Occupation and identity

How to explain ERE, arranging family matters
Retiree
Posts: 37
Joined: Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:33 am

Occupation and identity

Post by Retiree »

Hello. I'm fairly new to this site. I've gone through a good many of the blog posts and the forum discussions, but nowhere close to all of them. So just in case this particular topic has been covered here already, I'd be grateful if you would just indicate where ; and, if not, I'd be very glad indeed to have your views on a very real problem that I've faced in connection with retiring early.

I myself have retired very early, impelled by much the same sort of motives that seems to drive most people here, and by using the same methods. I mention this because I did this much before I knew of this site and this book, or was aware that there exist so many folks whose thoughts are, in this respect, so similar to mine. (And I am very thankful for that indeed : while never one to be swayed overly by others' opinions, it is nevertheless heartening to know that one isn't a one-off freak!)

So, with that preface dealt with, onward to my "problem", which many of you too would have faced, I'm sure.

In our society, identity seems so very intricately joined with "what you do". So, for example, when you meet someone, within the first five minutes you usually get asked that question : So what it is that you do? (It's a supremely insensitive question, when you think of it. How would folks feel if I were to ask them quite out of the blue--as indeed I have, at times, out of sheer irritation--how much they earn, or if their house is self-owned, or if they are in the process of repaying a student loan or housing loan or whatever.) Irritation doesn't help, nor does it help to grouse on insensitivity. The fact is, for most people, identity itself is so very closely related to one's "occupation" that one is, when faced with this question, forced to either go on a long spiel about one's philosophy (which is nine times out of ten quite out of place), or be made to feel odd.

What adds to this is the fact that I've chosen to retire while still quite poor. I'm quite well covered as to basic needs, and happy with what little I have, but I'm not rich, not at all. I say this because saying "I'm retired" sounds kind of grand when you're doing that retiring atop piles of gold, it's glamorous despite being odd to have retired young rich, but retiring when still "poor" is just odd, nothing else. To most people, that is.

When you think about it, it is a bit like birth and identity a century ago (or so I imagine). The world a century ago was one (or so it seems from books and movies) where who you were, that is, which family you belonged to, was of paramount importance. We seem to labour under a similar prejudice as regards occupation at this time. It is, to say the least, an obnoxious and insensitive (to use that word again) way to view the world.

Now of course, I do realise that the whole point of this kind of lifestyle is that you do your own thing. I myself don't really care overly much for others' opinions. Nevertheless, to have to constantly face this sort of thing is, well, tiring.

I was wondering how you guys deal with this aspect of retiring early.

BeyondtheWrap
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Location: NYC

Re: Occupation and identity

Post by BeyondtheWrap »

For those conversations, the ERE wiki gives this suggestion:
A: "What do you do for a living?"

B: "I < insert activity from below >"

A: "Can you really make a living from that?"

B: "Hard to say, but I saved a lot of money while I was a <insert the job you retired from>"
Link: http://earlyretirementextreme.com/wiki/ ... you_retire

Seneca
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Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:58 pm

Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Seneca »

I like Tim Ferriss' solution- "I'm a drug dealer"

Maybe just say, "I made and saved a lot"?

A common topic, some recent threads:

Jealousy- viewtopic.php?f=16&t=4729

Identity- viewtopic.php?f=24&t=4399

slimicy
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Location: Sin City

Re: Occupation and identity

Post by slimicy »

The stock response should always be:
Image

Chad
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Chad »

@slimicy :lol:

Scott 2
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Scott 2 »

I hate the "what do you do question". The resulting conversation is so boring. I have zero interest in talking about my job with people that aren't in the field.

I just talk about my hobbies and ignore the intent of the question.

riparian
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Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:00 am

Re: Occupation and identity

Post by riparian »

What do you do?

Whatever I want!

How?

I live very frugally. Sometimes I pick up odd jobs.

I alternately just say whatever comes to mind that I've been doing lately or, "boring things on the Internet." A few times I've introduced myself as just a common whore. Humility will take you far.

Dragline
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Dragline »

Say "You know that guy in those commercials -- "The Most Interesting Man in the World" -- that's what I do."

Then say "I used to have a job like that Warner "the Wolf" Winston guy in Pulp Fiction. Sometimes I still do that too."

