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Do you live to work or work to live?

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How many times have you been at a social event, struck up a conversation with a stranger and been asked the question, “So, what do you do?”

The inquiry is clearly a simple probe about your professional work. But it’s also much more than sussing out how you pay your bills. It’s an inquisition into your status in society, your level of competence and how cool you might be. It's also a way for your new acquaintance to size you up and gauge if you are worth spending any more time talking to.

Even the phrasing of the stock question reveals it’s not just about your work but who you are. Otherwise, the question could be “What’s your daily grind?” or perhaps it shouldn’t be asked at all.

Some answers that could send your stock soaring in the eyes of the newly met BFF are: “I’m an astronaut,” “I’m a professional ice cream taster,” “I’m a stuntman,” or “I’m a rock star/Supreme Court Justice and super model but I also scuba treasure hunt on the side.”

Using someone’s job to pigeonhole their level of worth is a fool’s exercise, but what’s even worse is when we do this to ourselves.

Does believing that your job needs to nourish more than your bank account set one on a path of disappointment? This is the question that Simone Stolzoff asks in his new book, The Good Enough Job, where he explores case studies of those who are reclaiming their lives back from constant work.

How did our work become our center of meaning, self-worth, and focus of community?

Could this elevation of work also be part of a “big con” to spur employees to muster up uncompensated extra effort for the corporation’s bottom line?

Do we need to change the way we think about work as a means to an end?


Simone Stolzoff is a writer and designer from San Francisco. A former design lead at the global innovation firm IDEO, his work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and many other publications. He is a graduate of Stanford and The University of Pennsylvania.

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*This interview will be recorded on Thursday, June 1.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi