The Killer Question
All right here we go:
Primary school Check
High school Check
Does that list sound familiar? I know a lot of people from the western world that have followed the same path in life. Maybe the travel part is a cool bonus point but that’s about it. So now what?
Around November 2014 I arrived back in The Netherlands from a year living abroad and I started to surprise my friends. It was great but weird. It was nice to see them after such a long time of course but I realized as well that I couldn’t really connect to them anymore.
It was a bit overwhelming to feel this disconnected from your old friends, to be honest.
Some had a new job, some got into a relationship, but to me, it felt like my whole year abroad didn’t even happen. It felt like I never got on that plane in the first place.
About a week after I got back in Utrecht (I do love my home city) I went to a party organized by one of my friends. It was her birthday. I was really excited about it and I could not wait to see all the people that I had not seen in a long time.
I was one of the earliest to arrive and with a joker smile on my face I was waiting for everybody to come in.
First up was Karen. A girl I met during my Minor. After a hug and three kisses on the cheek (That’s how we roll in the Netherlands. The tree kiss greeting) she asked me what I was doing at the moment, job wise.
I told her I had no idea and that I just came back from living abroad for a year.
She looked intrigued but when I told her my stories, it didn’t feel like she was that interested. She could just not relate to me in any way.
This was a weird experience since I just got back from a place where I was surrounded with like-minded people and now I’m talking to somebody that looks at me like I’m just a weird dude.
So I figured I should stop boring her with my stories and started to ask her about her life and what she was up to. Apparently, she met an English guy and now lived together in London where she worked in a flower company. After that, the conversation soon died down.
Next one. Nick. He wasn’t one of the people I used to hang around with much, but we got along. After a quick handshake he asked me what I was doing, job wise. I told him that I have no idea because I just came back from traveling.
He looked at me and smiled and then he said he was working in a daycare center at the moment. After that, the conversation quickly got boring again.
I got up out of my chair, grabbed my beer and walked over to Sabrina. A girl who I always seemed intrigued by (a.k.a. she is smoking hot).
The conversation started with the three awkward kisses (One thing that did change while I was gone was that a group of rebellious girls chose to give one kiss instead of three now. So when I leaned in for the second and third kiss, she backed down… Imagine the awkwardness..) and a few laughs and “Its good to see you again” kind of stuff.
Then about 3 min into the conversation she asked me: “So, and what do you do now?”
Again, I explained that I didn’t know at the moment and I asked her the same question.
She told me she worked at a bar but she didn’t really look that happy when she told me. Like the conversations I had before, this one died down as well.
It was like I was living in a totally different world.
All I cared about was living in the moment while everybody else was focused on their future and asking people what they are doing.
For the rest of the night, every time I started a conversation with somebody I got in really excited, ready to tell my experiences, but it only lasted about five to ten minutes before it died down again. For me, it was one of the worst parties I had been to in years!
I began to realize that it had something to do with the question that everybody seemed to ask each other. Every time I began to talk to somebody, they would ask me: “So, what do you do now?” For me, this question was a conversation killer. A killer question.
On first glance nothing seems to be wrong with this question, it is just a good conversation starter. But for a bunch of people in their early to mid 20’s, this question seems to have a lot more impact.
When you ask a 10-year-old kid what he wants to do the answers are as diverse as they are big ‘I want to be an astronaut! A doctor! A footballer or a dancer!!’
And we love that! If a kid says he wants to be a professional singer we see it as something cute. There is no real difference in our eyes, no right or wrong. (Unless that kid says he wants to be a porn star. That answer should raise some eyebrows.)
When I was studying I was surrounded by students so nobody bothered to ask me what I was doing since everybody kind of knew. I was studying. And I felt like I was doing the right thing. When I was traveling, travelers surrounded me so nobody bothered to ask what I was doing either because they knew I was just traveling.
But when you ask a 20 something-year-old guy or girl that just left college, it can be a horrible question. It’s like a limited way of looking at life and can make you feel like there is a certain path you should follow. It’s annoying.
