13th May 2014 | Barbara Mearns | 8 comments

Party questions

For much of my thirties, I didn’t have a paid job, and so I rather dreaded the inevitable question at parties, ‘So what do you do for a living?’

As a result, when I meet someone for the first time, I’m more inclined to ask something which doesn’t make too many assumptions, such as, ‘So, what did you do last week?’

Mothers are the least predictable. Some choose the most mundane descriptions of their days, as the pickers-up of socks and toys, or as their kiddies’ taxi driver. Others expound the beauty, brilliance, creativity and sensitivity of their offspring − they’ve been busy nurturing the future movers and shapers of the world. Maybe it depends on how much sleep they’ve had recently.

I’m no different.

Hands on keyboard

I wrote the lines below after listening to myself, on a Friday night, wearily moan that I was just an office drudge. By Sunday, after a two-day break from the computer, a good sermon and a bit of birding, I had a different perspective.

What do I do for a living?

I work in an office,
batting emails in and out, in and out, and field cold callers, who offer services we have already, thank you, or push their IT training, which we don’t need, or try to sell me advertising space, for which we have no budget. I edit copy, draft stories, deal with real queries, now and then, and shovel emails in and out, in and out.
I can see that you’re not listening.

No,
I work in conservation.
My colleagues study peonies and elephants and snails, and find new creatures never named before by man: strange damselflies and katydids and frogs and bats and mice.
We save forests, grasslands, estuaries and swamps, show butterflies to city kids
who’ve never held a worm.
Now you say that I’m one of the good guys!

No,
I’m the Editor
for a conservation charity that works around the world. I write stories and news bites
which I get from all our teams, choose photographs and maps and quotes, talk paper size and weights and fonts and plan the themes and big appeals, check spelling and grammar, and check again.
‘A writer! How fascinating!’

Or,
I’m doing what I was born for,
what each of us was born for. Remember the first commandment? To tend the garden and care for the earth and do it in God’s own image? But that’s a job for all of Adam’s children, too big a foul-up to be fixed by just a few.
Ah, now I’m getting a funny look…

So tell me, what do you do?

Maybe I could have more fun at social events if I asked new acquaintances, ‘So, what were you born for?’ I’m not sure that I’m brave enough, but if you’d have an answer ready, I’d love to hear what it is.

Categories: Reflections
Tags: identity work
About Barbara Mearns

Having been an A Rocha supporter since the earliest days in Portugal, Barbara began to work full-time from her home in SW Scotland as A Rocha International Editor in 1997. Her writing career has included a spate of books, co-written with her husband Richard, on the great pioneering naturalists: Biographies for Birdwatchers (1988), Audubon to Xantus (1992), The Bird Collectors (1998) and John Kirk Townsend (2007), and has meandered through book reviews, scientific papers, magazine articles and short notes in wildlife journals. Her latest publication is Bairns and Beasts (2012), a joint collection of poetry with fellow Crichton Writer Leonie Ewing. Barbara has retired from A Rocha in 2017, and will now be spending as much time as possible away from the computer, recording local birds, butterflies, dragonflies and moths.

View all posts by Barbara Mearns

8 responses to “Party questions”

  1. Francis Koppschall says:

    Thank you for this post, Barbara. I really enjoyed it.

    So important to remember that our work is not mundane, not about us being the “good guys” or about being “fascinating”, but about working for God’s Kingdom. Thank you!

    As you point out, if our work is for such an enormous cause, we should be bold enough to tell others about it, when we are asked what we do. (Matthew 10:32) I will do better!

  2. Sarah says:

    I think the question about what we do is one that lots of people struggle with (me included). It was lovely to read your approach to it Barbara. Thank you!

  3. Barbara Mearns says:

    Thanks Sarah and Francis. Glad it struck a chord with you both.

  4. Mel says:

    ‘What were your born for?’ What a profound question!

  5. Christopher Mearns says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog which had a thread to it

  6. Barbara Mearns says:

    Thanks Chris – good to hear from you!

  7. […] Barbara Mearns wrote recently, it is funny what people say when you tell them you work in conservation. Their reactions are very […]

  8. […] Barbara Mearns escreveu (veja o artigo em inglês), é engraçado o que as pessoas dizem quando você diz que trabalha com conservação. As […]

Leave a Reply