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The “What do you do?” trap

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Personal Development

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Onto the regularly scheduled programming…

“What do you do?”

It’s a cocktail party question heard around the world.

And it’s a question we’re programmed to answer with a quick rundown of our LinkedIn profiles.

For years, I was no different. My reply was a rehearsed monologue: “Rocket scientist turned lawyer, pivoted to law professor, and eventually morphed into an author and speaker.” I would then weave this jumbled career trajectory into a neat, linear story, as if each twist and turn was a carefully planned step on a predestined path.

But here’s the twist: My path was never a linear one. I never had a 5-year plan, or even a 2-year plan.

It may have seemed that way when I narrated it in hindsight, but in reality, I was simply following my curiosity. My insatiable desire to explore, to understand, and to grow led me from one profession to another, like a bee buzzing from flower to flower. There was no grand blueprint; only an unfolding series of questions, each leading to a new chapter in my life story.

Then, during a recent conversation, my perspective took an unexpected turn.

Facing the same question again—“What do you do?”—something inside me shifted.

Instead of reciting my well-rehearsed lines, I found myself saying, “I’m exploring my curiosities. I’m creating art that helps people—myself included—reimagine the world. I’m learning to trust my intuition.”

These words weren’t part of some memorized script. They were an acknowledgment of my living, breathing presence in that very moment. The air seemed to change. The person I was talking to leaned in. It felt as though I’d cracked a window and let fresh air into a room that had been stuffy for years.

Why did this shift matter? We live in a world that rewards the concrete, the tangible. Our obsession with “coherent narratives” keeps us spinning our life stories into digestible elevator pitches. These narratives might look pretty framed on the wall, but they can also turn into prisons. They begin to define us, restrict us, and hold us captive in the very stories we’ve authored for ourselves.

Life isn’t a ladder, to be climbed in a linear fashion one logical rung at a time.

Life is more like jazz—a rich blend of the planned and the spontaneous. You learn the basics, you get the tempo, but then you improvise. The objective isn’t to reach a predetermined end but to remain open to possibilities.

In a world obsessed with job titles, 5-year plans, and coherent narratives, it’s easy to forget that we are, above all, evolving human beings, forever works in progress.

Your past may shape you, but it doesn’t define you.

You’re not your LinkedIn bio.

You’re not your status updates.

You’re not a static character in a pre-written biography.

You’re the author, gifted with the ability to rewrite your story over and over again.

So the next time someone asks me, “What do you do?,” I’ll let them in on a secret: “I’m alive. I’m present. I’m curious.”

And for me, that’s the best I can be.

The Contrarian Handbook
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