Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And what do YOU do?

When I first lost my job, I absolutely dreaded that question. I stumbled over my words as I attempted to explain that yes, I got fired, but no, not in the traditional sense of the word. (I didn't get any warnings, I did NOT suck at my job, etc.) And then I'd ramble on about how I'm freelancing for different mags, blogging and just trying to figure out what will make me truly happy, all the while breaking a sweat, trying to convince the other person that REALLY, I'm FINE! I can't even imagine how insecure I came across.

I've now learned that sometimes less really is more. When someone asks me what I do, I keep it short. I don't try to explain myself. I keep a smile on my face. I'm enthusiastic about my blog, the future and current job opportunities. And if I'm really being pressed for more info about exactly why I got fired, I just make a joke or brush it off by saying, "Well, I did work for a tabloid magazine. I'm still trying to figure it out myself!" So yeah, I've got my little spiel down and it works most of the time.

The other night I met a really friendly girl at a party who seemed genuinely interested in my story and learning more about the industry I work in. So I kept talking and talking, and I found myself feeling the need to explain myself and just what exactly it is I do all day long. I didn't even finish this sentence: Yeah, so the way freelancing works is...when she chimed in: "If I freelanced, I'd spend all my time at the gym!" Ouuuch. Ok, so I know she totally didn't intend to imply that I don't do jack shit all day, but it stung a little. I guess I'm just sensitive to the fact that most people don't realize that I really am busting my ass, even if the work I'm doing isn't always paying the bills. Sigh

What about you guys: Have you ever felt insecure or uncomfortable when someone asked about your profession? How did you deal?


  1. Hi Ellen,
    Firstly, the most frustrating thing that I find is the fact that hardly anyone comments on my blog. On trawling the blogs generally I came across your one through a mutual link.
    To answer your question, when I was at school some 1000 years ago I was doing very well at Chemistry, Physics and Maths and had lined up a career in the lab. While I waited for he expected exam results I took up a summer job as a gardener to raise a little spending money.
    I loved the job and even though the job could have happened I stuck with the gardening. On going back to school a few years later my Chemistry teacher asked how the career was going and I had to tell him that I was a gardener...he didn't look too impressed!
    Nice blog by the way, feel free to look at mine!! ttfn...Gary

  2. I hate that question!!
    Usually I answer: " I just finished university (well 5 months ago) and i'm looking for a job but there's not many oppourtunities in my area, so i work in a clothes shop to pay the bill" And that's how the conversation ends because, what can I say about picking up clothes on the floor all day long?
    But when I try to explain myself, I stess the fact that i'm still doing things related to my (i hope) future job. Like doing a show for a webradio or taking theater and improv classes and also writing the newsletter of the webradio and the theater assocation where i take my classes.
    So yes there is still this need to justify why I do what I do but the depressing part is that usually people just recall that I work in a clothes shop... :/

  3. Hi Gary! That's awesome that you followed your heart...so admirable and inspiring!

    Well, Aurore, at least you have the "I recently finished school" excuse. Most people are understanding of how hard it is to find a job once you graduate, especially these days. Stay positive—you'll get there!

  4. Ellen - I actually noticed how concise and upbeat your response was on the video of the models. You could hear the guy asking what it was you were doing as you filmed, and you cheerfully said, "I'm a blogger. I have a blog 'Fired n Fabulous', and I am freelance journalist."
    Perfect! See, you can promote yourself in 30 seconds or less.


  5. ::I guess I'm just sensitive to the fact that most people don't realize that I really am busting my ass, even if the work I'm doing isn't always paying the bills. Sigh. ::

    Yes I hear you, and it's tough to respond when someone says something so unintentionally ego impaling. I sometimes wish I spoke just like a baronness and always had a gracious but pointed response to every zinger.

  6. That's funny, Shannon, I noticed the SAME thing! I thought, "Hmm..didn't do so bad that time!" That's the sort of response I always strive for, but it varies from person to person. i could tell that the guy was curious to know more, but he didn't ask and I didn't offer the info!

