even if you’re talking with a CEO, they may have worked their way up, have family members in less impressive positions/industries, or come from a modest background. If they say, “What do you do for a living?” and you sheepishly reply, “Oh, I’m just a llama cleaner,” or get preemptively defensive, you could be the one who ends up looking like a jerk. Their mom could be a llama cleaner or their nephew could be eager to get a job– any job– at Llamas, Inc. You can feel whatever way you want about being a llama cleaner, but you’re going to come off better if you can be factual about it.

    As others have said, there’s no shame in hard work, even if it’s not the job you imagined yourself in.

    1. nep*

      Yes. We can get ourselves in such trouble with projections.
      For me this entire thread is so refreshing and a great reminder to drop the projections and just be.

  152. Faith*

    For anyone on the other side of this – if you’re talking to someone who clearly doesn’t feel great about their job and would rather not discuss it – DON’T take it upon yourself to then force career advice on them, as one guy did to me at a party several years ago. Actually, it wasn’t even advice so much as asking “so why haven’t you tried to get a new job?” “What do you REALLY want to do?” as if by asking these probing questions he’d magically change my way of thinking about my career and I’d suddenly understand exactly what I needed to do. Ugh. I’d just met him!

    Also, now I enjoy and am proud of my job, and I still don’t really want to talk about it at social gatherings. I think lots of people don’t, but it becomes the default when you’re first meeting someone or catching up with people, maybe especially in NYC. I wish this weren’t the case.

  153. Louise*

    Oh man, I so so feel this. When I was in a similar position, most of my social circle were artists/creative types, so the concept of a “survival job” was pretty common—the only issue was I wasn’t actually perusing anything creative outside of my job. I kept leaning back on “Oh well I’m an office manager, but I’m planning on going to grad school to study the intersection of teapots and llamas,”… even though I maybe cracked a GRE prep book once every six months before throwing it back under my bed in a panic. Basically, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and wasn’t proud of what I was doing and it pulled me into a big existential mess everyone someone asked me about it.

    I did a few things to change this:
    1. I changed my thinking around what makes a person interesting/cool/valuable to society. Jobs are NOT everything, and having a few years of employment where I wasn’t doing something I loved or that was particularly fulfilling actually gave me the opportunity to discover some hobbies that I am now super passionate about and love taking to people about. Not gunna lie, this took a fair amount of therapy. (My parents work in “prestige” fields, so that certainly didn’t help with my shame-spiral that would happen every time I talked about work.)
    2. I used this anxiety as a signal to do some serious soul searching about what would make me happy, NOT what would impress other people. I was so concerned about people thinking I was doing something Cool and Important, that I completely neglected to reflect on what brings me joy. Related to the above, I discovered a few things outside of work that bring me serious joy, and I realized that having a job where I had the work-life balance to pursue those other interests was really important to me.
    3. I took a leap of faith. I was super lucky to have an opportunity appear out of nowhere—an opportunity that I never would have sought out myself, but that came about from me going above and beyond at the job I didn’t love (which I did mostly out of boredom). Instead of turning down the opportunity because it wasn’t what I envisioned when I thought about my career, I realized “Hey, this sounds like something that I would enjoy doing for the foreseeable future and could learn a lot from. I’ll apply, and if I get it, I’ll try it out.” I applied, got the job, and almost a year later, am happier than I’ve ever been. I know that’s not really a solution, since it was so dependent on luck and timing, but I think the takeaway is that feeling uncertain and lacking direction is a great excuse to try something you’ve never considered before.

    I wish you all the luck in the world. I hope you have things/find things outside of work that fulfill you mentally/emotionally/creatively. Your self worth is not determined by your economic contributions (despite what capitalism tells us). You are awesome and interesting and anyone who thinks otherwise because they don’t think your job is cool/interesting/prestigious enough is probably not worth your time. Jedi hugs.

