Networking, everyone is doing it. Networking can either be exhilarating because you have an opportunity to meet new people or networking can be a drudgery that saps your energy and leaves you ready to run for the door. At one time, early in my career, the thought of entering a room full of strangers sent chills down my spine. Wherever I went, I wanted a friend, colleague, or even a slight acquaintance to accompany me so that I didn’t have to face meeting new people alone. Later, as I advanced in my career, the fear of strangers dissipated, and I truly enjoyed the networking scene. Now, I look for every opportunity to attend events, workshops, and any place I can connect with people. But the fact that I am introvert, beginning a conversation with a total stranger, does not come easy. The words do not just blurt out, I am not in the center of a crowd, or telling jokes and making everyone around me weep with laughter. Instead, I am the person who will start a conversation about the weather, a safe, non-invasive topic that will certainly solicit some feedback and if I happen to stumble upon an extrovert, my job of talking is just about done, except for responding to the classic network question, “And what do you do?” If you listen closely, the question seems to echo in the room and the responses are typically related to jobs, positions, and company. After hearing this question over and over again, I couldn’t help but reflect on a much more profound question, is what you do and who you are the same? Are you doing work that is aligned with your strengths and provides meaning and purpose to your life? In other words, is what you tell people a reflection of your true self? Quite possibly, what you do may be in contrast to who you are.
In reality, the question, “and what do you do?” is more than a simple inquiry of introduction. What you do demands a declaration of your job, your role, and your place of importance in a company. It’s all fine and dandy and an easy question to answer when you are doing work you enjoy and work that provides satisfaction. But suppose, you are stuck in a career that no longer excites you, let go from a job that you devoted most of your life, or trapped in the “I don’t know what I want to do” syndrome, your perception of the question changes from an introduction to what do I say and how can I sell myself when I am not sure what I do, let alone who I am?
More than likely, you have prepared a well, crafted elevator speech that contains as many adjectives as you could muster into 30 seconds and hopefully, you have memorized every line so that your words flow. There you said it– but you feel as if you are describing someone else, not you. You are no longer the person doing the job that once defined you and at this point, you are feeling a level of discomfort.
However, the problem with the question, “and what do you do” is that you have been conditioned to respond with who you are at work instead of who you are as person. Because you have spent much of your career as the person doing the job, once disconnected from the job, physically or mentally, who you are and what you do is not easy to recognize and your confidence in describing you as a person, not in a role, is shaky.
With this in mind, a better approach to responding to the “and what do you do” question is to pitch the elevator speech and replace with a purpose statement because who you are and how you make a difference in the world is perpetual and does not change, unlike a job. A purpose statement is not about your job or your position in a company. Instead a purpose statement is about you, your work not employment, and what gives your life meaning. You are a person of character, value, and strengths regardless of your role.
Of course, crafting a purpose statement requires some time and dedicated work as you reflect on your life, push aside outdated beliefs about yourself, and envision your ideal life. The outcome of developing a purpose statement is worth the time and effort because you understand yourself on a deeper level, truly know your strengths, and tap into the core of what excites and energizes you. Suddenly the question, “And what do you do” takes on a new meaning because your response is not about who you are on the job. Your response is about your purpose, your calling, and your work and what you do is truly who you are.