Now, why is that?
Why do we compare ourselves?
From where I’m from, almost everybody goes to college. We grew up believing we should. But after earning your degree, you find yourself in a position where for the first time ever, you don’t know what to do next.
“I got a degree now, so the next thing I should get is a job right? A job that fits my study profile.”
The only problem is that a job like that isn’t really out there. The economy isn’t working in our favor at the moment and even if we find a job that fits our profile, should you take it?
Should you feel lucky you got offered a job? Should you take it for that reason?
This is why people tend to ask their peers “So what are you doing now?” They are simply comparing themselves to see if what they are doing is right or they are looking for inspiration.
To be honest, I think the question is fucked up and it can make you feel really insecure. It felt like that in this particular group of people, it was a defining question.
When I was traveling I never felt like I was comparing myself to others. I was interested in the lives of other people, but I wasn’t comparing myself to them at all.
All I cared about if somebody was interesting and fun to hang out with. Now that I’m back in the ‘real world’ I suddenly felt like every decision I made is vital for my future. I began to ask myself if I wasted a year traveling since other people in my environment already had jobs and girlfriends and what not.
There is some insane feeling of pressure that looms over you.
I realize now that thinking like that is absolute bullshit. Nobody is following the right path. The grass is almost never greener on the other side. And once you accepted that, life will be a lot easier.
Do you really think Obama wakes up every morning with the idea that everything he does is the right thing? He makes well-calculated decisions (At least, I hope he does) but at the end of the day, he will never be sure he made the right one.
“Ultimately, you have to pursue your own path, not someone’s idea of the right path. You need to stay on your path.” — Baz Luhrmann
Now in the last year, I found myself being able to handle this question a lot better and I don’t affect me anymore.
This can come from the fact that I have a good job at an amazing company right now, so whenever somebody asks me what I am doing, I will have an answer that they are looking for. It takes the pressure off.
But at the same time, in certain social situations, I don’t really enjoy talking about work. It feels like I’m being labeled for what I do.
Let me tell you what I did to get to this point so maybe it can help you figure
1. Mention that you don’t like the topic of conversation.
Is it that easy? Yes, it is as simple as that. People value honesty so if you don’t like something, mention it. It’s not insulting, it’s not rude. In fact, it is my opinion that some people will actually appreciate this.
Who doesn’t want to be surprised with a nice, random conversation? If someone asks you: “What are you doing now?” Do you really think you are the only one in the room that question will be asked to? Your not that special you know…
Simple mention, in a nice way, you rather want to talk about something else. Talk about a movie you have seen recently or about that cute puppy your neighbor just bought.
It does not matter what the topic is but I promise you, it will lead to a much more interesting conversation.
2. Don’t take it so seriously…
I was out last weekend and I was talking to this women at the bar. She asked me what I was doing and I simply said to her: “I’m a hitman. I’m actually looking for my target here.”
Now, of course, she knew this was a joke (It would have been a very interesting night if she believed it though) and it caught her by surprise.
Suddenly, she changed from a ‘bored’ person sitting at the bar, to somebody who was laughing about a dumb joke. In the end, it turned out to be a great conversation.
3. Be very interested in the person you are talking to.
Sometimes people are genuinely interested in what you do and it can be the same the other way around. You can feel it in the flow of the conversation, it’s either exciting or depressing.
If it’s depressing, use the tips above. If it’s exciting, try to get everything out of the conversation as you can.
I was talking to a guy in a suit the other day who was a copywriter. I was really interested in what he did for a living so we started to talk about it. I asked difficult questions, asked about what he does now and how he got to this point. People love to talk about them self if they feel like its meaning.
I don’t want to tell you what you should do, but at least give the following a try. If you’re going to a party or meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in a while and you feel like starting a conversation. Try to think beforehand what you want to get out of it.
Don’t go in there asking about work-related stuff if you’re not really interested. And don’t start talking bullshit, when what you really want is to make interesting connections.
Think about what you want.
Find a way to handle this ‘killer question’.