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In Response to ‘What Do You Do?’

We all dread this question. It’s what makes us start sweating when we arrive home during break (though for some of us, that may just be due to the summer heat of where we live). It’s what makes or breaks the first five minutes of those ephemeral interactions between prefrosh during Visitas. Ironically, it’s also what we face during dreaded networking events — the purpose of which, ironically, is to secure us with jobs so that we can actually attempt to answer this question.

Yet what limits us to regard what we do simply in terms of our profession or academic discipline? For many of us, we may not have an internship offer lined up for the next three summers; we may be struggling to find options for the upcoming summer alone. In these cases of job insecurity, are we simply not doing anything? When faced with the question, do we just sit in silence?

I sometimes wonder how I would have answered this question as an adolescent, when my greatest worry was snagging a spot at the monkey bars. It’s likely I would have enthusiastically responded with the fact that I doodle and build stories for my original character designs. I would ramble about what piece I’m currently learning on the cello or shyly show my growing list of webcomics that I stay updated on every week. In response to “what do you do,” I would say I am an artist, a musician, a reader, and a writer. I would laugh and wonder how one could possibly have just one answer — people are capable of doing many things, after all.

Now, however, I freeze up in front of this question and struggle to dredge up even a single answer. My mind races through a midlife crisis in three seconds, and I balk at the fact that I don’t have a five-year plan to recite to my relatives or a recruiter.

Nonetheless, we are all definitely “doing” something with our lives everyday. We attend a university brimming with opportunities to learn and grow, we take courses on intriguing topics, and we explore new sides of ourselves and invest our time in extracurriculars that support our campus culture. How can it be possible, then, that we don’t know what it is that we do?

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Perhaps it is because of the societal perception in which we have grown to regard this question. How unfortunate it is that those with such passion in their eyes must question their own worth because they are not yet sure of their professional future. What if we grew to let go of our expectations regarding this question? What we do should not just be limited to our career prospects or academic concentration. The things we do — the things in which we willingly choose to invest our time, energy, and passion — extend to all aspects of ourselves beyond professional or academic development, be it for personal growth, self discovery, mental health, or recreational enjoyment. With this in mind, it should follow that the question of what we do should accept answers within these fields as well.

So what do I do? Yes, I program and make websites. I concentrate in Computer Science at Harvard College. But no, I also do more than that. I dance with some of the sweetest people I have met on campus. I write my heart out about issues close to my heart for my school’s publication. I take photos of the beautiful crevices in life such as glimpses of sunsets or the aesthetic display of food that people are too busy to fully appreciate. I stay up into the late hours of the night making sure my friends don’t go to bed with a heavy heart. These are also things I do, and they are just as valid and important as my four-year academic plan.

Despite how it may feel, we are all so more than our concentrations or professional experiences. We are fighters, dreamers, scholars, lovers, and envisionaries. We laugh, we cry, we learn, and we grow. The next time we are faced with the question of “what do you do,” it is my hope that rather than feeling boxed in, we are bursting with answers of everything we are and everything we are capable of.

Linda Lee ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor and Crimson Blog Comp Director, is a Computer Science concentrator in Eliot House.

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