I met up with a friend from college Saturday night- she was out with a friend she works with, whom I hadn’t met before. And among the standard chit chat, the drinks, the snarkery directed at swarms of inappropriately dressed people out downtown, the girl asks me- “What do you do?”
I mentally groaned.
Me: Ummm… I work at an advertising agency.
Her: So you’re a graphic designer!
Her: Oh. Well I have a friend who works at an agency and that’s what they do.
Me: So how long have you been teaching?
The girl did nothing wrong- it was a perfectly reasonable line of questioning and by far not the first time I’d found myself venturing down this path of confusion. It goes back as far as the midst of my college career, when I ran into a family friend that asked me how I liked school was I excited to be a teacher.
I was a communication major from the time I entered ISU until the time I left. I had four internships- working in public relations or communication at various places around Terre Haute and Indianapolis. And while there were a few minutes my freshman year where I really missed working with kids the way I had as a teacher’s aid in high school- I had never- not once- made a change.
What. The. Hell.
Turns out- Grandma couldn’t remember what my major was, didn’t really know what public relations meant and figured communications couldn’t be too far of a leap from education- so she went with it.
Several years later, I’m still not sure she could tell you what I do- She memorizes the name of my agency, rattles off whichever client she remembers me mentioning (she LOVED when I worked with Simon- During that phase I was “in real estate,” I worked with designers and, one day when she was feeling snarky I, “hang out at malls.” And when I say she thought I worked with designers, it’s not an exaggeration. After the inauguration she asked me to call my people at JCrew to find out about Michelle Obama’s coat. Like the store? No. Like JCrew. The people you work with.) and figures that covers it.
But it’s not just her- I went to a career day this summer bringing along a friend to speak to the kids about her far more exciting career- acting. And before I got up to start, my friend turns to me saying, “I’m so glad I’m here. Now maybe I can figure out what you do all day.” Sigh. The kids walked away that day thinking I sold McDonalds (not totally wrong, all things considered. They really were my client at the time.) and that she had been staring in Disney Movies. (We did the best we could do.)
Then, when I was interviewing for my new job, my current job, I was talking over the differences between it and my previous one with Brandon, the man with a doctorate and a masters degree. After rattling off the best description I could put together- comparing the media relations of pr with the internal brand strategy of this position, he stopped me- “Taylor. I don’t know what any of that means. Do you want it or not?”
And I know the old adage that you don’t really know something until you can explain it to your grandma. I can even acknowledge that perhaps the common denominator is my faulty communication. (Ironic- yes.) But, honestly, I find attempts to break down my job mind numbing. My use of phrases like “media relations” and “digital/social strategy” causes glazed over stares and sometimes- intentional or not- condescending feedback. “Oh. So you go to events?” “You’re just doing stuff on Facebook and Twitter?” “So you’re like, marketing?”
“Do you sit around drinking all day like Mad Men?” “Is it like Mad Men?” “I love Mad Men.” “Do you watch Mad Men?” “Mad Men. Mad Men. Mad Men.”
Look- I know people are being polite. Usually. And I know when people ask me questions or give me feedback it’s generally very well meaning. But I feel like it inevitably takes my job and my career, and transforms me into a party-hopping Tweeter with delusions of grandeur and no actual profession. Or a drunk from the cast of Mad Men.
And then I want to punch something.
So yes, I will go out of my way to avoid the “What do you do” question. And when you do ask, I’ll change the subject quickly, wishing so badly for an easy answer: Lawyer. Doctor. Teacher. I’ll pine for something so mundane, so off-putting, no one can reference a single addicting, but completely fictional, overly glamorous tv show: Accountant. WalMart Cashier. Human Waste Collector. But instead, next time, perhaps I’ll just lie to you. Because, let’s be honest, stripper would probably be a far more enjoyable answer for everyone involved.
p.s. Young and Laramore was named “top shop” in Indiana by Ad Week yesterday. This is really cool, because it’s where I work. Look- I’ll make you a deal. Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, act enthused and we can move past it quickly.