I believe there is only one question that I hate being asked (okay, maybe three; two of them are “Are you going to finish your fries”—yes, always yes—and “Do you mind if we check your basement for several axe murderers? They’ve escaped the local asylum and it’s believed they’re in your area”). That question is “What are you going to do after you graduate?”
The reason I hate this question—besides the obvious, jerky response of it being none of that person’s business—is because no matter who is asking that question, they’ve probably been asked it themselves and hated every moment of having to answer it.
“Oh, I’m looking at a few grad programs. I might apply next year.”
“I might just work after I finish my degree, you know, gain some more experience. Maybe do an internship.”
“I’m working right now. You’re asking me this at my job. What? You mean you never dreamed of working at Chuck E. Cheese? Well, sooooorrry for not aiming a little higher, Your Highness!”
Whatever lame, half-baked answer you give someone, they’re always going to respond in a weird way. And that’s because there is no proper way to reply to this question, a question they initiated. If you reply with an unsure response, all they can say is: “Well, that’s okay; you don’t have to know just yet,” and feel really terrible for even asking. Or if you give a really detailed, self-actualized response, like “Oh, well, Humber has a great comedy-writing program. I’m working on a pilot idea right now since I need some great script pieces for my submission portfolio,” then all they can say is, “Well, good for you! Look at you being so organized and on the right track! You sure showed me; I was expecting you not to know a damn thing!”
This “good for you” response can only come across as belittling, but this is the only response you can give unless you just so happen to have a life-altering experience or opportunity for this person tucked away in your pocket. Which many people who ask don’t. Most of the time, they’re just curious, wanting to know more about you, wanting to make small talk; but really, is satisfying your little ounce of curiosity even worth the social pressure you’re putting on this person? Or worse, the impression this person is getting of you as someone who only cares about their value in a career-oriented way?
The asker is not whatsoever as curious about what you plan to do on the weekend, and if they do ask, they’ll say “That’s nice,” when really, what a person does on the weekend is a great way to open up a conversation about their lifestyle, interests, and hobbies—you know, those things that really should matter.
And the worst part about the question is that the person who asks it doesn’t know the right answer to life. It’s not like they have the exact blueprint for your life; it’s not like they’re asking you, waiting for you to say something that’s a word-for-word match to what they know already, like a weird game of charades.
“Yes, yes… you’re going to… come on, you’re so close! Just say it! You’re going to become… augh, you almost had it! Sorry, we were looking for ‘marine biologist’. I was hoping you’d figure it out on your own. You make me sick. I really thought you’d figure it out.”
Most likely, this person isn’t even sure if the choice they made in their life is right, yet they went with it and just hoped it would all work out.
Maybe there is a point of exaggeration, but it’s all true: there really is no benefit to asking that question in a normal social situation, and when you do ask it—if you choose to—there’s really no point in analyzing it or commenting on it. Sure, there will always be appropriate situations to ask it, like at a networking event, an employment centre, or maybe even when it comes up in normal conversation (sometimes a person makes it very clear that they hate what they’re doing and they’ve left you no space to take the conversation to another place).
But if you’re just asking because you want to know, maybe think about the fact that if you’re asking this person, you’re probably the 80th person to do so, and if you’re asking just because you want to know or to make small talk, re-evaluate your priorities and your choice of small talk. Because if you’re making proper conversation, this shouldn’t even need to come up at all.
English and communications