  154. GreenDoor*

    Depending on who your with, I think “complaining” about your job, if done in a positive, upbeat tone, could actually lead to some good networking opportunities. What would be harm in saying, “Well, right now, I’m scrubbing teapots for a living. I work with some great people and I’ve seen so many awesome teapots. But I’m also keeping my eye out for a job where I can really use my coffee pot smashing skills. I’ve always been curious about the nuances of coffee pots and the various ways to smash them and I’d love to take my career in that direction.”

    Keep the negatives out, answer the direct question about what you do, but then shift the conversation to the type of work you’d love to get into or a skill you’re really good at. You never know who might be able to connect you.

  155. VermiciousKnit*

    This is very cliched gen-x of me, but I never tell people about my day job when they ask what I do. My passion lies in my hobby, where I teach and manage part-time. You’re not obligated to tell people what you get paid to do, you get to tell them the thing you do that most symbolizes you, since that’s mostly what they’re asking, anyway.

  156. Schnapps*

    See, I have kind of the opposite problem. I like my job, but it would be insanely boring and tedious to the average person. So I inject some humour into it, i.e. “I organize approval of teapot designs, make sure the right decisions can be made about them, and that every decision maker has the right information at the right time to make a (hopefully) good decision. But it’s really not as glamourous as it sounds.”

  157. Justme*

    I think the key is confidence. Fake it till you make it. When people ask what you do, respond with a smile and enthusiasm in your voice. If they ask for more details (do you like it, what tasks do you do, etc.), you can say something like, “I’ve had a lot of transition in my life lately, and it’s great for now,” then change the subject. Ask the person a question. People love to talk about themselves.

    And a personal note: I have been there. A lot of people have been there. It’s more common than you think, and I doubt anyone will judge you. Mostly people ask this question as a conversation starter.

  158. DJ*

    I’d be describing my job and the organisation I work for in neutral terms (to avoid an insult if you find the enquirer is doing similar work) and then focus on their job. Then move onto hobbies and interests.
    In your life focus more on developing hobbies and interests. Can you make up your ideal job description and volunteer doing that. Then you have other things to talk about.
    Remind yourself that the majority of us including yourself are simply trying to earn an honest living

  159. Caitin*

    I can understand the Letter Writer’s discomfort with this question because it’s something I experienced myself when I was younger (I’ve been a secretary most of my working life) mostly because of the often dismissive reaction to my answer.
    I didn’t have anything to be embarrassed by: I was earning an honest living doing a job I’m good at, helping people who might be considered to have more interesting/glamorous/worthwhile jobs, do theirs; nonetheless, some of the rude reactions and instant re-evaluations that I met with stung.
    I was usually being asked the question in social situations, not because someone was interested, or trying to forge a connection, but because I felt they were interviewing me with a view to categorizing me and deciding whether we would then proceed to actual conversation.
    Sadly, a lot of the time people decided that they couldn’t be bothered to have actual conversation with a mere secretary so I found myself dreading the question and then getting annoyed at the questioner’s reaction, complicated by the fact that, as an Irish person, I find a direct personal question rude.
    By and large, the cliché is true, Irish people love to talk. We talk about everything and nothing and glory in conversation but conversation is not interrogation and Irish people tend be more interested in your thoughts, opinions and experiences rather what you do for a living, where you live, etc.
    That’s not to say that Irish people aren’t as nosy as anyone else, just that information gathering is a little more delicate and reciprocal – you volunteer information about yourself and the other person reciprocates but the whole process is more like a game than an interview.
    Over the years I’ve grown used to the cultural differences that permit personal questions of strangers although I have never felt comfortable (or, in fact, interested in) asking them myself.
    I think that the Letter Writer would be well-advised to follow some of the excellent advice of the other commenters, viz: (1) the questioner is probably not really interested in your answer so try not to feel self-conscious; (2) if the questioner judges you for earning a living and contributing to your household, you are entitled to judge them for that; (3) when you’re answering emphasize the positive; (4) most important – try to feel the positive. You may not be changing the world but you are doing something sufficiently valued that someone is paying you to do it and the money you earn makes helps you and your partner achieve goals and build a home and a life. (5) You might find that something you are doing in your present job will help you on the way to your ultimate goal – it’s a rare job that you don’t learn something from.

