I was at a party thrown by a friend of friend recently, and it was one of those semi-awkward affairs where the only person you know is the friend who brought you and you’ve foolishly volunteered to be DD so you can’t even take advantage of the open bar to make you forget you have social anxiety.

Luckily, there were tacos and really sweet people and a dj spinning hip-hop tracks the whole night. So long story short, it was a good time.


That’s not the point of this story.

I met someone there, another sort-of-outsider who was new to this group of close-knit friends. We made some small talk and I steeled myself for the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” Ever since I left medicine, nothing makes me feel like I’m floundering about in life as much as this question. There’s a sense of security and, yes, I’ll admit it – pride, in being able to swiftly reply “a doctor.” I gave up security in more ways than feeling comfortable at small talk, but it’s a jarring reminder whenever I meet someone new. I’d had versions of the same conversation as I met several new people that night. 

Paula was different, though. She wore a long red dress and I can’t remember now if her curly hair was up or down, but she smiled a lot, as I’m sure I did, too. That almost-forced overly eager grin that’s trying hard but failing to hide your insecurity – it was plastered on both our faces. At a party thrown by a photographer and attended by all his photographer friends, I correctly assumed Paula was also a photographer. We chatted about that for a minute, and then she asked me, “What are you passionate about?”

What a revelationary* thing to ask.

No, it’s not quite the same as, What do you do? Because as any immigrant parent will tell you, what you do for a living and what you do for fun are mutually exclusive. 

I was taken aback by her question and I didn’t have any ready answers. On the rooftop of the house of gods I found myself rummaging around my soul for an answer.

What a question, right?

Since then, it’s changed the way I think about someone’s occupation/vocation/profession and how I approach people in general. A person’s response will tell you so much more about him or her than a job description or the salary figure that pops up in your head.

It’s a question worth asking and revisiting often, because, as Kate Bornstein says, “Your life’s work begins when your great joy meets the world’s great hunger.”

So…what are you passionate about?

*i don’t even care if revelationary is not a word; it is now