“What Do You Do?” revisited*

“So, What Do You Do?”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked that, as I’ve reconnected with old friends, old business associates and, well, at my age everyone is old! And while I’ve always been quick to offer a response, in hindsight I don’t think I’ve adequately answered the question.

I used to have my “elevator speech” down cold. You know, that quick intro you give someone when you’re trapped and riding between floors. Back in the day I travelled for business; for a while I was a tech support guy and, except for weekends, never went to sleep in the same city I woke up in. My answer then was company-centric. Now, those of you who know me know that companies changed often. So it’s no surprise when I reconnect with people they ask me,

“So, what do you do?”

Some people can answer that question very succinctly, usually in 3-4 words: “I’m a mailman,” “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a doctor,” “I’m in sales,” “I’m a union carpenter,” “I’m a master electrician,” etc. Typically their answers represent reputable occupations, and the list can be as varied as the people asked.

I, on the other hand, struggled with how to define what I do. And this is important, because society – either fairly or unfairly – often defines who we are by what we do and how well we do it.

So I looked back over the jobs and careers I’ve had (and they are two different things), and I searched for a common denominator. I knew there had to be something, some characteristic, which ran through them all and allowed me to be successful. And I think I found it.

If I answered strictly in only three or four words, I could tell people that I am (was): a newspaper reporter, a magazine managing editor, a freelance graphic/web designer, a business owner, a college professor, a high school teacher, a high school baseball coach, a high school football coach, a software salesman, a technical support manager, a printing prepress technician, a technical trainer, and an entrepreneur. (Sounds a lot like what Emilie Wapnick calls a “Multipotentialite”)

The one common skill required in all of these: the ability to explain topics and processes to people in a way they understand. So if you ask me what I do, I now answer,

“I provide people with information to improve their lives.”

OK, I know that sounds “pie-in-the-sky”-ish, and even pompous. But I’m comfortable it adequately describes what I do. Whether it’s in the classroom, on an athletic field, helping publishers bring their publications and websites to life, or helping business owners be successful, I have the ability to explain things – some of which are very technical – in ways that my audience understands and can make decisions that are best for them.

What I’m not good at, honestly, is persuading people to take action when they’re not ready. I can research and share information and explain why something would be beneficial to them, but I haven’t been able to create the need for immediate action by them. I can tell students why education is important, tell athletes why training and nutrition are critical to their performance, or why Product A will make a business owner’s business more profitable, but I can’t make them want to move forward. It’s like the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!” I can’t make them want to improve in the classroom, on the field, or in business. They have to want it. They have to be at a place in their lives where the decision is important to them. Then, and only then, will they take action.

For my part I’ll continue to be here as a source of information, sharing what I’ve learned with an interested audience, and ready to move forward with them when they’re ready…. but only when they’re ready.

~ ~ ~

NOTE: This blog first appeared in October, 2016. It has been slightly updated to include new things in my life.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Zhang, Director, Recruitment at London School of Business and Finance LSBF. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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