  160. Parenthetically*

    My husband could have written this letter. I don’t have any advice, but solidarity and sympathy for sure.

  161. MassMatt*

    I think it may help to remember there are literally millions of people in your situation, they have jobs they aren’t happy with or not proud of, they know they could contribute more but either aren’t sure how or haven’t gotten the better job yet. Add to that the millions of people that are unemployed or under-employed and you have lots of people in the same boat if not worse. Maybe this can help you feel less self-conscious.

  162. JuniperGreen*

    LW – you’re doing GREAT! Give yourself a break and be kind to yourself.

    Do you judge other people based on their job status? My guess is no – so don’t do the same to yourself. Everyone here has already given you great advice on how to deflect job talk, so follow that if it helps you out. People LOVE to talk about themselves so a few q’s is usually all it takes to shift the conversation.

    And if you’re ready for a career change, take those once-awkward chats about your job and change it up – they’re networking opportunities! Ask someone about their job or their backgrounds, and mention you’re looking for a change. Have some goals in mind for what you’d like to do, and ask them to keep you in mind if they happen to hear of opportunities. It will be awkward at first but if you’re gracious and polite, you’ll rarely hear “no.” The worst that happens is someone suggests a job you don’t like, and you can just say you’re looking for something a little more XYZ. The best that happens is someone helps you find a lead to the next stepping stone.

  163. Patricia*

    I would just respond in very general terms: I work at an educational institution, or I work at a financial institution, or in the hospitality industry, or in retail. If they press you about what you do there just say “administrator” or “in a service capacity” or ‘sales” whatever makes sense for you. Any more questions after that, just say- ‘I try to not think about work when I’m off, thanks.’

    Although I (currently) am not self-conscious about my job, I don’t like when people who I barely know ask me about what I do. So I often do as I suggested above, deflect the conversation somewhere else. I sometimes feel that when people start off with asking me about what I do, they are less interested in who I am (not my job!) and more interested in evaluating me, based on what I do.

    Good luck!

  164. Elle Kay*

    Fairly recent there was a series of articles on “the internet” about topics like “Why Americans dread small talk” and “Why the French are so much better at small talk” – all of which boiled down to European bemusement of Americans tendency to talk about work in social settings. According to these “So what do you do?” is just not a question that should be the basis of conversation.

    Since I read these articles I’ve been paying more attention and I find that there are 2 people: those who love/like their job and will ramble about it for the next 20 minutes and those who hate/dislike their job and will take the opportunity to vent for 20 minutes.

    I’ve actually been working on avoiding the “So what do you do?” question -in non-networking/job related social interactions. In all honesty I’ve told people that “I read an article about how we should stop focusing on “what we do” as a topic of conversation since it can stifle conversations and be awkward so I’m trying not to talk about work.” It’s a little odd, I admit, but people are fairly receptive! They want to hear about the article I read or we move on to talking about a recent movie seen, book read, news story, etc.

    The key though, is to have something else to talk about; a story or topic to pivot to instead of talking about work.

    1. mf*

      I’ve definitely used: “After the week I’ve had, I’d love to talk about any other than work!” It’s pretty effective.

  165. adriana*

    I think it comes down to how you feel about your situation yourself that matters. The reason I say that is because I have a job that I AM proud of, but my friends from home believe that I haven’t fulfilled my potential and wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing (i.e. “when you could accomplish so much more!” type of thing). So even if you were totally proud of what you were doing, you could still get comments/questions/judgments from people. If you’re avoiding socializing because of the prospect of discussing your job, you might (1) truly not be okay with your own situation or (2) need to look for other social outlets that are less judgmental.

