Ever since I started working online, I’ve had trouble answering a very simple question – what do you do?
In university it was easy – you could tell them you were studying computer science and while you never wanted to write code again in your life, people would have no problems in attaching a convenient label to you (computers in this case).
But after university, things got complicated. Saying ‘I write for a living’ was exotic but invariably followed by the question ‘but what is your real job?’ or ‘when are you going to get a real job’. Apparently earning twice as much as my fellow graduates while working half as much was considered cheating and without a future. Maybe it was, but what did I know?
When I was consulting (search marketing), it was easier to explain – I helped businesses promote their products and services online (my favourite line was / still is: I help people make more money). I was always asked who I was working with, with the words ‘freelance consultant’ thrown back at me with a look of mistrust (disgust?), as if I was little better than a whore catering to foreign clients.
Labels are important to us as a society. In Pakistan, where independent thought or initiative is less common and / or less celebrated (even though small businesses are as common as anywhere else), going without a recognised label, without a box that they can put you in, is cause for being viewed as a suspicious outsider.
Here’s the unwritten rule – if you’re uneducated, you open a shop or work a menial job. If you’re educated, you get a job. If you’re rich, you join your daddy’s business.
What of those who get an education and then start their own business? Not really a fan club, much less an understanding culture. Still, things are better now than they were 4 years ago.
However, there’s one thing that stands out – if you’re not following the ‘traditional’ path of study->study->study->get a job, then there’s an unwritten rule that you must make more money than everyone else from your graduating class or you’re considered a failure. It’s an unfair expectation from the self-employed, but it’s the world we live in.
When I started working fulltime on Football Media / Soccerlens, it became harder to explain what I did (blog? what the hell is that? write online? why would you do that, who’d pay you to write?) until I realised that I had to explain things in terms people understood.
So now, whenever someone asks me what I do, I tell them that I run a sports newspaper like Dawn (leading local daily) except that it’s web-based so it’s updated 24/7, like Geo (top local TV channel), and that it’s the most popular independently owned football site, and if I’m really looking to impress, I segue into a discussion of the latest buyout offer the site has received, which always gets people’s attention.
It’s not as hot as being a pilot or as lucrative as being the country manager for a major multinational (I don’t get the same office perks, unfortunately), but people get it now. Still no office perks though…