How to Answer Pesky Questions About Your Life at Thanksgiving
I was helping a student last week update her LinkedIn profile, when she half-joking, half-serious asked a pretty solid and legitimate question.
“This is all well and good, but how do I answer questions about my life over Thanksgiving?”
We all know these questions. They’re usually questions not from family-family, like group text family; we’re talking the family we only really see once a year, neighbors who swing by your parents’ place; friends from high school or college; people from this secondary ring of your life; people who ask those questions.
You know the questions I’m talking about: What are you up to these days? What are you doing now? Who do you work for? How’s that going? How’s work? Do you have a job yet? What about grad school?
And here’s the college edition: So, are you interning somewhere? Are you studying abroad? Why? Why not? What are you going to do with that major? That’s a major now – sheesh, who knew, right?
The biggest, boldest, and yet at the same time, most vague and annoying culprit at any age – What are you up to these days?
Here’s your quick reference guide for navigating these conversations.
First, don’t panic.
Take three deep breaths before getting out of the Uber, answering the door, walking into any room. Don’t panic. You know the questions are coming. So, if you do anything between now and then, just take five minutes to yourself to run through the potential questions or, perhaps the potential personalities who will be asking the potential questions. Because different people ask different questions. Think about the general crowd and what they’ll be curious about.
Then, remember – once they ask the question, they turn ownership of the conversation over to you. So, control your message.
Ignite the elevator speech.
Hey, you have a schpeal for work – why not ignite the same or a similar schpeal for functions like this? It doesn’t have to have the same buttoned-up, professional vibe, but it can flow in a similar way. Think of three or four go-to sentences about your life that might address any of these questions:
- Where you’re living – city, state; apartment, condo, house
- Where you’re working or what the company’s like
- Your job title
- 2-3 quick, not-so-clunky-to-speak-out-loud responsibilities as that (job title)
- What your day looks like
- What’s awesome about your job
- What’s one thing that you’re working through
- A serious win that’s happened recently – personally and/or professionally
- One thing you’ve figured out about yourself because of that job
- One specific thing you’re really excited about moving forward
Again, you control your messaging. Be honest. Be real. Be yourself. If you receive a pretty general question, you can address it however you’d like.
Lean into your strengths.
If it’s not entirely obviously, I’m recommending you focus these conversations on positive aspects of the work you do. Thanksgiving dinner is neither the time nor the place to air your grievances about your job or your work or the hours or the boss. The receiver of this information probably has no clue what or whom you’re talking about. Plus, we get the negative a lot these days.
So, in controlling your message, lean into the good stuff.
AND – don’t be afraid to talk about your strengths and your wins. Did you close a deal last quarter? Great, talk about it. Did you apply to grad school? Great, talk about it. Did you just finish a great book that absolutely makes sense for your life right now? Great, talk about it.
Approach these questions and conversations with love, light, energy, and positivity.
Navigate the compare mode.
There’s a scene in Mark Twain’s almost-children’s book, almost-adult book titled “Advice to Little Girls” where he writes:
“If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless.”
The more people present – especially siblings, cousins, friends, whomever – the more compare mode will re-surface. So-and-so has a better title; so-and-so got promoted; so-and-so has a graduate degree, and that’s why she’s further ahead than me.
Treat her with kindness. Then, put the race horse blinders on and run your own race. Do you.
It’s really not all about you.
It’s Thanksgiving. It’s really not all about you. Share what you love about your life. Share maybe one or two things you’re learning to navigate. Share something that you’ve figured out recently.
And then don’t be afraid to flip the conversation on its head and ask questions back. This doesn’t have to be a question tennis match or competition – but it should be a conversation where all parties are interested and involved and invested. So, come prepared with some q’s of your own.
And then just be grateful to be here, now. That’s all you have to be right now.