When someone asks you “What do you do?”, how do you respond? Some people respond with a reference to their relationships, “I’m a mother”. Others respond with an educational pursuit, “I’m at school studying engineering”. While others respond with their career, “I’m a teacher”. For many of us, our response is so quick, that we don’t even think about our “identity calling card”. Yet, there are times in our life where the response is not as clear and we are not quite sure how to respond.
One of those times is when you are applying for a new job. You may have just finished a degree or are underemployed. Naming your identity during these transitional moments is a challenge, you need to sell your skills, interests and talents. Many people are encouraged to have an elevator pitch when conducting job searches. It often starts with a very soft pitch, “I’m a senior at University of Michigan and I’m completing my degree in marketing”. Not particularly compelling, but it does the introduction job.
In the last 6 months, I have watched people at different chapters of life wrestle with these identity introductions. In one exercise, at Antioch University Santa Barbara’s Women Leadership Certificate program, I asked people to introduce themselves with responses other than career or education.This baffled people. Individuals had to introduce themselves 5 different times. Each time they had to answer a new prompt. For example, introduce yourself by stating your name, add nothing about career or education and respond to:
- What hobby brings you the greatest joy? “Hi, I’m Melissa and my hobby is skateboarding at the skateboard park down by the beach”.
- What is a cornerstone value for you? “Hi, I’m Mariana and my cornerstone value is justice and equity for young women”.
- What is one thing you’d like to be known for? ” Hi, I’m Andrea and I’d like to be known for caring for my children and parents”.
How would you respond to these prompts?
Recently, I had the privilege of serving as a facilitator for a group of participants in a Third Half Advisors workshop in Detroit. We were hosted at the beautiful Detroit Athletic Club. As the participants entered they room, I listened to a room full of standard career responses. Yet, what made this group unique was that they had come to the workshop to begin thinking about their next steps, their “Third Half”…a time of partial to full retirement, reinvention, new roles, and opportunities.
What happens when you take away that career title? “Hi I am Steve and I’m a financial planner for Peak Wealth Management”. Do you just introduce yourself as “I use to be a financial planner”. No, of course not. This is one of those moments where a calling card can take on new life, new color, and new direction.
In a Third Half workshop, participants are encouraged to begin exploring their calling card for the future. They wrestle with the uncertainty and the opportunities. The workshops presents a roadmap for creating a collection of focus areas. Imagine introducing yourself as “Hi, I’m Tom and I have played squash all my love and now I’m playing squash with youth in Detroit in the nonprofit Racquet Up.”
As one Third Half participant said…”I’m so afraid of what I’m going to say when I’ve retired and someone asks me…what do you do?” Naming the fear is the first step. Step two is to clarify those passions, values, goals and dreams. For example,
“Hi, I’m Lelia and I love introducing my grandson to fly fishing my lifelong hobby and at the same time I’m studying to be a docent at the DeYoung Art Museum.” Or, Hi, I’m David and I love to garden and cook and I’m providing new recipes for my son’s new cafe. We are having so much fun doing this together”.
We can also support each other in these times. I recently had the opportunity of introducing a friend of mine who is in a transition. Someone said to me..”What is Elizabeth doing now?” My response was “Oh, she’s doing great, she is serving as a citizen of the world with passions in music, nature, and writing”.
How would you introduce yourself if you had to remove your career and education titles? How would you introduce a friend or family member?