“Hello.  So what do you do?”   This is the most dreaded of all networking questions.  At least for many years it was for me.  It’s an innocent question.  People ask because they want to get to know you.  Since what you do is so tied to who you are, in our culture, really this is an appropriate question to ask when meeting someone.  More probing questions are considered personal especially in a professional setting.

And we wonder why many of us have such difficulty separating our WHO from our DO. What we do is emphasized throughout our life over who we are.  It happens slowly with questions like these:

  • “What (not who) do you want to be when you grow up?”
  • “Are you going to college? What will you major in?”
  • “What industry are you going into?”
  • “Where do you work?”
  • “Who do you work for?”

So let’s try an experiment.  Suppose you were to answer the question “Hello.  So what do you do?”  by telling your brand new acquaintance who you are.  Maybe it would sound something like this:

“I’m an animal lover who is a vegetarian but hates vegetables.  I’m creative and bad with directions.  I just want people to get along.  I can feel music in my soul but can’t sing.  I can’t multitask worth a darn but I have awesome concentration.  By the way how much time do you have?” 

That felt weird right?  Uncomfortable?  We didn’t follow directions and answer the question asked of us.  Yep – I know.  Did this help you to realize how you answered this question without talking about what you do?   It can be very challenging and will uncover if you can easily separate your WHO from your DO.  Try answering this without using your roles either.  Think about it, apart from your role as a boss, an employee, a mother, a friend, a wife and a daughter – who are you?

Don’t worry if this is hard it is for most people.  It was hard for me too for years.  I’ve struggled, for what felt like a century, with my own identity.  Being a recovering overachiever, perfectionist and workaholic I was my work.  No more.  No less.   I didn’t even question it until I was so desperate from job burnout that I’d try anything.  Even the hard work of doing this type of work.  The work of digging in, to find yourself…

So today do yourself a favor and ask yourself, who are you?  Don’t include your roles, your work or any of that stuff.  But who are you really?  Are you kind?  Passionate? Are you a deep thinker?  A quick learner?  How is your brain wired?  What thrills you? What drains you?  What makes you you?

@2014, Mary R Miller