Thursday, 23 June 2011

Express yourself! How much are we defined by what we do?

I once thought the contents of this table
pretty much defined me!

One thing I’ve noticed about meeting people for the first time is how reliant we are on careers.

Nearly every time I’ve been introduced to someone, I’ve been asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And it’s a question I dread, because what I do as my job actually says very little about who I am.

In fact, if people find out what I do, it actually gives quite the wrong impression about who I am! It’s counter-productive, both in them getting to know me, and in me expressing myself, and can lead to me having to do a lot of recovery work to repaint myself in their eyes.

Which is why I dread it.

This might not be true for a lot of people; some people probably have careers that they chose a long time ago and worked hard to do – maybe you’re a doctor, or a teacher, or a solicitor. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to be a musician, writer or painter. But it still doesn’t necessarily define you. Perhaps there’s a reason why you chose a particular career, or maybe you’re considering a career change and would rather people knew that about you.

This is a subject one of my favourite authors picked up on in a blog post last year. Don Miller wrote about ways of getting to know someone, and he said it’s about finding out their story – where have they come from? How did they get here? What are their ambitions? Of course, these are big questions and not necessarily suited to small-talk scenarios, but I do think there’s scope for improving on the ‘what do you do’ opener.

For example, I try and find out what someone likes doing. Once you’ve found out what their job is (partly because everyone expects that question!), ask them if they enjoy it. If not, then you can find out what they’d rather be doing: their answers might open up a whole load of other conversation topics and, before you know it, you’ve really started to get to know them. Or, it might be that they are in fact passionate about their job, in which case they can tell you about it and you know you’re getting an insight into their soul and who they are.

People like talking about themselves, so let them – they’ll like you for it!

Unless you're not really interested, in which case, do everyone a favour, and just walk away...

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