What do you do? – That is often the first thing people ask someone they’ve just met. It’s usually meant to be about their job, not anything else.

How are things at work? – That is often what we ask people we know who have a job.

What do we ask people who don’t work? – Something more personal, more meaningful.

In other words, we are too wrapped up in defining ourselves and others by our work or theirs. Society for the most part defines work as something we do in exchange for a paycheck. That’s not to say the work one does for a paycheck isn’t worth asking about or talking about; it just shouldn’t be the only thing we are interested in.

Somewhere along the line we began defining “work” as something for which we are paid. And along that same line, we began defining people by their work. As though everything else about them was less meaningful.

It’s time we expand the definition of work.

Plentiful types of work don’t come with money as the reward. Parenting being one of the biggies. Volunteerism is definitely work. I watch my mom in the garden—I know that is work. Writing for this website is work—unpaid work at that.

We still seem to program people do well in K-12 so they can get into a good college so they can get a good job so they can buy that house, that car, and save for retirement.

What if we “programmed” people to actually live life and be less focused on the job. What if we encouraged people to be on a journey where they enjoy life, make a difference, contribute to their communities and the world? What if the ultimate goal is to be a decent human being?

Maybe we put less emphasis on jobs that pay money when it comes to defining people and more emphasis on the whole person. It has to start early, though. Life should be about living. I’m not saying people don’t need to do something to pay the bills. But does work have to be everything? Does it have to define us?

What if we started asking: What have you done recently for fun? Or, What have you been up to? Maybe we start out with a compliment and not a question. That should get the conversation going. Maybe we ask how their day or week was? That’s less specific than talking about work, and it would show we care about them as a person.

I love what I do that garners money, buy those jobs are just a fraction of the whole me.

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