What Do You Do?

When you start a conversation with someone you have not met before, chances are the question “What do you do?” will be asked. It can be a question that spurs the conversation on (“I’m an astronaut”), is met with a dazed look (“I’m an electrical engineer”) or kills the chat altogether (“I’m a public servant”).

Many people define themselves, and others, by their occupations. There is an enormous amount of social importance that’s attached to that definition. So when you find yourself in a category that’s less glamorous it can be a difficult thing to handle.

I have been jobless twice, and in both circumstances I was studying before I was out of work. As well as the obvious problems that come with a lack of income, the most difficult thing to accept was waking up in the morning knowing that, in the eyes of society, I was unemployed. Sure, you can try to give yourself the title of the odd jobs you manage to get, but the words “I’m a pamphlet deliverer” never saw me pick up a hottie in a nightclub.

Let’s face it – being a surgeon, a hotel manager, a nurse or a fireman is downright sexy. Rightly or wrongly, society gives special importance to certain jobs, particularly those that pay the higher amounts. But if you take a close look at individuals in swanky inner city offices you realise that many of them are in worse financial situations than the people who clean those offices in the wee hours of the night, or the cab drivers who take them home after their meetings. Proof that financial success is not about what you earn, but what you do with it.

I remember a primary school teacher saying to me once that teachers had the most important job of all. Without teachers there are no doctors, nurses, midwives or any medical professionals who bring us into the world. As far as paid professions go, I reckon that’s pretty accurate. But, as they say, the best things in life are free.

Or unpaid.

Twenty years ago, official documents would have categories to choose for occupations, and among them was ‘housewife’. These days the politically correct term is ‘home duties’ and most of the time it’s referring to a stay at home parent.

I’d argue that the most important job in the world is a parent. It’s parents who guide those children who go on to become teachers. And the most intense form of parenting is done by the stay at home mums and dads.

They intensively teach their kids language, social, literacy, numeracy, physical and technological skills that will mould those kids into the adults of tomorrow. And their payment is love.

So next time you are at a party and someone says they are a stay at home mum or dad, keep listening, ‘cause I guarantee they can teach you a thing or two.

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