EdithKeeler
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Joined: Sun Sep 01, 2013 7:55 pm

Re: Occupation and identity

Post by EdithKeeler »

Honestly, I think no one really gives a shit what other people do, for the most part.

That question is de rigueur cocktail party chatter and it's boring. When people ask it, they only ask it (in my opinion) because they want you to then ask them what THEY do. Same thing with the "do you have kids?" question. They don't care about my kids (if I had them...) they just want to talk about their kids. I'm even guilty about this myself: I ask "do you have any pets?" because I have pets.

This is what I've figured out at this point in my life. It's cynical, but I firmly believe no one really cares very much about what you're doing--whether you're retired, a hobo, knife juggler or whatever--because at the end of the day, what people care most about is themselves. Their issues, their problems, their bank accounts. Not yours.

I'm not retired yet, but when I do, I think I'm going to answer the question most of the time with "Nothing. How about you?" and then zone out when they tell me. Because I'm pretty sure I don't care. I may answer with "Writer." But then that invites the question "Have I read anything of yours?" And then I'd have to answer "I'm pretty sure you haven't." Yeah, better just to say "Nothing. And you?" and let them talk about themselves as much as they want.

Believe it or not, I'm an ENTJ....

subgard
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by subgard »

It used to be rude to inquire into someone's occupation, without them bringing it up first. In some other countries, I think, that's still the rule.

But now, it appears, it's rude not to ask. I never ask anyone unless they ask me first.

subgard
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by subgard »

Oh, and my response is "I do stuff on the internet"

SilverElephant
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by SilverElephant »

It's only through reading your post that I realized I never think about asking people what they do. It's only when they ask me or after consciously reminding myself that I should ask that I do - and I don't ask because it's supposed to tell me something about the person, but because I'm looking for some "leads" or input on what jobs there actually are. That's actually the most interesting part.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Around metropolitan Detroit, it has become polite in recent years to inquire "Are you still working?" rather than "What do you do?" First few times somebody said this to me, I was insulted because I thought they were implying that I might look old enough to be conventionally retired. My DH is 55 so nobody questions his retirement as too early. I used to respond "self-employed slacker" but I am tempted to follow Riparian's model and make "kept woman" my new response. A "trick" I once read on the topic of how to respond to this question if you don't want to say that you are a housewife is to answer "I am writing a novel."

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Sclass
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Sclass »

7Wannabe5 wrote:A "trick" I once read on the topic of how to respond to this question if you don't want to say that you are a housewife is to answer "I am writing a novel."
And that is a trick. A lot of professional women have had to deal with this question when they decide to stay home and have kids. A lady friend of mine or two have told me how much they hate to say "ima mom". I didn't understand it at the time because I was working. But later I talked to them about it and they said see, don't you wish you had something neat to say like you were doing research on carbon nanotubes at the xxxx institute? These were educated women who left work for child raising.

Funny, at a party where some of my old friends couldn't believe I was retired. They got annoyed and said "so you're living some millionaire lifestyle writing a book?"

So what to say? I'm still undecided. Nasim Taleb's reply is chauffeur. But then in my parts somebody might set me up with über. I say engineering consultant. I'd like to say arbitrageur or hedge fund manager but it will get me unwanted attention. I wanted to say loan shark but people in my community generally ask because they do care...they want to feel comfortable around you and loan sharks and axe murderers are scary. So in a basic sense, they do really want to know what you do, A- to feel safe, B- to make sure you're at their social level or better, below it.

Sorry I'm not much help. I've been struggling with this one a couple of years. My MD cousin asked recently at a reunion and I just said I'm unemployed. If they don't want to keep talking then good, the conversation wasn't meant to be. He ran off pretty quick...maybe thought I was contagious.

On the humorous side I've sometimes said (when I don't give a damn who I'm telling) that I run an ecommerce website. When they ask what it sells or what it is I say, it's kind of embarrassing and you don't really want to know. I actually do sell some data sheets on a website for fun.

Edit - lately I say I'm an engineer. What company? Several. They allow you to work this schedule? I work by the job, not by the hour. How does that work? By being pickiy about the job. What kind of jobs? I am not allowed to talk about that. What companies? I'm not allowed to talk about that.

