Have you ever noticed that when you meet someone new and they ask you to tell them about yourself, you tend to tell them what you do for a living? I know I do. As soon as someone says, "So, tell me more about you," I find myself giving a long dissertation about my job.
I started to pay attention to what people responded with when I asked them to tell me about themselves. I hear a lot of people tell me what they do for a living, or that they are "John's wife" or "Jake's dad."
Recently, I went to a networking event and I asked people to tell me more about themselves. One woman I met, I'll call her Susan, told me that she was a corporate trainer. While I would normally just nod politely and maybe ask a few follow up questions, there was a spark in this woman's eyes that told me there was something else lurking in there. I decided to try out an experiment on her.
"Your job sounds interesting," I said, "however, I don't want to know what you do, I want to know who you are."
She looked very confused for a minute, and then she added that she was a mom of two kids, she had a dog and a cat and she lived in the suburbs. I paused and nodded again, resisting the urge to fill the silence. Finally, that's when she broke through.
"I'm an animal lover. When I was younger, I thought I'd become a veterinarian, but once I got married and had kids, I just didn't have time to pursue that any longer. I'm also a book lover, and I read every chance I get. With two kids at home I don't get a lot of quiet time so I actually stopped driving to work so I could read while I am on the train. I want to be a writer, but I also love music, and at one time I thought I'd be an actress... "
This went on for quite some time.
So why tell you this story? Because I want to challenge you to think about who you are. You are a person; you are not a job description! What you do is not who you are.
If you're a parent, that's a beautiful thing, but remember, you are also a person that has lived an entire life before your children came along. Don't lose the person you are or the person you were meant to be. Susan wanted to be a veterinarian, but after having her children, she didn't think she could still pursue her dream. I challenged her to think about whether or not she could still be involved with animals somehow. Maybe volunteer at a local shelter or a zoo. She perked up!
If you are working a job that doesn't feed your soul, I'm not suggesting you quit, but I am encouraging you to figure out what does feed your soul and do more of that. Are you a banker that dreams of being a writer? Can you commit to writing just for half an hour every night before bed? What about half an hour before work?
Are you a corporate executive that wished you had been a carpenter instead? Can you take two weeks off this summer to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity? Can you find a little space in your basement or garage to do some woodworking on the weekends? If none of that will work for you, at least go to your local home improvement store and grab some carpentry magazines to browse through on your lunch break.
I have a friend who loves the theater. He works his day job and is an incredibly hard-working and diligent employee. On nights and weekends, he works as a stage manager at a local play house. Insurance is what he does; theater is what he is passionate about. I know this because of how animated he is when he talks about the shows and the cast -- it's hard to get that excited over a spreadsheet!
It's time to honor who you really are in this world. The next time you meet someone new and they want to know more about you, resist the urge to rattle off your job description. Be brave and bold and honest about the person you are deep down inside. You may inspire someone else to do the same next time too!