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

    a

    October 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. s kel

    JIF I listed twice all of the downtown DC hall and theathers ,but dumazz CNN somehow wont let me post them.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. s kel

    Anyway my wife and I would love to see you play . When you come back to DC area.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. the nice man in the white coat

    You people are all insane.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Magda

    Please reply to my e-mail how can I donate to people suffering because of the earthquake in Turkey. Thanks

    October 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Portland Tony

    You ask someone: What do you do for a living? He replies "nothing". Is he to be envied because he's wealthy or pitied because he's poor?

    October 25, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Harmony

    This is why I don't ask people anymore; sometimes the answers are heartbreaking.

    October 25, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony

      My point ...Question was rhetorical

      October 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dprang

    I am semi retired. When I get asked what do I do, I say what my trade is...if I am further queried, I say 'not working at the moment'. At one time I would have been mortified by how I felt when asked the question. I am basically stress free and that is a pleasure for me. I am active, more diet regulated and feeling better than I did working. Stress is a killer in all respects. At the end of the day, it is about the people we know and care about. Keep healthy and your head up high!

    October 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dprang

    I am semi retired. When I get asked what I do, I say what my trade is...if I am further queried, I say 'not working at the moment'. At one time I would have been mortified by how I felt when asked the question. I am basically stress free and that is a pleasure for me. I am active, more diet regulated and feeling better than I did working. Stress is a killer in all respects. At the end of the day, it is about the people we know and care about. Keep healthy and your head up high!

    October 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ol Driller

    I 'm a freelance proctolagist, you just let me know where and when.

    October 25, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Best effort yet, Ol Driller, at 8:06.

    October 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Harmony

    Jacassio, PT.

    Ol Driller:
    I agree with JIF.

    October 25, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. cosmicvox

    More to Life than an Impressive Job ? I think Life is all about finding a Job that impresses YOU, yourself. If it's important to you in any way be proud of it. Don't let it consume you but we all have a job to do one way or another.

    October 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cosmicvox

    People who are retired have earned it and have nothing to feel weird about. Smell the roses, enjoy the grandchildren, write a book, paint a picture, drink a beer and fall asleep in the hammock...

    October 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    Some people walk through life with the gift of being able to foresee their own foot in their mouth before it happens and thus can prevent it from happening. I wouldn't ask what a person does for a living unless it was appropriate or I already knew and was curious about details. Nor would I ask an an assumed pregnant lady when she's due.

    October 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
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