“What do you do?”

It’s a simple and incredibly common question — one we often pose to strangers when we first meet. Our careers are huge parts of our lives. So getting some insight into what a person does to earn a living from day to day can be a great lead-in to a relationship and extended discussion.

However, I think this conversation starter remains popular for another (probably subconscious) reason: Asking someone what they do is a quick, easy way gauge someone's socioeconomic status.

Imagine if one conversational partner explains that she’s a trauma surgeon and the other shares that he works part time at a grocery store. It’s totally understandable to immediately have different perceptions of their education, intelligence, and — without a doubt — their finances. Are those assumptions always true? Not necessarily. But it’s human nature to make them.

Like everyone else, I’m frequently prompted with this question. And I usually love it. It’s a chance for me to dive in and talk about one of my biggest passions: my freelance writing business.

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Other People's Perceptions

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people weren’t so excited about what I did. In fact, after I explained my career, one middle-aged man at a networking event responded simply with, “Oh, so your husband makes the money then.”

I was flabbergasted. First, by the fact that he had the gall to say something so blatantly disrespectful. And second, by his assumption.

This was the first time I stopped to consider the fact that there were likely plenty of people out there who thought that I was just riding my husband’s coattails. That I let him bring home the bacon while my “business” makes it look like I’m doing something with my time. At least, until I’m ready to have children.

I’m not naïve. I know there are tons of people who hear “work from home” and “own my own business” and immediately picture you in sweatpants. They think of you watching daytime soap operas and doing very little actual work.

I let the man's statement eat away at me. For months after the fact, I felt the need to justify my career choices and my earnings.

I’d explain my career, only to immediately follow it up with something like, “But trust me, I really do earn a good living!”

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I Am a Freelancer, and I'm Okay

But then I realized I was seeking validation from sources that really didn’t matter. Ultimately, what other people think about my financial situation has absolutely zero impact on my husband’s and my fiscal well-being. I could go ahead and let them assume he brought home paychecks while I sat on my butt all day. In the end, their assumptions and opinions held no weight.

I think this unintended sexism about my own financial contributions is something many women can relate to. Most particularly, the nearly 25 percent of women who report working from home.

You’re often looked at as some sort of parasite. People think you're a freeloader trying to occupy your time and make it look like you’re actually working. Meanwhile, your significant other supposedly takes care of the bills. But take it from me: you can’t let somebody else's perceptions of your financial situation or your career drag you down.

At the end of the day, that man from earlier can go ahead and think that my husband carries the entire fiscal weight of our household. Me? I’ll laugh all the way to the bank.

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