  166. AoifeL*

    I think it’s important to realise that in most situations asking someone what they do is simply any ice-breaker. when answering you could say I work at x, which gives me lots of time to focus on y, or you could follow up by saying that you moved with your husband and ask about interesting things in the area. social situations where you don’t know lots of people can be akward for both sides so saying what you do and moving on to what you’re interested in talking about will help both sides of the conversion

  167. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    Aw, this was a good comment section to read today. I’m in a similar position as the poster in that I am terribly embarrassed by my job and hate having to talk about it with people. I’ve been underemployed for three and a half years now, and it’s been incredibly hard on my mental health. I love all the suggestions people have and I’ll have to come back and skim through them again the next time I have to go to an event with my spouse (who, lucky me, has a prestigious job in the same field as I am so everyone I meet knows *exactly* how terrible my current job is, unlike people outside of the field who generally have no idea what I do).

  168. Anna*

    Like some of these comments say, play up what the company does! Like for me, I’m not keen on what I do either, so I’ll just say oh I work for a marketing firm (I figure the public mind dazzles about what I could possibly do during the day and all the “Mad Men” qualities of my career, but in reality, I mostly do a lot of data entry). In terms of other things to talk about, I am a writer and avid reader and I do some freelance on the side! Please…ask me about that stuff, I say! So…maybe doing some side gigs will help you? The side hustle is where it’s at I think anyways! Or maybe try some volunteering in something that interests you. Or explore some of your own interests, it doesn’t have to sound cool to public ears as long as you’re happy!

  169. LilySparrow*

    Lots of people have day jobs that don’t relate to their vocation or desired career. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

    My answer would depend on whether I was looking for a purely social connection, or to possibly network toward a better job.

    In the first case, I’d just mention the company name and then change the subject to a personal interest we could connect over. Jobs in that context are just a conversation opener, not the real point. “I’m at Widgets Inc. But you know, I’m still kind of new in town, and looking for a good gym/Thai restaurant/bookstore/synagogue, what would you recommend?”

    If I wanted to network a bit, I’d answer by talking about the career you want, and just refer to the industry you’re in, without specifics on your actual job if you don’t want to discuss it.

    “I’m working in the widget sector right now, but I have a background in Teapot Procurement. How about you?”

  170. tigerlily*

    I haven’t read all the comments, so someone else may have said this already, but I was in a similar situation a few years ago. After a move, I ended up taking a step down from where I had been before and felt kind of embarrassed about it at first. But usually when talking to people and the subject of occupation came up I usually said something along the lines of “well, right now I’m doing X, but I’m working to get back into doing Y.” It was a truthful statement, and allowed me to talk more generally about the field than the specific job I held at the time.

  171. Torrance*

    It’s already been said a few times but, seriously, my advice would just be to own it. People will either understand or they won’t and then you’ve quickly learned something about the latter– they’re gorram fools and, to steal from Bernard Baruch, ‘people who mind don’t matter and people who matter don’t mind’.

    There is no shame in not being lucky enough to have your hard work pay off. Being in a job you’re proud of is mostly luck, after all– lots of people will work hard their entire lives and never get what the accolades/career/advancement/life they deserve.

    And, honestly, just take pride in how awesome you are. I obviously don’t know anything about your relationship with your spouse but you didn’t hold them back from achieving great things, even though you were the one who had to sacrifice. That takes a considerable amount of selflessness and love. That’s another thing you should never feel shame about.

  172. Argh!*

    How much do these people really care? I look at that kind of thing as fishing for commonalities to continue the conversation. If you say something vague like “I work at [company name]. Where do you work?” that will be the end of it. If the other person starts drilling down (“Oh really, which department?”) they are probably thinking of their friend who works in billing and hoping you will say billing so they can mention their friend.

    I am not ashamed of my job but I’ve had negative responses from a few people. I double-down and say “I love my job because” [blah blah blah] until they either realize their error in dissing my job or realize their error in engaging me in conversation!

    Eliminating snobs and racists from my circle of friends right from the get-go has saved me a lot of disappointment and time. I’d much rather talk to the people at the party who are decent people anyway, so I don’t see these negative reactions as a problem.

