The Ups And Downs Of Explaining Complicated Careers To Family Members

"Hey, darling. What is it that you do for a living?" #cringe

Workin' Girl

Recently, I was over my great aunt's house for the day to visit and check in on family. On that particular visit, the conversation was going to a familiar place, one that I always avoid with family—or actually anyone who doesn't work in my industry. I felt it heading into the dreaded direction that I knew it would, when suddenly it came...

"So, how is work?"

Lawd, I hate this question. I hate it even more than the inevitable questions about when I plan to get married or have kids. In comparison, those questions are easy to laugh off, I can deal with those. The work question, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like to discuss work with anyone, however discussing my line of work is not that simple. And to be honest, it's out of the scope of what most people can comprehend. I respond with my usual, safe answer, "Work is good."

"Oh that's great. What is it that you do again?"

Plotting my escape, I reply, "I work in marketing."

"Oh, so you sell things over the phone?"

"No. That's telemarketing. I'm a content marketer."

Ten minutes later, there I was, trying to explain my day-to-day. I started to see the usual confusion begin to appear on faces as their eyes glazed over and I knew with certainty the very next time I see them, I'd have this exact same conversation again.

But it wasn't until that very moment that I realized, it's not that they don't understand my career. It's just that I am not having the right conversations.

Here's the thing: my industry requires and hosts a very broad skill set. It comes with a varying degree of responsibilities, and frankly could stretch across a multitude of other industries—all industries, to be exact. For example, I work in marketing, yes. But I've worked field marketing, I've worked corporate (or in-house as some refer to it), and most currently, content marketing on a freelance and/or corporate in-house basis. And absolutely no one knows what that means. Our society is only conditioned to understand what it is a lawyer does or a doctor or police officer or hairstylist. Never do they understand that some of us are bloggers, or create digital email marketing campaigns, or are UX analysts.

So, I set my sights on a mission to improve my communication, one parent, aunt, cousin, and grandpa at a time.

Here are some tips and tricks to improve your career conversation with the fam:


Stressed Issa Rae GIF by Insecure on HBO Giphy

It sounds ridiculous, but one key element to saving a few grey hairs, is to practice. Actors practice, dancers practice, why should you enter the gauntlet unprepared? OK, I'm joking (kind of) but there is nothing wrong with going over talking points for the questions that Aunt Bertha Mae will be grenade-launching at you as soon as you make it to the door. Simply knowing where to take the conversation, where to avoid disaster, and going over it in your mind, will help you to not have to pack your to-go plate so fast.

In many instances, explaining your career comes during those times when you're sitting and soaking up some good ole wisdom with the elders, or at least those who haven't been in the workforce in years. The most questions will come from those that are the most confused. And these elders don't have a filter so don't be offended if they are generally curious as to why you haven't purchased a home yet, but you can afford that trip to the Caribbean.

Speak From a Place of Listening vs. a Place of Explaining

I can't stress this enough: gauge what your family member understands about your career, rather than going into a full elevator pitch. You can simplify your conversation by asking, "How familiar are you with [insert your profession]?" or "What do you know about [your industry i.e. finance, sports marketing, etc]?" And if you know subject matter may go over their head, don't hesitate to water down the conversation. Telling Aunt Jan that you're "creating a video" may be easier for her to comprehend than "uploading a promotional spot for this new CPG client".

Knowing your audience is key, so they may not understand image pixels or blog tags, but they will understand that social media operates within its own methods.

Take the time to seek to the best way to clarify, as if you weren't familiar with your career as well. This allows your counterpart to both engage and feel at ease. Thus, no more of the same questions next year. #yay

Give a Stand-Out Example


I'll never forget the time, while discussing a few career goals with a family member, that I gave my family member that "a-ha" moment. It felt like I bungee-jumped and loved it. But to be honest, truly helping them connect those dots is the key difference in having a substantial conversation or having a drive-by chat. If they've retired from the railroad, and they understand how a component to their job connects to an element of yours, then stay on that course. Transferable skills lie within every single industry out there. Avoid your industry lingo, and instead tell a funny story about a work assignment. Find common ground in places where there are none.

That way, when sitting at the dinner table next year, at least you know Uncle David will have your back because he remembers that funny work story, and he'll be able to follow-up, relate to, sense opportunity, or simply help navigate a next solid move—because once upon a time, he dealt with this shit too.

Simply Have the Patience

It is important to have patience with anything you're speaking about with family, but it is highly-specified requirement when discussing your career. It's honestly a skill within itself. Patience allows you to get comfortable in the conversation, and maybe even taking it a step further to discuss your two-year phased-out career plan. And if you're that ballsy, I say go for it, but have patience.

Just understand the world is ever-evolving and nothing will make sense to you in ten years either. Being careful in these conversations allows you to attend the holidays next year, picking up where you left off. And most of all, your parents will wholeheartedly be able to support your vision when one—or both—of them calls for the day.

Let us know if these tips helped you have those conversations. Happy chatting!

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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