Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm A Human Being, Not A Human Doing

I've been meeting a lot of new people recently. Online. At parties. At networking events. On planes. Friends introduce me to their friends. Let's not forget it's high school reunion time, so: reconnecting with people I haven't talked to since high school (and that's like meeting a whole new person!).

There's a lot of people to introduce myself to. No matter what setting you meet someone in, you know the one question that will always come up is, "What do you do (for a living)?" And that's when I start wondering what I should tell them about myself.

For some people the answer comes naturally and simply. They may feel defined by their occupation and quickly answer, "I'm a computer programmer for IBM." They may be passionate and focused on their new venture and say, "Well I just founded a new social marketing measurement company," and continue to talk about it for the next 10 minutes.

There are still others of us out there who don't have such a simple answer. A friend of mine was laid-off from her first job less than a year into it and has since felt uncomfortable having to explain that she's coasting along on unemployment until another job comes along. What about all of the recent and soon-to-be college graduates that are working 2-5 part-time retail/food industry gigs because they can't get a full-time job and to be honest aren't really sure what they would want a full-time job to look like anyways. Then there are people like me: Full-time job that I refuse to let define who I am, a completely unrelated part-time position with my family's small business, a multitude of barely financially-rewarding hobbies, and with career goals in a realm of its own.

While answering, "What do you do?" can be daunting in any of the above cases, I think that it's actually easier to brand yourself one-on-one than in an online realm. In a one-one-one situation you can at least choose what you want to share with that person about yourself. Online though, anyone can Google you to follow you on Twitter, find you on Facebook, read your blog, check out your LinkedIn profile, and see every comment you've ever posted. It's sort of an information overload. It may be a more multi-faceted and multi-talented "you", but sharing all of that with someone one-on-one at once would just confuse them or leave them wondering where your real focus is.

So when I meet someone these days I try to keep some questions in the back of my mind to decide how I should answer the question; whether I should focus on my current endeavors or my aspiring goals; what takes up the majority of my time or what I wish would take up more of my time; my major source of income or my "hobbies"?
  1. What do they already know about me?
  2. Can I build on that or tell them something they might not already know about me?
  3. What do I already know about them?
  4. Is there something they should know about me that may be able to help them?
  5. What is relevant to the conversation?
  6. What is my purpose/environment? Am I networking for my side business?
  7. Am I trying to impress someone or try to sound as interesting as possible?
I usually end up focusing on one major aspect of "what I do" for simplicity's sake, but when the conversation is all said and done I can't help but feel so inauthentic. It feels like a cop-out to say "I work at [this company] and that's what I do" and at the same time feels like a sham to say "I'm a [writer/engineer/entrepreneur/photographer]" if I'm not employed or earning a living as that person. Such a dilemma.

If I had to sum myself up in one phrase? I guess I'm still working on that!


  1. Excellent points Carlee. We are all so much more than a job title or a new project. But how do you decide what tidbits of info to share with which people?

    At the end of the day, I think we go with our gut and then chance takes us the rest of the way into new opportunities. I can be afraid of saying the wrong thing til the cows come home, but if it prevents me from saying anything at all, that's just as bad.

    Good post, thanks!


  2. Bri, you're completely right about just saying SOMETHING. I mean if you don't say anything about yourself that's the worst of all because nobody will know you exist. At least if you pick something to say, someone will know 1 thing about you they didn't know before.

    Also, I watched Penelope Trunk's webinar on Brazen last night and she said something that struck me. Someone asked a question about if you should tell people you meet that you're a blogger/have a blog. The consensus was No, don't tell people in person that you're a blogger because they won't understand or won't get it. Point being, don't tell people something about yourself they won't understand because that's almost as bad as saying nothing at all. Go with something that the person you're talking to can relate to.

  3. Interesting about not telling people you're a blogger. Not only for the reasons you described but because in the circles I run in, it's more rare to find someone who's NOT a blogger, therefore it's old news.

    Definitely hear you on talking TO the person you're talking in relating to them. I would have done the webinar but I did the Social Media Club meeting in Carrboro.

    Are you going to Ignite Raleigh in March? I want to see how much registration costs before I commit. Hit me up on twitter if you are.