  173. Agnodike*

    OP, imagine you’re talking to someone about your best friend’s job. That person says, “Ugh, I can’t believe Best Friend is still working as a llama groomer; she has so much more potential than that, and llama grooming isn’t really doing much to contribute to society! How embarrassing. She should pretend she’s got a different job. ” Would you agree? If not, why are you saying those things to yourself about your own job? You’re paying your bills. You’re being a contributing member of society. Don’t look down your nose at anyone, including yourself.

  174. Meh Job*

    Personally I would try to brush it off with a casual ‘nothing exciting, but it pays the bills and my hobbies keep me busy. What do you do at work or in your spare time?’ And then try to keep that redirect of talking about their job or hobbies. Many people do love to answer questions about themselves!

  175. Safetykats*

    I wonder why you think you have to defend your job, or even talk about it? My dad is a brilliant guy, with a pretty important job. Most of my friends (and extended family) have really no idea what he does. They all love talking to him – because he’s a brilliant conversationalist. The thing is he doesn’t talk much at all. He works hard at figuring out what other people want to talk about.

    Most people would much rather talk about themselves, given half a chance, that listen to you talk – especially about your job. If you don’t want to talk about your job, just figure out what questions to ask to keep them talking about something else.

  176. Lissa*

    I worked in food service for all of my 20s, and I definitely get being embarrassed about a job It’s hard, because often I’d have people treat me quite differently when they found out what I did, and it felt like there were people who would defend other perceived-as-low-status jobs, people who served food did not fall into that category. I was not in the industry because I loved it, though there were things about I really did. I feel like if it paid a living wage and was not looked down on, most of my unhappiness during that period of my life would not have existed.

    It’s also a weird balance because on the one hand people will jump up and say “if you say “I don’t want to be just a nurse/secretary, you’re insulting those who do”, that’s not gonna happen with someone working at Subway. On the other hand, I really appreciated that when I was finally able to find something else, my boss was completely congratulatory and acknowledged, yeah, this isn’t anybody’s dream job. but oh man the assumptions people made about my intelligence, worth as a human etc. were awful. Even good friends of mine would casually say stuff in front of me implying they wouldn’t date someone with my job, etc.

  177. tamarack and fireweed*

    Sometimes you just have to brazen it out. Job snobbery is rude, and the only way to stomp it out is not to give it any space. I have a friend who’s a teacher and picks up occasionally extra work with janitorial work, others who work retail or for the parks department or in land clearing, and those who work in construction tend to be quite proud of their jobs, especially those who own their own contracting business. Another friend, very smart, worked part-time as an accountant while also collecting rental income, before she became the primary caretaker for two aging relatives and became a full-time landlady. She used to say “I’m not very professionally ambitious” when asked.

    But you don’t have to give a point-by-point rundown. You don’t want to say you’re a custodian, = say “I work in a service job for the school district”; you don’t want to say that you’re doing data entry, say “I work for [name of employer, if recognizable; or a short description of what type of company”. When pressed you can always say “oh, my tasks aren’t super exciting, but what I really want to do is to open my own pottery studio / go back to school and get a CPF certificate / find a job as a technical writer / become a personal trainer / whatever you DO feel excited about”.

    Giving explanations (that sound like “I’m just doing this because it pays the bills…”) may be too much information: you wouldn’t add apologetic explanations to a job that you feel excited about or proud of, and people who ask aren’t really interested in your internal conflict. That would be like giving a detailled honest answer to “How are you?”

    1. Amy*

      I agree that giving explanations sounds too apologetic, and unnecessarily so. It could also be unintentionally offensive if the OP comes across as TOO self-deprecating about their job.
      OP: “I’m only a [profession], but someone has to do it”
      Party Friend: “My mother was a [profession] for 40 years]”

  178. The Other Katie*

    I just don’t talk about my job in social situations. If someone asks I briefly say what I do, and then move the conversation on. It’s not a big part of my identity and I’ve got lots of more interesting stuff to talk about, so I don’t see why I should waste time. If that doesn’t work, I try to redirect them to talk about their job instead.

