Why We Need to Stop Asking Each Other “What Do You Do?”

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Earlier this year I returned to the U.S. for five months after living in Asia for the previous nine months. It was a strange experience because I was constantly reminded of how much my mindsets on money, status, and values have changed.

One of the most interesting parts of my time back in the States was watching an older, successful woman grill people on “what they did” at a small gathering. I could see how much this question mattered to her based on her intensely judgmental facial reactions.

While “What do you do?” is a standard question that many Americans ask to find out more about each other, it is far too often used as a way to judge the social value of other humans. And it’s part of a greater theme in American society (and in the world) in which we heavily judge others based on what they do and what they have instead of who they are.

The most blatant example of this is how differently American men and women react to potential mates depending on how wealthy they perceive them to be. If you don’t believe me then watch this video.

I’ve been guilty of asking people “what do you do?” in the past (and for judging people based on their response), but since I started nomading last year my perspective has changed.

Travelers tend to interact with each on more human to human levels because most people are exploring, not working. And, as I learned while writing this post, the U.S. is one of the only cultures in the world where it is socially acceptable to ask people what they do early in a conversation.

I now care much more about what people are passionate about rather than what they do for a living (although frequently one’s passion and one’s work intersect). I’ve replaced the “what do you do?” question with “what are you passionate about or what do you spend your time doing?” This removes any judgment and allows the person to jump into a discussion about their greatest passion. It could be their work, a hobby or even a tv show that they’ve been watching.

I’ve found that talking to people about their passions makes for better conversations and deeper human connections. Plus it gives you a much better sense of who they are as a person and what they care about.

My hope is that this post will inspire at least one person to stop asking other people about what they do and instead ask others about their passions and who they are as a person. You may find, as I have, that you will have deeper and more meaningful interactions with people that you meet.

If this resonated with you please let me know as it will motivate me to write more! And as always, if you’re interested in chatting about this or anything else, feel free to reach out.

Cover photo by Arthur Poulin.

I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.