    Ha, yes, Orla let's start practicing our Baronness speaking skillz!!

  7. Wow, I just realized I always do the same thing. Hah.

    When people ask me what I do, I'll say, "I work at a marketing agency and I'm in an improv comedian." Both are true. But, I don't say what i DO at a marketing agency. I'm an Office Manager. So, it's less cool than say... every other job there. (Though, in my opinion - I'm happy with having less responsibility.)

    And when I say I'm an Office Manager - I'll often explain things about it like, "I'm an Office Manager, but I do a whole lot. I also do a little copywriting because they like me."

    And when explaining the improv, I say, "I do it professionally, so I get paid."

    I'm happy with my career choices right now. I want to do more (more writing, more challenges) but somehow, I still find myself trying to EXPLAIN that I'm happy with it, or make what I do seem more important. Maybe it's because my sister's a lawyer and I feel inadequate. Ha.

  8. i think your response is perfect. being a blogger/freelance journalist is not only respectable...in this economy, it's downright fashionable! not only can everyone around you sympathize, but they can empathize. i actually have a listserv of out-of-work and/or freelance publicists to whom I forward job openings (at their request)--everyone's gotta hustle nowadays. and if anyone judges you for that, they are trustfunders who should probably be buying you lunch and designer footwear.

    and did you read that vanity fair article on how they seat the shows? the fact that there are sections reserved for bloggers/websites is just proof positive that the tides are turning, and people are taking notice. and hello, just think of all the blogs (and their writers) that have evolved into books (PostSecret, FU Penguin, This is Why You're Fat), sitcoms (Shit My Dad Says), and movies (the Julie/Julia Project).

    and this is only tangentially related, but did you see this piece on this Japanese teen novelist who types out books on her cell phone? apparently these mobile-generated novels are really big in japan, making up half of the country's best-sellers in 2007:

    even if this blog is not your final destination, it's definitely a means to an end (you're developing your voice/niche and shaping it into something influential/marketable/profitable).

    finally, i also got the boot from a tabloid. i never thought of it as a reflection on my performance, potential or work ethic--just a personality conflict. and i like to think that i conveyed that confidence to people whenever they asked me about my job history. and for the record, i did spend a lot of that time at the gym...i was down to 112 pounds, a number i haven't seen since the sixth grade. i mean, my hair was falling out from stress but damn i looked good in jeans.

    wow i downloaded A LOT.

  9. Thea, you ROCK. I don't even know where to begin, you are just a fountain of knowledge. Thanks so much for the encouraging words, I really appreciate them! I didn't read that VF article, but I have heard of bloggers going to fashion shows. Hello, Style Rookie, I think that 14 year-old chick is covering the shows in Paris as we speak! Gotta look into that Japanese chick too, that is unreal.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that many uber-successful people have been fired. And 112 pounds huh? Umm yeah..I don't ever remember weighing that. I'm sure I have at some point...when I was 10.

    Thanks for unloading, I LOVED IT!

  10. Patty, I totally understand. The most important thing is to remind yourself that you truly are happy, and just try to naturally let that confidence come through. Try to say the minimum, and THEN if pressed for more, slowly get into more details. That will help keep you from rambling and appearing as if you're trying to prove something.

    But what the heck, I'm TOTALLY impressed by you! You have two great jobs! A professional comedian? That is awesome! I'm more impressed by people who really work toward their dreams and passions, and I think most people are too. Do you ever feel pressure to be funny once someone knows you're a comedian? I've always wondered that...

  11. Haha, well thanks! And yes. It's both a good conversation starter when meeting new people - but it also turns into, "Say something funny!" or "Do some of your stand-up!" But I don't DO stand-up, I do improv, which involves an ensemble of people. And then I feel like I have to be witty/sarcastic/funny the whole time I speak to them. It's a little stressful... so I've slowly stopped saying it when I meet people.

    But I will say, it DID get me my day job! They were impressed - and knew I must be personable and outgoing if I did improv.