Is a man really a man without a job? What a man does plays a large part in who a man thinks himself to be. "What to you do?" is one of the questions most commonly asked when 2 men meet for the first time. So are men and their work inextricably linked, and if so, what of the unemployed man?
As a single man, my job probably defined me more than it should have. As I grow and mature, though, and watch my family do the same, my job becomes less and less who I am, and more a means to achieve what I want out of life. Eventually, I'm either going to buy into the company I'm with now (small carpet cleaning business), or I'm going to kick off on my own.
Wow, this is spooky as it's almost exactly what they've been talking about on radio 4 just now... I just have to make sure the bath doesn't overflow, have a shave etc. But I'll be back presently to answer this. Don't anybody go anywhere...
Okay, now I can tackle this question refreshed and clean-shaved... This question interests me a lot as I'm an artist so have resigned myself to spending a few years working for money in jobs that I don't really enjoy, so that I can eat and afford to make my art work. I am not an administrator, although that is what I have to do at the moment to exist. People should only be defined by their job if it's what they live and breathe, if they've been lucky enough to have profession meet with hobby, so that they are doing what they enjoy all the time which does happen thankfully some of the time. It would be cruel to label somebody by a job that they do merely to pay the bills, especially when they have other interests. Actually, the idea has just struck me that maybe people should be introduced/'labelled' by their hobbies, or personal philosophies, so that rather than introduce somebody at a party by saying they're an accountant, you could say keen amateur golfer/poet/aesthete/pragmatist/pedagogue/ballroom dancer etc...
I thought about this question especially last year, when I read two contrasting books- Post Office by Bukowski, and Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It was just coincidence, but they contrasted very interestingly as Wind, Sand and Stars is an autobiographical, adventurous account of becoming a pilot for the mail over North Africa to escape the world of the daily commute, and crushing life in the city in a very physical, literal way, and Post Office was an account of Bukowski ending up in a menial post office job for 13 years, but never becoming the job, always remaining aloof, outside of it, internally free although possibly escaping through alcohol. Also good quotes in Factotum about Bukowski not realising that you were actually expected to enjoy your work- he was always doing it to buy booze and write. You'd call Bukowski a poet, a writer, a drunk, a wino before you'd call him a post-office worker.
Along the same lines as "actions speak louder than words", everything that you do, including your job (all of them) is PART of what defines who you are, even if its a temporary job that will help get you to something else. What defines a man more than a job are his passions. I suppose then that being in the ideal situation of having a job that is a passion that a man would then be even more strongly linked to his job.
A job may not be all that a man is or something that totally defines him. However, it is more significant than some other attributes a man possesses because it can deeply affect his self-worth if he allows it since he depends upon it to do so many other things.
As for the question itself, "What do you do?", please ask something else. In some cultures it is rude to ask this question. At best, especially if asked too soon, its as cheap, insincere, an unimaginative as a pickup line and is best left to HR personnel and Job Recruiters.
A man should work to live and not live to work. Whereby I mean to say, that a man's work may be part of who he is but it's greater purpose is that it should allow him to be the man he dreams to be. If a man allows his job to assume his identity then he fails to be the individual man that his Creator intended and comes to be no more than a mindless slave to the machinery of civilization. A man's profession is a well from which he can draw a certain pride and fit this piece into the larger puzzle, but our identity is assumed by all that we surround ourselves with: spouse, child(ren), hobbies, friends, faith, etc...
Honestly I believe that a man should pursue a career in which he does live to work. In which his job does define him because it's what he loves to do. There are many reasons why people ask "what do you do?" as a common icebreaker. The main reason is networking actually, another reason I believe is that at some point in time people actually did what they loved to do. Back then there weren't too many talentless jobs. You had to be able to do your job and the jobs were usually skillsets.