What do you do?

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…


  1. Bobby Shahzad26 October 2008
  2. Ryan9 November 2008
  3. Ahmed Bilal11 November 2008
  4. Fabio Varesano11 November 2008

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