A Foolproof Guide to Explaining What You Do for Work This Holiday Season 

explaining work family

After another whirlwind year of lockdowns, travel restrictions and general uncertainty about *gestures to everything*, it’s time to relax and enjoy the silly season. Because, you know what? We deserve to kick back and do a bit of sweet nothing across the holidays.

For me, this end-of-year period will strike a significant pang of joy as I return home to my native Gold Coast to see family and friends who have been separated by a border closure for a good part of 12 months.

As I prepare to reunite with my loved ones, I can’t help but feel a sense of overwhelming happiness and … anxiety. Yep, anxiety. I couldn’t be more excited to jump into the arms of my nearest and dearest, but after the tears and merriment subside, I just know those dreaded questions are going to come in thick and fast. “So, how’s work going?”, “Remind me again, what is it that you do for work?”, “You work online… right?”, “What’s happening on the internet these days?”, “It must be fun to work in a job that isn’t serious!” and, my personal favourite, “How do you actually make money?” The joys! 

Like many Gen Z and Millenials who have followed a career in an emerging sector, I too am plagued by having a vague job title that seems to confuse and bewilder boomers et al.

Look, as the former TV host of MTV Australia, who now hosts two podcasts, freelance writes for digital publications, produces bespoke digital content for commercial clients and guest hosts for social media outlets like E! Australia — even I get a little dizzy trying to pinpoint exactly what I do for work.

But, instead of getting a little ticked off that my parents, aunties, cousins and other extended family members still can’t get a grasp for what I do for a living, I’m approaching this silly season with a newfound, Zen-like strategy and a foolproof guide to explaining exactly how I earn a crust. 

Replace Deflection With Understanding

The easiest and most common response when explaining what you do for work to bamboozled family members is to deflect by changing the topic of conversation.

I get it, we’re all exhausted by the time December rolls around so the last thing on our to-do list is to engage in a fraught tête-à-tête about your career. BUT in order to avoid having the same conversation, year after year — we must break the cycle.

Approach these conversations with a little bit of understanding. After all, your family and friends are simply interested in what you do for work and if their only fault is being a little naïve, we’ve really gotta cut them a bit of slack.

Take a couple of minutes to step into their shoes and understand that your line of work might be worlds apart from theirs. 

Show Them, Rather Than Tell Them

Taking a leaf out of the book of my very eccentric Year 5 speech and drama teacher, she would often encourage me to weave a narrative by showing rather than telling.

Sometimes when I’m explaining what I do to wide-eyed family members it can feel like I’m banging my head up against a wall. No matter how many times I explain that my interviews and segments go ON the internet and not ON the telly, for some reason it doesn’t quite compute.

This year I’ve decided that, rather than getting a bit testy over the fact, I’m going to show my family and friends what I do. A bit of visual communication can never go astray. Show them a recent project you’ve worked on, a campaign that has gone live or a favourite piece of your writing.

I guarantee this will do wonders in bridging the gap between your loved ones getting a bit closer to understanding what you do. And you’ll give them some extra bragging points to show their friends next time mum goes to tennis with the gals.

Translate into Boomer-Speak

Different generations can fall into the trappings of miscommunication because, at the end of the day, we really are speaking separate languages at times.

Find common ground with the boomer-leaning members of your family by whipping up some translations that will make sense to them. Whether your parents are accountants, nurses, farmers, teachers or retired, try and relate what you do back to them in terms they can connect with.

At the end of the day, they’ve had many more experiences than us so let’s give credit where credit is due. They might not understand what hashtags, viral TikToks or data analytics are but they know a lot more than we might think.

Explaining your line of work in language that they can understand will not only help them understand your day-to-day tasks but you’ll also get the opportunity to learn a bit more about them and their career history.

Combat Cattiness With Pride

In the instance when inquisitive questions around your line of work start to feel like barbs, instead of snapping back why not try turning the energy on its head?

I’m often at fault for getting a little butthurt when the aforementioned, “so, how do you actually make money?” comes hurtling my way from Aunty Carol. Whether it stems from a place of ill-intention or I’m feeling a bit sensitive, I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to respond with pride around my work.

Switching up the dour tone by offering up anecdotes of recent work or projects you’re chuffed with will help alleviate any tension. Aunty Carol will have no choice but to congratulate you and help herself to another deviled egg. 

Make Another Mimosa

When all else fails, perhaps it’s a good time to step away from the conversation, have a breather and make a mimosa.

There’s no point getting increasingly frustrated if your family members or friends just simply aren’t getting it when you’re trying to explain your job. The holiday season is a joyful and often emotionally charged time! Protect your boundaries, give yourself (and your family) a little break and approach the subject later on.

At the end of the day, you should feel really proud of your career achievements and even if your family don’t totally grasp what you do, deep down they’re proud of you too.

I also highly recommend having some more Christmas Ham and a nap. There’s nothing ham and a nap won’t fix. You can quote me on that.

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