Overheard on CNN.com: There’s more to life than an impressive job
LZ Granderson says Americans ask the question "What do you do for a living?" as a measuring stick far too often.
October 25th, 2011
01:07 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: There’s more to life than an impressive job

Comment of the morning:

"I always try to avoid this question. Not because of where it ranks me and my conversation counterpart against each other and the rest of society, but because for most people, your job isn't the best part of your day to begin with." –Guest

Going beyond what people do

CNN.com columnist LZ Granderson, who is also a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, says Americans love to ask strangers: "What do you do for a living?" He believes the once-innocent question is now used to judge people more often than not, especially during a bad economy. LZ says, “We should be less focused on the material and more on the worth of people.”

And CNN.com readers mainly agreed with him, but a few defended the question as a means to genuinely get to know someone.

Armymom48 said, “When someone I love became disabled and told me how badly they felt having to answer the question ‘What do you for a living?’ because all they could think of to say was ‘I'm disabled,’ I changed my own behavior and starting asking ‘How do you keep yourself busy?’ This gives people a chance to talk about the things they enjoy most about their lives whether it’s a job or a hobby or family or whatever. It also, for the most part, eliminates making anyone feel like they have to be ashamed or apologize or make excuses for what someone else might see as a shortcoming.”

anon12389211 said, “I was unemployed at one time and I hated it when people asked me that question.”

EdDFWTX said, “We work to live. We don't live to work. When all is said and done you won't be remembered as a person who put in 80 hours a week or was really good at developing processes. You'll be remembered for the person you are and how you have touched others. A job is just a job. It pays the bills.”

MarkWisdom responded, “Depends who you are and what you do with your life. If I mention Jonas Salk – Polio Vaccine, Marie Curie – Pioneer of Radiology, Peter Drucker – Social/Management Theory, Abraham Maslow – Self-Actualization, they are more remembered by what they did in their work, not the person they were.”

TEA4ever4ALL said, “Some of us actually like our jobs and get a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment from the job.”

GoRemoteKCl said, “What you do with about half of your waking hours does seem kinda relevant to who you are...”

Guest responded, “It's what's behind the question that's the point. It's true that what people do for a living [is important], but most often, the reason for asking it is to uncover a person's monetary worth... trying to attach value to that person for his or her station in life. Nobody wants to talk to the 7-11 clerk in the bar. They want to talk to the doctor or the book author or the marketing analyst.”

elperroguapo said, “Yeah, it's a pretty boring question, though I guess I catch myself asking it in strange settings just to get the conversation going. It's akin to asking ‘How 'bout them Redsox?’ or ‘Crazy weather we're having, isn't it?' And some people love talking about it, and some seemingly have few interests outside of what they do. As for myself, though my job might be considered ‘impressive’ to some, I'm not a big fan about talking about it. I have to do that enough when I'm at work.”

eyewonder said, “The real question is ‘Are you working or do you get unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid?"

nightlite responded, “Many people who are working still need food stamps and Medicaid. The decently paid middle class jobs of the past are gone now.”

Polsel said, “LZ, you are wrong. The question ‘What do you do?’ is not about money, it is about interests and expertise. When meeting someone new, people try to find topics of common interests, or, better yet, to find someone who is an expert in an area that interests you. If someone is a ‘chef’ they may make minimum wage at a small restaurant or a six-figure salary at an upscale restaurant. In either case, they know things: about food preparation, food safety, recipes, food trends ... all things that make for an interesting conversation. The idea that this question is to establish a pecking order is laughable.”

AGoodwin responded, “While all of that is true, I think his point is that, no matter what, we compare ourselves to others. So even though we ask the question hoping to find common ground, we still try to measure up against the next guy.”

thr2 said, “Thanks LZ. That is an article worth pondering because I can't remember the last time a moment took my breath away, and that is a shame.”

Open Thread: Talk about the news

Do you feel your views align with these commenters' thoughts? Post a comment below or sound off on video.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. s kel

    I knew a person on my job who was a good firefighter. Even got a medal for a incident they were inolved in. But off that job this person was a spouseal abuser, drunkard. Ended up getting fired. Now the question is ,was this person jugded on what he did on their job, or judged on what they were liked off the job?

    October 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. michaelfury

    Yes, there's the impressive job you lost for speaking the truth.


    October 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Obozo the Socialist God of Stupidity

    My fellow Americans.... that is all.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Andreas Moser

    I gave up my job as an attorney – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/sabbatical/ – and it has been very liberating. I am poorer, but less stressed. I can afford to travel less, but I have more time to enjoy it. I returned to university in my mid-30s and I am enjoying it.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Andreas Moser

    On their deathbed, nobody ever thinks "I wish i had worked more." – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/deathbed-thoughts/

    October 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. s kel

    Im very very glad for you Andreas Moser. That was a brave thing to do.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. s kel

    and the tombstone wont read" this person worked a lot of overtime,thank you".

    October 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. slider

    I am waiting for Obama's "income redistribution" to kick in so I can become a "parasitic leach" and live off you dumb taxpayers who work.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I want my epitaph to read:

    October 25, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    On my foot stone, please carve:

    October 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat2u

    Some people feel they must work all the time in order to afford all the things everyone else has. Does it make them happy ?
    I would have to say no. When all you do is work, you have no time for the simpler things in life. Yeah, you have all the expensive stuff, but you also have the debt that goes along with it. That doesn't equate to happiness,
    Try slowing down, enjoy life, enjoy family. These are the priceless items.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeepers

    I just try to avoid small talk in general...mostly because I suck at it.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. s kel

    Yeah SLIDER and im waiting on evil tea party slugs like you keepin my country held back by all the NOs your fellow slugs in congress are doing to just die off.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. s kel

    Hey JIF hey Bobcat.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Hello s kel,
    Hello bobcat.
    Don't do too much work.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
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