#3. Complaining About How Little You Make
Let's divide this into two categories. There are some professions that have a reputation for making a lot of money: doctors, lawyers, TV personalities, CEOs, cat embalmers, and the like. And there are professions that do not. Let's start with those.
Let's start with writers, in fact. More than once I've seen some bits of writing that purport to be "cold hard truths" about the writing profession, where one of these earth-shattering truths is that most writers do not make a lot of money. "We're not all J.K. Rowling, believe it or not," these people will say, shattering the nonexistent myth that any random jerkoff that keeps a blog or self-publishes an e-book must be rolling in gold bullion.
Nobody thinks that. If you have any connection to human experience -- your own, your friends', even the poor substitute for actual human experience that is books, TV, and movies -- you know it is full of parents telling their children they will be damned if they let them become a writer (or an artist). This is not because parents have an inherent hatred of the written word. This is because writers have a reputation for not making any money. When you tell people writing is not a cash fountain, you might as well tell them to wear a coat when they go out; they have heard it the same number of times, and from the same person.
"I don't care if all your friends are writers. What if all your friends jumped off a bridge? Because that's what writers end up doing."
To add to the list of professions that everybody knows damn well don't make a lot of money: teachers, non-A-list actors, artists, musicians, nurses, academic researchers, cooks, anyone who works at a call center, anyone who works in retail, game testers, and street corner sign spinners. I'm not going to say whether waitstaff are on that list because there is this huge fight about whether tips count that I will not touch with a 10-foot pole.
OK, now onto the doctors and executives and such. It may well be that you do not make as much as people think you make. But before you start complaining about your piddling salary, consider that you probably don't know how much your listener makes, since I guess in this culture we don't traditionally exchange salary amounts when we make introductions (it's usually after the eighth date, I think). Piddling is relative, and you probably want to take a glance at the median income for your area. (It's $51,000 for the U.S.) If you make more than this, odds are you make more than your listener (if you know nothing else about them), and it might be wise to consider this before complaining to them about how poor you are.
Or proceed at your own risk if you are prepared to be bludgeoned when, after you've convinced your listener you're "barely getting by," you complain about how you might have to cancel your yearly vacation to St. Maarten.
#2. Assuming People Know More About Your Job Than They Do
At some point in a conversation when someone is trying to interest you in their job, they will try to bust a myth they think you buy into. "I bet you think dog walkers always walk dogs on nylon leashes, but the truth is we actually prefer leather ones!" I don't know if that's true. But I also don't care. I have spent very little time in my life thinking about what kind of leash a dog walker uses.
Working in animation, which is allegedly more interesting, I've come to realize that nobody knows or cares about most of the details of my job either. Someone who has dabbled in 3D software might suppose we use Maya (a super popular 3D animation program) and might be interested to hear that we actually use proprietary software developed in our own studio! The rest of you probably fell asleep before the end of that sentence.
Well, can I at least interest you in quaternion vs. Euler rotations ...? Anyone? OK ... I'll take that as a no.
Although I find these things extremely important and fascinating, nobody outside the industry has spent enough time thinking about it to have any preconception about what software I use, how we store our data, or how we name different pieces of a character. So they are not going to be surprised when I tell them it's actually not what they thought! Because they did not have any thoughts on it.
What people want to know is what movies I've worked on, and what it's like to meet the voice actors (I don't get to). Speaking of voice actors, this is the sort of "myth busting" that actually interests people: For some reason everyone thinks the sassy black hippo in the Madagascar movies was voiced by Queen Latifah when it was actually Jada Pinkett-Smith. I think this makes some kind of statement about society and race and weight or something, but I don't want to touch this one either.
Her name is Gloria and she is sassy.
So if you're tempted to tell people you actually don't just sell hats at your hat shop, but also many other kinds of headgear, or that hardly anyone in your field does open surgeries anymore because it's all about laparoscopy, or that you drive the excavator much more often than the bulldozer, don't.
#1. Assuming People Know Less About Your Job Than They Do
What I find really bizarre is that people -- sometimes in the same conversation -- will veer all the way across the spectrum and assume you know as little about their job as a recently arrived space alien.
"You probably think all archaeologists go around fighting bad guys and discovering ancient magical artifacts because of Indiana Jones."
"Did you know doctors can't save every patient?"
"We can't rebuild him. We actually don't have the technology."
"When you teach, you find out some parents can be really overbearing and make ridiculous demands!"
"I don't want to blow your mind or anything, but waiters don't like it when people leave a mess on the table."
"I'm an engineer, so you probably think I drive a train, but I'm not actually that kind of engineer."
"Very few astronomers actually get to travel into space."
The equivalent for me would be, I don't know, telling you that animated characters aren't real, they're generated in a computer. For anyone who didn't know that and was hoping to meet Shrek someday, I'm really sorry.
When you make these statements to people, you're implying that they have a developmental disability or are some kind of non-human entity taking on human form in order to learn about our species. If that's not true, they will be very insulted, and if it is true, you're blowing their cover, so watch out. This sort of thing is probably the most likely to get you slapped (or vaporized), next to complaining about your salary.
I don't want to stop anyone from educating other people about their job, but I'm just saying stop and think a bit, and put yourself in the other person's shoes, the shoes of someone who probably also has a job, and has a brain, and doesn't live in a cave. Use the Golden Rule. How interested are you in hearing how little they make or how nobody knows how tough their job is? Hell, if you get that all sorted out and revise your repertoire, you might end up being able to tell the most interesting job stories at the party. That would be pretty cool, I think.
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