The second weekend of October, I attended the 50-year anniversary of my student guild at the university. With one thousand guests present, I met a lot of old acquaintances and saw many people I had never seen before, the eldest having started their studies over fifty years ago. In the discussions with closer friends and more distant ones two things caught my attention:
- Understanding what everyone does in their daily work seemed quite difficult.
- In describing what they do, professionally and in their free time, people seemed to be very competitive.
When describing my current life and professional pursuits to others I tried to give a short and very tangible description, something like: “I work in strategic procurement, buying R&D services from external engineering companies. Among other things I look for suitable providers and negotiate and close the contracts with them.” I don’t recall mentioning my title even once, since “Project Manager” hardly tells anyone, what I do.
When asking others what they do, the answers were, to tell the truth, difficult to understand and memorize. Should I be asked now to repeat those descriptions, I might recall, very vaguely, a few of the maybe ten occupations and task descriptions I heard during the party. I remember someone mentioning: “I work a lot with Excel tables”, which was easy enough to understand. And I would bet, that the majority of us work with Excel tables and PowerPoint presentations, either creating them, seeing them presented or both. But those two are just tools, so the exact content behind the work does not become any clearer. So the main question, based on my two observations is, whether work is that complicated or whether we just want to make it look like that.
It’s complicated, it’s important and so am I
My conclusion, after some pondering, was that today’s work, having become increasingly specialized, is difficult to be described to or be understood by an outsider, even if they work in a neighboring field or have similar education. Another factor might be, relating to my observation number two, that we want to give a polished picture of ourselves, seeming to be more successful and important than we really are. After all, everybody wants to feel important.
A further thought on my observation number two was, how intentional this competitiveness and bragging might be? In the discussions at the party, I tried to avoid exaggerating my current job or personal life. But if many people appear to me as bragging when telling about their lives and jobs, is it just my observation, are they doing it unintentionally or are they really trying to show off?
If it’s just my observation, than maybe I am feeling inferior or jealous because my job or life does not feel that important in comparison to theirs. If people are bragging, they might be doing it unintentionally, which is actually again more dependent on the listener’s subjective view. However, if people are really bragging, omitting here the question of how to measure “real, intentional bragging”, they might be feeling inferior or feel the need to underline their own importance. In each case, the question is, whether the parties in conversation perceive themselves as “equally important”, and consequently adjust their wordings and interpretation of the spoken words.
I suppose the essential message here is that bragging is very subjective and situation dependent, and that work has not really become that complicated although tasks have become more specialized. While more specialized, each task is also limited in scope and therefore not necessarily complicated, but just not readily accessible to others who are not familiar with the very field. However, each or most of the tasks and jobs would still be understandable and accessible to many people, had they just chosen to engage that very field. It’s our need to feel ourselves important that makes us overcomplicate things when describing our lives and achievements.
Many of us, me included, live our lives with daily routines. These routines might sound boring to someone, but if I enjoy them and want to adhere to them, as I mostly do, I should not be ashamed to tell about my life without any grandiose vacuities.