how to explain a non-traditional job

The Best Way to Help People Understand What You Do for a Living

When you’re a slasher, entrepreneur, freelance writer, or otherwise non-traditionally self-employed, your work day can be a conundrum to the people around you — especially if you work from home. It’s not always easy for people to understand what you do all day when they’re used to a more traditional definition of “job.”

Most Americans expect you to have a schedule and tasks imposed by company policy. They expect your “work day” to be clearly distinguished from your “time off.” They expect, perhaps most of all, that you’ll leave the house to do your work.

Has your grandma ever questioned why you sit at home with your face in a computer all day? Has your eight-year-old nephew ever wondered why you couldn’t just “call in sick” to get a day off so you can go to his baseball game?

Have you ever witnessed your parents trying to explain to friends and family members what you do for a living — and watched them fumble and shrug their shoulders?

What do you say in those situations? You can keep quiet, smile politely and think, “They just don’t understand.” You can launch into a righteous speech about the revolution of the workforce. You can blush and quickly spew a list of tasks that proves how hard you work all day. You can take a knee and attempt to explain to an eight-year-old how your lifestyle fits into the fabric of our society.

Or you can simply respond with the same confidence your sister displays when she tells people she’s a third-grade teacher. YOU know your choice of career is legitimate and normal, even if it’s not what everyone else is used to. Becoming defensive, altruistic, or preachy about it will only perpetuate the belief that it’s unusual. And you don’t want that.

You can also help “normalize” your work/lifestyle by answering questions in terms your friends, family and acquaintances will understand. When your mom invites you out to lunch in the middle of a writing session, you don’t have to reply, “I’d really like to work on this manuscript, because I haven’t met my word count goal all weekend.”

Instead, tell her, “I’m working today, but we can go tomorrow afternoon.” It might be difficult for her to understand why it matters when you write, or that you write at all, especially if you aren’t being paid for it (yet) or working for anyone else (yet). But she can relate to the necessity and obligation of “work.”

Chances are, your friends and family want to understand what’s so special about what you do for a living. They probably even respect you for having the guts to do what you love even if it means not making a lot of money. They just don’t know how to talk about it.

Don’t make them try so hard to understand.

You don’t have to ruin family reunions and cocktail parties with your mission to spread the word about the slasher lifestyle to the masses of unaware Americans. Just live it like it’s normal, and they’ll come to understand from your example.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a freelance journalist and indie author. She shares writing tips and anecdotes for dreamers in search of a path through her blog and the DIY Writing Newsletter.

10 comments

  1. Pingback: The best way to help people understand what you do for a living « DIY Writing

  2. I just love, love your final statement – “Just live it like it’s normal, and they’ll come to understand from your example.”

    I actually just had a conversation with my coach today about how it’s hard to get the “respect” as a freelancer that I once got in the corporate world. But what I’m realizing is that it’s half my fault because I’m somewhat defending what I’m doing now instead of just acting like it’s normal. Thanks for the reminder!

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