“What do you do?,” she asked me as I was welcomed into the podcast meet-up group for the first time. The night before, while at an improv-clown rehearsal, the discussion landed upon this very topic. How should we respond to the “What do you do?” inquiry? Most of us feel the need to immediately respond with the job that fills out bank accounts the most from week to week. “I’m in tech.” “I’m an admin-assistant.” “I’m a lawyer.” While these are all fine answers, they don’t really describe who we are, and certainly it’s only a fraction of “what we do.”
A close friend once repeated a lie that was told to her. “You are what you do for a living.” While I had believed this at one point in my life, I also recognized that it was flawed and didn’t need the last three words. Instead, for it to be true, it should read, “You are what you do.” If you run, you are a runner. If you write, you are a writer. Maybe you are still learning or a student, which is a beautiful place to be. In fact, if you weren’t thrilled to be working as a minimum wage employee at McDonalds (which there is nothing wrong with) and you were in school to become an architect, you wouldn’t answer the question, “What Do You Do?” with “flip burgers.” You would say, “I’m in school to become an architect.” You would answer with your passion. Rather than focusing on what puts money in the bank, you would focus on what fills up your heart and soul. So, why do we as performers feel the need to apologize for who we are?
For those who are proud of their full-time money-making careers and want to share, go for it and let them know what it is that you do! You are lucky to be in a situation where your heart and bank accounts are filled with the same work. However, for those of us who perform and have a job and a side hustle and a gig and a freelance thing, we need to identify ourselves in the direction we most want to grow. And specifically, for improvisers, there is power in proudly stating, “I am an Improviser.” For starters, not many people will know what you mean, which is a good thing. Now you have the opportunity to explain. Others will think they understand, but they will also learn that to be an improviser doesn’t only mean playing onstage once a week.
Improvisers are hustlers who make something out of nothing. We are problem solvers. We are communicators and networkers. We are adaptable and versatile. We see life from multiple perspectives and can adjust as the moment requires. We truly listen and help others feel heard. We are empathetic and diverse and accepting of others and our situations. We are interested and open to learning. We are fair and loving and passionate. We are risk takers and we look fear in the eyes and then run through it. We are also kind, but maybe we could start being a bit kinder to ourselves.
I’ve improvised my way through college, law school, a law firm, entrepreneurship, performing in theater, family, friends, and life. I’m an improviser. I improvise. I perform. I teach improv. I coach improv. I own other businesses. I’m ready to jump on any opportunity, and abandon any idea, and shift in any direction as soon as the moment seems right.
The next time you are asked the question, “What do you do?” maybe start with what you love. If you are a writer, say it. If you are an artist, say it. And if you are an improviser, state proudly, “I am an improviser…” and see what happens next. Either way, you are an improviser and you will figure it out.