A status conscious gal at my old workplace asked me as I left and I said I'm going to expand my antique watch and clock collection and maintain some of the existing pieces. A good number have stopped running because of lack of attention.

Chad
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Chad »

Dragline wrote: Then say "I used to have a job like that Warner "the Wolf" Winston guy in Pulp Fiction. Sometimes I still do that too."
That's perfect. Have you ever seen Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack? He comes back to his high school reunion after fighting in the first Gulf War and then becoming an assassin. At the reunion everyone is asking him what he does for a living and tells them outright he is an assassin/hired killer. No one even bats an eye.

leeholsen
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by leeholsen »

if you are proud of what you did, say you used to do X; but no youre retired.

and if they give that 'you arent anything now' look, throw in something like when they are in rush hour traffic next week; you'll be out on the golf course, reading a book with a nice cup of coffee still in your pajamas.

believe me, those still running the rat race are easy to get.

now, that i'm bought in on ere; i am very conscious of the time i give up for work now and am very jealous of those who own 100% of their time.

Dragline
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Dragline »

Chad wrote:
Dragline wrote: Then say "I used to have a job like that Warner "the Wolf" Winston guy in Pulp Fiction. Sometimes I still do that too."
That's perfect. Have you ever seen Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack? He comes back to his high school reunion after fighting in the first Gulf War and then becoming an assassin. At the reunion everyone is asking him what he does for a living and tells them outright he is an assassin/hired killer. No one even bats an eye.
Yes, I remember that. I think humor is a good approach to this -- a lot of people over-react to the question, when its just intended as trivial conversation most of the time.

Tyler9000
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Tyler9000 »

leeholsen wrote:if you are proud of what you did, say you used to do X; but no youre retired.
That's solid. My personal favorite is "I used to do X, but now I'm studying Y." That leaves open two possible common interests to move the conversation along, implies voluntary unemployment in a socially acceptable way, and doesn't derail anything with the R word.

Retiree
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Retiree »

Thanks a lot, guys, for taking the time and effort to reply.


I’m sorry I’ve taken this long to read and acknowledge all this. The fact is, my aversion to and avoidance of the consumer culture extends to consumption of the Internet as well. I do not “possess” an Internet connection at all, and make do, instead, with a quid pro quo arrangement that lets me browse for around a couple of days a week, around two or three hours each time. (And I do most of my reading and writing with paper and pen, and over an antique stand-alone desk-top, another quid pro quo acquisition.) Perhaps that is a bit extreme, even in this particular group where non-consumerism (I prefer that term to “anti-consumersim”) is not the anathema it is in the world at large : but it works for me well enough in my current retired existence.


BeyondTheWrap and Seneca, your comments and links were helpful. I had not gone through any of those particular threads before.
You’re right, Dragline, it is indeed a trivial question most of the time, and really does not deserve too much thought (except that it is so ubiquitous).
Slimicy, your answer was terrific. I have myself used that line (although not quite as wittily as you / Stark did) quite a few times. Except—if I may intrude a serious note on what is obviously a joke—I am none of those things. I’m no genius ; I’m not even a full millionaire, far less a billionaire ; I’m not much of a playboy either ; and nor is my philanthropy anything out of the ordinary. So that jokey rejoinder, or variations thereof, after I’ve made it the first two hundred and thirty seven times, tends to sound a bit flat, at least in my ears.
Scott, Riparian, Edith, SilverElephant, 7WannaBe5 : thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Leeholsen, actually I’m not particularly proud of what I used to, although my occupation used to be mainstream enough. I used to head an offshore credit research team in my last job, the one I retired from : Wall Street at one remove, in short. My rather high income (and expenditure) level at that time makes my current “poverty”, albeit self-imposed, stand out all the more, especially when seen by my erstwhile colleagues and friends (yes, many friends have become erstwhile friends, following my change in focus in life).


[b]I have to say one thing, though. I wasn’t really asking about the “So what do you do for a living” question[/b]. No, that irritant—although definitely an irritant—is jejune enough, and is easily dealt with in any number of ways, ranging from the flippant to the factual, the offensive, and the philosophical (depending on who is asking, and on what one’s mood is like at the moment)—as indeed many of you have pointed out. Perhaps I had not expressed myself properly enough in my main post, but what I was referring to was broader. I was referring to how one’s identity itself is so closely entwined with “what one does”.


