what do you do
what do you do
“What do you do?” a question that can make nervous sweat, slide down, between my breasts and puddle in my navel. But when you’re out there sleuthing for work, gigs, partners, or collaborators the question is inevitable.
I used to think I was the only one who had that kind of reaction, to that question…
While I don’t think this phenomenon applies only to older women, among us, the answer to this question is often accompanied with a long pause, stammering, general confusion, sighs, attempted explanations, and even, embarrassment. I’ve witnessed it over and over again, oftentimes with women who have had long, productive, and respected careers.
I, and many women I meet, are having an identity crisis.
We don’t know what we are. We’ve come to rely on meaningless terms, yes, like blogger, or to focus on something we think might slip by the social radar, writer?
But the radar catches you if you can’t sum up your career in two sentences, and this of course, is especially true at networking or networking types of events. And in New York City, that’s any “event.”
Unlike in Europe, got to love those Europeans, the question “what do you do,” still rules!
so what’s the problem
The problem is that by a certain age, most of us have done many things, we have had many experiences, and we have accumulated tons of knowledge! And we want to use what we have.
In many spheres there’s a kind of resentment against those who are perceived as maybe “knowing too much.” There’s a fear of sophistication. Sophistication can be such a bother, and dumbing down seems to be the order of the day.
Because the job market is pitiless when it comes to women over 50, even those women who have previously had long, stable careers, are viewed with suspicion and are subject to myriad assumptions. You know the assumptions:
“She isn’t up to speed with technology, she doesn’t fit in with our brand, she’s going to want more.”
Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that we end up stammering, and then, apologizing.
and so we apologize
It may not be overt, but with our choice of words, facial expressions, and sighs, we apologize. And with those apologies, we might as well be flipping a switch, a switch that says, “There’s no need to take me seriously.”
The very female tendency to apologize for things that need no apology, is harmful to us all. We need to stop apologizing for our experience and versatility. We need to stop apologizing for our sophistication and understanding.
I would even say that we need to stop apologizing for not knowing what exactly we are.
It’s patently unfair—I use the word reluctantly—to limit yourself to any one thing just to make it easier on others. While it might at times feel necessary to “summarize” who you are it just perpetuates the status quo, the status quo that isn’t working for us.
The result of the “reluctance” to hire even highly skilled and experienced older women, is women increasingly doing their own thing: founding companies, forming partnerships with other women, becoming yoga teachers, and just generally occupying more space and spaces.
Carrie Owerko, photograph by Bobby Clennell
For the future I suggest we substitute the pauses, stammering, and sighs with a “I do many things.” And then list them with pride.
Realize that while we may not know what we are, we do know who we are.
*Did I just write something inspirational? Are you inspired?
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So I bought just one dress, here. Two days, from California, e-commerce, the shopping method that hides conspicuous consumption. But that’s another story.
I also like this dress from Ajaie Alaie, “Ajaie Alaie originally spelled //Ajai Alai// is a sanskrit mantra for being in your power– It means invincible and indestructible,” a small Brooklyn brand I discovered this summer.
Knits are the way to go in the winter time, and natural fabrics are always a good choice.
I love this nice, deep, dark chocolate color, they call it tierra. The dress is made in Peru of 65% Pima Cotton and 35% Royal Alpaca, a really nice combination.
It is not only sweater weather but also sweats weather. Sweat pants are what I wear at home, in the winter. It’s boring but cozy and comfortable. I know I’ve mentioned them before, but because I just ordered something, here’s American Giant again.
American Giant just makes the best sweat pants, guaranteed. They are 100% cotton, super well made, and made in America. At $88 they are the only sweats to buy. AG also sells t-shirts, hoodies and other American Standards. We all need new stuff sometimes, when you do, get some.
“One of the goals of life is to try and be in touch with one’s most personal themes-the values, the ideas, styles, colors that are the touchstones of one’s own individual life, its real texture and substance.”