How do you reply when you meet someone new, and they ask: “What do you do?”
I hate this question. During my years of depression, I could have answered: “I spend three hours trying to get out of bed. Then I sit on the couch all day with the TV on, but not watching it. I try to drink water and be healthy. But I mainly gulp coffee, eat junk and put off exercising until tomorrow. I have panic attacks. But I don’t know why I feel my life is imminent danger.”
No one wants to hear this. They’re really asking: “What do you do for a living?” With possible hidden agendas. How much do you earn? Are you useful to me in any way? Are you interesting enough for me to talk to?
It’s sad that people’s default response is to define themselves and others by job title, salary, and the status they confer.
For many years, I would have dreaded the question. I would have been living in the past, replying with: “I’ve been a news reporter, sub-editor, editor, PR consultant, freelance journalist, copywriter, entrepreneur and author.”
If you weren’t too obviously seeking someone “better” to talk to, I’d continue: “I started as a reporter on my local newspaper, the Evening Advertiser, Swindon. I became a sub on the Evening Echo, Basildon, and flirted with a Fleet Street career through sub-editing shifts for several years on The Sun and The Daily Mirror.
“I was a travel writer for 20 years, mainly for the European and Asian editions of the legendary Travel Trade Gazette (TTG), eventually living in Singapore as executive editor of five publications and umpteen websites. My freelance work appeared in newspapers such as The Observer and The Wall Street Journal.
After working 18 hours a day for a year, I had a nervous
breakdown and went to bed for six months
“I worked in PR as consultant to companies such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Hertz Rent a Car and Holiday Inn Hotels. I worked for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board at the height of the troubles, and did PT for the School Dinners restaurant where Prince Andrew was caned by the waitresses.”
I would regale you with the tale of the dotcom start-up I founded with my life savings and money from friends and family. How I worked for four years for no pay, and put almost very penny into the business. That the travel trade voted our website the best in the UK, ahead of Thomas Cook and Expedia.
But how the cash ran out. And after working 18 hours a day for a year, I had a nervous breakdown and went to bed for six months.
I might then mumble about how I wrote four non-fiction books, but the publishing company went bankrupt before it could market the first two or print the others. And how I couldn’t get a proper job and was living in Dubai, where my wife was a high-powered retail executive.
You’d tell me about your job, and this would be a little sad. We wouldn’t have learned anything interesting anything about each other. I would wish I’d answered your question differently.
So, if you do meet me at a party next week, and ask me what I do, I shall say: “I’m a writer. I’ve got two books coming out this year.
“I’m a lucky husband who met the world’s loveliest person 40 years ago, and who turned out to be my twin flame. That we’re more in love with each other today than we’ve ever been.
“I’ve been paid to go around the world, visiting almost 100 countries and territories. I flew on Concorde, sailed on the QE2, and travelled on the Orient Express.
At the age of 59, I’m excited about my life
“The best part of my career was mentoring young journalists when I helped to rebuild the TTG editorial department in Singapore. It feels good to see them enjoying successful careers and happy lives.
“I have kind, supportive friends and family, whose company I enjoy. I took my mates to play football in 12 countries on four continents. I love people.
“I’m fair and honest. I’m compassionate, indeed, highly sensitive. I love animals, have two rescued cats, and support animal welfare and rights. I’ve stopped eating meat and am on my way to being vegan. I’m brave and honest, and have retained my integrity.
“I’ve lost more than 100lbs (45kg) in weight and have reversed type 2 diabetes. I’m on my way to beating depression, and at the age of 59, I’m excited about my life. I love having the talent and opportunity to write books that will spread a little light in a dark world.
“I’m building a publishing company to share the work of other writers who have something valuable to say.”
It would be great to meet someone interesting at a party and tell them all of this. Because it’s true.