Date Added: April 2012
Note: This article appeared in the April 29, 2012 issue of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.
We are often asked, "What do you do?" Society has taught us this important question to get to know others; although it makes one wonder if this is the right question.
This question elicits several uninformative reactions. First, you provide your resume. "I currently work for X and do X. I'm responsible for X number of people and generate $XXX." Blah, blah, blah.
A second response is defensive -- especially for those seeking employment or not liking their job. They don't want to discuss their job, so the personal interaction has been halted. A third reaction is some scripted story to be different. While creative, the other person often has a look of, "This person is crazy.”
How would Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa answer this question? Would King say, “I’m a Baptist minister at a Memphis church?” Would Mother Teresa say, “I’m the Missionaries of Charity founder?” What kind of relationship would we develop if either simply told us what they did for their job?
Unfortunately, this is what we receive when asked, “What do you do?” We give our resume. "I'm a banker. I'm an accountant. I'm an attorney. I'm a teacher. I'm a social worker. I'm in marketing. I'm..." Rarely do we receive an honest, "My job doesn't define what I do, I define who I am and what I do."
Will we ever stop defining ourselves by our resume, job or organization? While these questions are norms in our society, are we asking the wrong questions? How about asking, "Who are you?" or "How do you fulfill your life’s purpose?"
While these questions will surprise people and may be viewed as a bit crazy, think of the responses and increased communication should they become the norm? Instead of providing your resume, being defensive or giving a creative story; "Who are you?" allows the opportunity to truly tell others about you vs. what you do for a living.
Your job shouldn’t define who you are -- you do. You are an unique individual and the same unique individual regardless of your job. You can switch jobs often (I'm the poster child for this) and still be the same person.
This was tested at a recent conference. Upon receiving my name tag, I ripped off the lower half with the organization name. This really confused people because they weren't sure how to communicate with me. From their confused look, I explained why I did this, adding, "My organization doesn't define who I am, I do. If you're interested in getting to know me, ask about me. I would love to know about you."
While some definitely thought I was crazy, it was amazing how many smiled and engaged in a fantastic discussion. "How do you fulfill your life’s purpose" is interesting because it’s been said, “by myself I can do nothing.” Shouldn't our life purpose be something larger than our current or future job(s)?
A banker and I engaged in this discussion and initially he was confused. He is a great banker and impacts people through his job; however, he has impacted my life and our community in numerous ways unrelated to his job. Think back to King and Mother Teresa.
Next time you meet others, focus on who they are and how they impact others; and be less concerned about what they do. We build relationships with people – not jobs.