One of the first questions a stranger will ask when trying to get to know you is, “What do you do?” It’s a safe thing to ask and a relatively easy way to get a dialogue started. Your answer will likely lead off with your professional title, followed by any explanation if needed, whether that be to bolster yourself or to provide necessary context. As a society, we often align who we are as people, with what we do professionally. With our title. And the bigger the better, right?
I have personally adhered to this for the bulk of my life. It caused me to pursue certain jobs, where I knew I could attain a particular salary with a particular title. I was immensely proud to have become a Restaurant and Events Manager for a golf course at 23, and the Operations Manager of an Inc. 500 marketing company at 25. Probably too proud. Nope, definitely too proud. I cared so much about those titles, and can still recall the feeling of accomplishment whenever I had the chance to introduce myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my accomplishments. I worked hard, sought out opportunities and made myself better so I would always be considered for that next title. What I’m not proud of, is WHY I was doing those things. Looking back, I didn’t even realize at the time what was really driving me, or to what extent. I found so much joy and accomplishment in putting on a flawless event where our clients would rave, and in developing business strategy and leaders. But for me it was more than just the great work I did, it was about my identity. It was about what other’s thought of me. I had worked tirelessly to get to where I was. Countless hours of overtime, sleepless nights, working until the job was done. All of those things supported my identity. Those were the expectations in management. Those were the things I had done to EARN my identity. My rank. My title.
I hung on to that identity, and that concern for others opinions, with an iron grip. And it kept me in a place where I was unhappy and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Gossip, drama, spending our time talking about people and events rather than ideas or inspiration. Those began to be the sacrifices I was making to keep my identity. And yet it still all appeared to be worth it.
Then, I was exposed to an organization that was so aligned with who I am at my core it was scary. It was in a field I cared about, the work was natural to me and the personal and financial freedom it offered still amaze me. But yet I still resisted! Because you know what it didn’t have? A fancy title. It didn’t fit into the identity I had created for myself and had put so much stock in. I resisted for almost 2 years. My heart knew from early on that that was a far better fit for me, but my head paralyzed me in ways I didn’t even realize and couldn’t comprehend at the time. It was after much introspection, some amazing support and a keynote with Tony Robbins that I was finally ready to LET GO. Finally ready to embrace a work role that brings value and reward from a completely different perspective.
We are not the sign on the door. Or at least, we don’t have to be. Free yourself of that limiting belief. Don’t put yourself in a box. Don’t limit your contributions by working for a title. Work for self-development. Work for contribution. Work for your legacy. Work for your inspirations. It is so clear to me now how selfish I had been in my pursuits. It was about MY title, MY salary, MY bragging rights. How ego-driven is that??
It’s hard still to even put this into words. This has been such a personal journey, challenging some deep-rooted perceptions. What I do professionally IS important to my identity. The takeaway is: what I do is not WHO I am, it is just a PART of who I am. Just ONE part! I love having multiple passions in my life, and countless goals and dreams. I am proud of my professional accomplishments, but now I view them in a different light. Now, I view my work as service to others. How can I better support others in reaching their goals? And I am blessed to be in an organization where my compensation is a direct reflection of the number of people I have supported. How cool is that??
So here is my challenge to you: measure your identity not by the title you use to introduce yourself, but by the impact you have on other’s lives. Analyze your answer to that stranger’s question in your mind. Put the answer properly into perspective. Who knows, maybe it will be as life-changing for you as it was for me.