  179. lamuella*

    My general advice would be to gently redirect from what you’re doing to what you’d like to do, or what the person you’re talking to does. The “so what do you do?” question is basically a variation on “tell me something interesting about yourself so we can talk about it”. If you don’t find your job interesting, use this as an opportunity to talk about something else. Something like:

    “Well, I work in teapot shelving at the moment, but I’m always looking for a new challenge. So you work in spout design? Tell me more about that.”

  180. John Rohan*

    From the headline I thought the LW was working in the adult entertainment industry.

    You have a job! And from the sound of it, a decent paying one in a respectable field. A lot of people would kill for that. Try to keep that in perspective.

  181. Amy*

    I’m reminded of that story about the custodian at NASA who was asked what his job was, and he said, “I help send people into space.” If you think about your role in the larger organization, not only does it make the “small talk at parties” part easier, but it might help reframe it for you personally.
    10 years ago I took an “embarrassing” job at a company that had nothing to do with my area of interest or education. It ended up turning in to a satisfying career as I progressed through the organization.
    I would also suggest keeping in mind the importance of humility. The job that is embarrassing to you may be the job that your co-worker is proud to have. There’s nothing to suggest that you’re walking around your workplace acting like you’re above it all, I’m just saying that if you keep in mind that someone somewhere is grateful to have that job as a [your embarrassing job] it can help. Hang in there.

  182. Casual Fribsday*

    This is a touchy subject for me personally, so I’m weighing in without reading other comments— apologies if I’m repeating.

    Practical answer: “Well, I (used to work as) (am trained as) a teapot engineer, but since we’ve moved I’ve been filing teapot sketches to make ends meet. How about that (subject change)?”

    More philosophical answer: For background, I’ve completed a lot of education (including most of a professional degree), and had some pretty awesome jobs. I have health issues that prevent me from continuing that line of work, and I now have a job where I am regularly referred to as “the secretary.” I totally get that mortified feeling when you tell someone (especially in a setting like spouse’s colleagues) what you do for work.

    At some point in this process, I realized that I was feeling a lot of shame about having a job “beneath” my (no longer existent) capabilities, and I started thinking about it in a broader social context. If I met someone who did my job (and I didn’t), would I be judging their capabilities/intelligence, or would I think, “That’s cool,” and move on? And which of those people do I want to be and see more of in the world? I really don’t want to judge people on the opportunities they’ve had that allowed them to get where they are.

    Now, I’ve mentally separated paid work and intelligence, so I don’t make assumptions about people’s abilities based on what they do, but I’ve also come to terms with the fact that some people will make those assumptions about me, and if that’s how they see the world, maybe I care a little less about what they think.


  183. mf*

    Oh boy, do I have I been there. Actually, I am there right now. Here’s what I do:

    1) Have something else interesting to talk about besides work that you do regularly and enjoy (a side gig, a hobby, a skill you’re learning). I always tell people I’m admin by day because it pays pretty well, but I’m an editor and script development assistant by night for fun. It helps moves the conversation towards something I enjoy talking about.

    2) Enlist your spouse or a friend to help direct the conversation away from your job–bonus points if they can turn the conversation towards a topic that you are knowledge about.

    3) Become really good at asking people about themselves, especially about things they are passionate about (sometimes work but usually hobbies, interests, their kids, etc). People LOVE talking about themselves, and as long as they are talking about themselves, they are not talking you and your job!

  184. MJL*

    I’ve also been there/am still there, except you are fortunate enough to enjoy your current work. From my experience, people aren’t super judgmental about your work. The people who do judge you for it are not people you want in your life.

    I suppose I was lucky enough to have the right people around me. For context, I am a college graduate who was fired from his first job, and then worked in the service industry for 2 years. While I certainly felt ashamed, no one in my group of friends or family ever chastised me for it.

    Having a different hobby to talk about instead is often helpful.

    As for finding out what you want your long term goals are, at least in the US, many public universities offer career counseling to adults who are not students or alumni. I met with a counselor in the city where I live and she helped me to get back to school to go into a field I’m actually interested in.

