THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Whaddya do? Talk yourself into a new job

When someone asks me, "What does your husband do?" I say, "I don't know." This is not an answer society can deal with. It's not okay to offer no idea of what you want to do, let alone be married to someone with no idea.

We have two kids, and I've noticed that the more responsibilties you have, the more unacceptable it is to have no idea what you're doing. But the truth is that my husband is trying to figure out what to do. He's an artist, a former game producer– in fact, a former lot of things– but right now he's being a dad who wants to be a dad/something, but he can't figure out what.

There's a lot of good advice about how to craft an answer to The Question. For example, when you're starting a new business but still work for your old employer, some experts recommend that you talk about the new business as if thatís what you do, and donít bother talking about how youíre trying to get out of your current day job.

In general, if you talk about yourself how you want to be, then you'll probably become that person, according to research from Herminia Ibarraha, a professor at INSEAD. In this case, Ibarraha recommends that you learn to tell stories about yourself that affirm the new vision of yourself. Stories have the power to frame how we think about something.

In both cases, the advice is to answer The Question by focusing on where you're going instead of where you are, which is excellent advice– for everyone who knows where they're going. But how do you craft an answer if you have no idea where you're headed?

I know my husband is not alone in the world because I do a lot of career coaching for very smart, talented, ambitious people, and many have no idea what they want to do with themselves. Ten years ago, if you didn't know what you were doing, the typical response would be, "I'm consulting." Today, you don't need to do that. It's okay to be lost.

For people under 30, feeling lost is de rigueur. But if you're over 30, it's okay too– if you believe it's okay. The first step is to respect the fact that you're in transition and that transition is part of normal life. In fact, with the right attitude, coping with uncertainty can be a positive experience.

The important thing is to be honest about it. If you hedge and look embarrassed, ashamed or evasive, you'll look bad answering The Question. But if you look someone in the eye and say, "I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out," it's reasonable to trust that people will respect you. They'll ask you about your process for figuring things out. Maybe they'll say, "What have you done in the past?" or maybe, "What are you thinking about doing?" 

These are not personal attacks. They're genuine curiousity because we're all fascinated by the process of self-discovery– it's the basis of our whole literary canon, after all.

And one more thing. When I was in graduate school in English, I learned that our interpretation of that literary canon has as much to do with who we are as what the book says. This is true of The Question, as well. After you answer The Question, the personís response has more to do with who they are than with who you are. If you believe in yourself and your choices, your answer to The Question will be great, no matter what you say.