The “what do you do for a living” ice-breaker at parties is actually simply a direct symptom of this (warped, to my mind) sense of identity that derives from one’s occupation. Like I had mentioned, it is like how it was (or how one imagines it was) a century or two back, with one’s family position and titles and all that sort of thing. If you didn’t have the right title and connections back then, you were an outsider. Perhaps you yourself did not care much about that, but fact is that you were indeed an outsider in most people’s eyes. That is how it is now with one’s occupation. You could, then, have perhaps escaped being an outsider despite having no titles if you had tons of money to bolster you up, just as today’s retiree is exotic and glamorous if he’s a filthy-rich-retiree, if he’s a proto-Tony-Stark, in fact : but when one is not rich, and yet does not work, one is simply odd.


Now I myself do not, of course, give too much importance to this sort of thing. To what others think and believe, that is. If I did, I wouldn’t have retired. Nor, I’m sure, do most of you here. But I am a bit concerned, a bit worried, a bit vexed, about how one is actually defined by what one does. And running up against this paradigm, and having to battle it (even if flippantly) twenty three times every day, well that tends to get on one’s nerves. And that is what I was wondering about, how the rest of you deal with this.


There is something fundamentally wrong with this way of looking at oneself and the world. I mean I would be a very sorry excuse for a human being indeed if all (or even most) of what I am can be encapsulated into “fund manager” or “credit analyst” or “surgeon” or “policeman” or “fireman” or “physicist” or “teacher” or whatever. But that is how it is, isn’t it, de facto if not in principle?


And as an aside, this will apply to even ERE if that becomes one’s overweening identity. If my (de facto) identity derives now primarily from being an early-retiree (as in my case, and in the case of a few others here), or from being an aspiring early-retiree (as in the case of many of the others here), well, that is not very much better than deriving that identity from being an actor or a career politician or an engineer or a circus acrobat or whatever, is it?


What troubles me about this is that this sense of identity is not wholly external, not entirely something only the “other thick sods out there” indulge in. Deep down, at some level, this identity does, if we are honest enough about this, permeate through to ourselves too. (At least I have found it does for me.) And I find that troubling. Troubling because, when you’re just a bloody slavey or a mindless drone—or a mindless slave-driver for that matter—hell, you say to yourself that you can have a bigger sense of self when you cease being a bloody jackass-for-hire, that you are in fact much more than a sodding jackass-for-hire, and the only thing you needed to stop being one is to simply stop being one : but now, having already attained to the Holy Grail of retirement (even if a frugal and rather humdrum retirement, as opposed to a genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist retirement), when one still finds oneself defined by what one “does”, by one’s “occupation” (or in this case one’s “non-occupation” and by what one “does not do”), well, it is a bit disconcerting, it is a bit of a let-down.


Most deeper dilemmas of life one needs to sort out for oneself, of course. There can be no escaping that. But one can always look for pointers from the thoughts of others situated not very dissimilarly from one. That is what I was, I suppose, sending out feelers for.

Dragline
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Re: Occupation and identity

Post by Dragline »

What you are talking about is simply the definition of "careerism". There's an ERE blog post about it here: http://earlyretirementextreme.com/are-y ... erism.html

It's a relatively modern (like past couple hundred years) phenomenon, and our educational system is geared towards fostering it, especially with that ultimate careerist question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Yes, it's troubling in that its so pervasive in our society that it creeps up on most people subconsciously and crowds out other forms of identity that could relate to relationships/family, hobbies, skills, volunteer activities, spirituality, authorship or many other things.

The solution for most people -- unless you only want to be defined by one thing -- is to find those other sources of identity by participating in other activities beyond one's career -- or ditching the career altogether. But this must be done with conscious effort and forethought -- if you don't have your own plan, you'll end up living by someone else's, and that someone is likely to be your boss.

Our society does not encourage this -- it encourages specialization and being "consistent" by sticking to one thing. Yet most people would probably be happier if they developed more than one identity or role in life, or at least chose their "one" in a more conscious and deliberate manner and weren't afraid to change it when their preferences changed. I know I certainly am.

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