  185. boop the first*

    I feel you. It gets worse the more time passes, and I’m at the point now where I pretty much just wave people off and say I’m “just a loser in retail.” Apparently that makes me “look bad”, but then I feel pretty bad so that’s only fitting. My husband nudges me to add that I’m also an artist, but it doesn’t feel official when you don’t make money so I’m pretty embarrassed about that, too. I don’t leave the house socially anymore.

    1. Triple Anon*

      Wait. Why not make money as an artist? Even just a little money. Then you can put it on your resume and tell people it’s your job.

  186. Not Politically Correct*

    I don’t know why Alison didn’t include the gender of the writer. It will make a huge difference. but to the OP: Is money an issue?

    OP if you’re a woman and money is not an issue then having kids will change everything. A lot of stay at home moms don’t work and they feel accomplished keeping the house clean, cooking nice meals, and taking care of their children. Many volunteer or work part-time as the children get older. In fact a study showed that the women who stay at home, take care of the kids and likely work part-time/not take their career too seriously are far more likely to be happy than the high power career women.

    I think the media did a real diservice telling women that being a stay at home mom was a bad thing, or that women need to be in high powered meaningful careers to be worth something

    1. NorthernSoutherner*

      What ‘study’ are you referring to? Because the studies I’ve read show that with a 50% divorce rate, any woman who puts her financial welfare in someone else’s hands is taking a huge risk. Sorry, I can’t comment further on what you said and still follow the site’s rules about being kind.

  187. Triple Anon*

    “So, what do you do?”

    “OMG, I’m a gopher at Widget Works! Back in Iowa, I was an attorney. How did this happen? Well, I could tell you….” Side glance at spouse. “Ok, someone in my family got a really good job offer here in this beautiful city and I came along. I’m still finding my way here. Widget Works is interesting. I’m learning a lot about an industry I hadn’t thought about since middle school math classes. But law is my calling. If you know any local lawyers, send them my way.”

  188. NorthernSoutherner*

    OMG this could be me. (My screen name kind of says it)

    I made a big move bc my spouse found his dream job about 2k miles from home. Ultimately, it was a good move for our family, but I struggled, I really did. I brought some freelance clients with me, and kept them, but with all our new expenses, it wasn’t enough. I found a few part-time gigs, and here’s where I mostly sympathize with LW — I was way overqualified for much of what I found. But you’re there to do a job and your boss doesn’t really give a rat’s, so my ego took a major hit. THAT might have been a good thing in the long run. I also gained major appreciation for those in subordinate roles and how they are prejudged and perceived by those above. Wow. Big diff from the auto-respect I used to get.

    I’m now still in a sub role, but in an industry I wanted to learn about and with a boss who, yes, expects me to do the ‘carp’ stuff but also appreciates and tries to use my other talents when she can. It’s not what I left behind, and I had to come to terms with that, but the bottom line is it’s been good for my family and knowing that helps a lot.

  189. KingTubbo*

    A question similar to this one has been rolling around in my mind for a while. I worked for a couple decades editing legal documents and then worked a number of years for a digital marketing company, writing copy for websites and promotional videos. I was laid off and went on to apply for over 300 writing jobs, but never got anything but one short temp position and some freelance work. (I did get a couple job offers but both positions were put on hold between the offer and the actual start date. Go figure.) In order to pay the bills, I took a job as a janitor. I am now planning to look for writing positions again (out of state no less) and am wondering how to handle the fact that I have been mopping floors and scrubbing toilets for the last six months. I take the job seriously (all my coworkers compliment me often on how clean I keep the facility) and put my all into it, but I know some might look at me and think sheesh! what a loser.

    The reader responses to this post have helped me realize that I am not the only one in this boat and that the boat ain’t sinking after all. One thing I think is important to stress is that even though your gig might not be what you desire, you put your all into it. For example, I am creating a janitorial handbook that shows how the facility (and I, the janitor) follow county sanitation protocol to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A (a big problem in our neck of the woods). Employers will see that while I may not have prestige and a chance for promotion, I do have initiative.

    My thanks to all who replied to the original post — it has been helpful to me.

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