I’m sitting at the dinner table surround by my family and a couple family friends. Before our friend can finish her sentence, I am 100% sure I know the rest of the question.
“---A lot harder than you were expecting it was going to be, or is it about the same as undergrad?” I finish the question in my head and smile to myself (but not at all creepily).
Our friend also finishes the exact same sentence. I was right!
Now, before you start imagining that I can predict the future (because that’s obviously the next logical progression) I will mention that this question has recently been one of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently. By everybody. New friends I meet at church, old friends, family members, grocery store employees, gas station attendants, flight attendants, baristas, cops (ok, possibly exaggerating a tiny bit), but not my fellow classmates for some reason. Probably because they’ve all experienced an overdose of the question as well. It’s a valid question, but I’ll answer it another time.
For now, I’m actually more interested in the question itself. I’ve noticed a pattern with questions like these—the ones that fall somewhere on the spectrum between small talk and genuine interest. They are fueled by the information most obvious about a person at a given point in his life. However, this apparent information changes over time, meaning that the questions change over time. This means you can discover a great deal about a person and their life, simply by listening to the questions that they are asked (this is possibly called eavesdropping in some cultures). Like pixels that make up a photograph, one so similar but ever-so-slightly different than the next, these types of questions gradually create a picture of the life that we are living.
“Where’s your nose?” “What sound does an elephant make? “Can you say lion?” “Can you spell cat?” “Can you spell thesaurus?” “Can you spell pterdytactl?” (apparently I can’t) “What grade are you in?” “What do you want to do with your life?” “Are you thinking about college?” “How are college classes going?” “You ready to graduate?” And that was just the first twenty some years or so! The questions keep coming and coming and gradually changing. “How are the kids?” “You thinking about retiring?” (I would assume these are possibly common questions as life goes on, but I’m not quite there yet).
So, while my common grad school question might threaten to be annoying at times, I’ve found it’s important to realize I won’t always be asked about how easy or hard grad school is. And that’s actually bittersweet! If the questions I’m asked are a reflection of my life, then I should learn to treasure them. Life changes and that’s a good thing, but it’s also not a bad thing to appreciate and value where I am at the moment. There will come a day when the very last person asks me how hard grad school is, but until then I’m going to answer the question as honestly as possible and appreciate the fact that it’s a question that applies to me.
Obviously, everybody has a different life so everybody gets different questions. What question are you most frequently asked right now? Are you ok with that? Let me know in the comments.