"So what do you do?"

October 07, 2015

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Oh that tired and yet slightly terrifying question that everyone has asked and has no doubt been asked a thousand times. One that I normally handle with a witty response and steer the conversation onto more interesting and worthy topics (like who chooses Jon Snow's ties? And do you think Prince Harry would fancy a brown girl with a dulcet home counties accent?)

For the last few months, I've been, what can very simply defined as, unemployed. Except it doesn't feel like I think unemployment should feel. I am busier now than I ever have been. I barely have weekends any more - the days in the week merge into the weekend and before you know it I've not really had a day off for two months. I have watched no TV (who seriously has the time to care what Loose Women are saying or what Jeremy Kyle is screaming about this week?); nor have I gone to the cinema in the middle of the day or enjoyed an afternoon stroll with a coffee and a good book (although I would if I could). In the same vein, I've also not been inside a dole office or collected any money from the state, and nor have I taken to begging for money from the bank of family and friends, or selling all my personal belongings on eBay.

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So how do I answer the question, "what do you do?" Regardless of my current employment status, I normally ask the questionner if they want to know how I fill my time or what I do to earn money? The two things are not mutually exclusive, at least not to me. Let me answer them in turn...

How do I fill my time?

I'm a Managing Director of a social enterprise, Challenge12, working with groups of great people who want to do great challenges to raise money for 12 charities that mean something to them. This year is the fourth and likely to be the most successful yet. My role is to promote the charity and develop their communications platform, as well as showing my support for all the captains involved. To do that I've taken part in every challenge I can and will end the year having completed 12 very physically demanded events (You can read more about what I'm doing here, you can donate to the cause here and find out about Challenge 12 here.

I'm a volunteer in the Press Office for the Rugby World Cup. Twice a week for the past three months, I've been trekking over to Twickenham to help be a part of the team that are pulling off the best World Cup the rugby community have seen. Why? Because I want to be part of the community of rugby players, fans and coaches, who come together for the love of the game and want to leave a legacy, to make our international guests feel at home, feel safe and enjoy everything that makes rugby a great game on and off the pitch.

I'm a freelance communications and sustainability consultant at Planet Communications, a company I set up two years ago. I've worked with some of the biggest brands in the world and am lucky to be offered work regularly to help big and small business in creating a sense of community in their business, working together for the wider benefit of society and talking about these messages in a creative and engaging way. It's slightly on the back burner while CAYA is my priority but until we become a viable business that provides me with a very small income, I still try and keep a hand in with my clients to continue work to make the world more sustainable for everyone.

As the founder of CAYA, I'm jointly responsible for the day-to-day running of our operations; booking meetings with prospective landlords, seeing our advisors for more engagement and support in where to go next; investigating different avenues that will all one day culminate in the opening of a fabulous series of CAYA clubs around the country, and hopefully further afield. And more importantly, I am the other half of this power duo - without Kate, CAYA would not exist; and only with us both does this venture have a chance of getting off the ground

Oh and then there's the small matter of my personal life. I manage my own house; household chores are done by me or not at all; I immerse myself in theatre and the arts; I see friends, their children and their partners and try my best to be a good godmother, sister, daughter and niece; I even thought now would be a good time to start dating again. There's no Lord Patel to shoulder some of the responsibilities or support me when nerves are frayed and sleep has not been plentiful. I don't say this for pity, I say it because many in their mid-thirties have been in relationships for some years and have forgotten that life as a solo rather than a duo has its downsides as well as some pretty awesome perks.

What do I do to earn money?

Honestly, the short answer is I don't. I don't earn any or enough money from the ventures above to live on. So I could say I do a few odd jobs here and there - and sometimes I do. And the look on those people's faces when I say it is a mixture of confused, perplexed or just dismissive.

Would I change my life and go back to a nine-to-five (let's face it, more like eight-to-eight-plus-a-few-hours-at-the-weekend)? Absolutely not. Because what I do to to earn money does not define me. What I do with the time in my day, does.

So next time someone asks you, "what do you do?" - take a minute to think about how you might want to answer.