This is for me. Something I've felt and learned as I hit the 8th month of my sabbatical.
A question I hate answering these days is "what do you do?"
To such a question my favourite response is: "Do you have 30 minutes for me to describe to you why, how and what I'm spending my time on because I don't have a socially defined and accepted definition of an occupation to give you?"
There are two major fallacies to such a question. The first being the identity-crisis and the second being an unawareness of the time spent. I hope to explore both with you, from my perspectives and with my biased opinion.
I used to ask this question a lot when I'd meet a person for the first time; usually right after their name.
To what seems like a simple and basic question many respond with an occupation. With the said occupation the person has somewhat 'defined' their identity to themselves with their internal beliefs of what they believe their occupation means for them. However, the identity they have adopted may not be the same as the identity that I, as the listener and questioner, decided to place upon them given my own assumptions, beliefs and opinions of the occupation they have solely decided to identify with.
An example. Just an example so if you get offended please untie that knot in your panties because it's not about you and the world and I do not care.
Now, imagine if I meet a fella and he tells me he's an investment banker. He may have told me that with pride because he may have beat out 1/1000 odds to earn the role and he believes this is the most worthy occupation of all time. That may be the identity he has chosen himself and used the occupational title as the vehicle for such delivery. But when I hear it my initial assumption would be to wonder if he is a mere lemming who just got good grades, that don't mean much for intelligence but a mere ability to take examinations, and who has heavily relied on fitting the predefined mold of "success" set by the external environment. If my girlfriend were to hear that identification her immediate assumptions may be "Ah so you like working a lot of hours and acting like a douchebag". Not saying she thinks this but if she were to adopt the stereotypical persona maybe so. I mean, have you seen a flock of bankers in a Patagonia store picking out fleece vests? I have and well.... it's hilarious. Now, if the banker and I continue to engage in conversation and we take the time to learn more about the intent behind our actions and the full story, then maybe I can start to understand the identity he has chosen for himself. Still, a discussion is required to understand the identity of the individual. And further more to breakdown the immediate wall of "first impression" I've built up based on the occupational identity he used to describe himself.
Having since left a "defined" occupation I've struggled a lot with how to answer that question when people ask me. This was because I didn't believe I fit some pre-determined identity tied to an occupational title made up by some corporation. Many do and that is fine. I just don't. Not at this time in my life anyway.
Unawareness of time spent.
"What do you do" is a pretty loaded question. If I were to deconstruct the purpose of the question it may be referring to: "What activity have you decided to dedicate a bulk of your living moments to, why this activity and how do you go about executing on said activity?" This is a question of what one does her their time, and how she chooses to spend that finite resource.
Most conversations, if initiated, only touch upon the "what". The "what" usually doesn't tell anything of much substance. I've found the answer also tends to be highly ego-driven as a way to compensate for an internal insecurity of validating "why" the person selected to do "what".
Allow me to illustrate. A student asks me "what does a management consultant do?" I then proceed to handpick some key projects I did such as: "Oh well some of my projects involved creating an insurance company from scratch and now I get my renter's insurance from it; creating a brand new credit card, determining the viability of operating the world's largest gold mines with solar panels and wind turbines with Nasa geo-data blah blah blah blah". This is not dissimilar to the answers I'd get in the many networking events and coffees I'd have with consultants. With young naivety I just gobbled it up. I think this is similar to a "first-level thinking" mentality that Howard Marks, the famed bond-investor of Oaktree Capital, talks about. We aren't looking at investing here but in a way it is because investing my time to learn more about what someone else does is a form of investing and this would also impact my own knowledge going forward. See, the "second-level thinking" should've been to dig into what that actually meant. How did I do all the "whats"? This is what I sought out to do in the 100s of conversations I proceeded to have with hedge fund managers and folks in the startup ecosystem.
The easiest, and also the most bullshit, cop out answer to "So how do you spend your time as a consultant?" is "Oh that's hard because no two days are the same". Many say this with a smidgen of pride. Of course no 2 days are the same. I don't take my morning shit at 10:07am every single day neither so I am in that same bucket too I guess. So, no. That's a bullshit answer that has either completely misinterpreted the question or the person has not even taken the time to think clearly about what they actually do.
Let me give you some more examples.
See in the credit card project I mentioned before, about 70% of my time was spent in meetings. Meetings where I am hand-holding, lighting out fires etc.... but all with a singular purpose of "are you doing your job we assigned to you and if not why can't you?". Then about 20% is making powerpoint decks that no one really reads; it's more of a formatting exercise. The energy modeling can be distilled down to 85% staring at excel and of that 85% about 30% would be the intensive process of pulling out a yellow legal pad and architecting a model that can digest massive data sets and learning about how energy works. Sure every day is different at a micro level but within a macro of a week, month or year there are defining patterns. That's how I spend my time. That is the answer I'm really looking to hear when I ask "what do you do?"
What do I do?
Well, about 30-50% of my time is spent learning via reading, listening or talking with folks from all disciplines. Then about 20-30% is spent thinking about article ideas, ideas to grow my company, ideas for investing in companies and the final amount of time is spent executing on the weekly product releases (i.e. Monday newsletter, Tuesday essay, Wednesday podcast and Thursday book review), investing and building my company and career. That's just the how but now.... the why? Well you better read though my essays and what not to get an idea... and subscribe too for future unveils of the 'why'.
So, now you know what I do.
What do you do?
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